The future of clay in the art world.
Some gallerists and dealers freak out when I say the word, “craft”. In the past it has been whispered in the same way that someone might utter a slur. For many in the art world, “craft” still brings to mind low-concept, high-function objects like a beautifully knitted scarf or tasteful dinnerware. However, the recent deluge of articles in the New York Times, L.A. Times, and countless critical blogs shifts the tone from one of patronizing towards craft, to a chagrined surprise at the discovery of conceptual depth in non-traditional approaches to the craft media. Who knew, right?
Historically clay’s significance in the art world has only been elevated when exhibited by non-ceramic artists. For example, I noticed the status of clay changed when Ai Weiwei exhibited Sunflower Seeds at the Tate in 2010. This show, and Ai Weiwei’s grand persona, sent a jolt through the art world, and spawned a wave of ceramic experimentation. Weiwei’s use of porcelain to discuss social change and individuality was poignant precisely because of the preciousness of porcelain in the Chinese culture. It’s worth noting that Judy Chicago’s brilliant feminist work, The Dinner Party, did not cause a widespread revival in craft among the fine art world. Is it because the medium was packaged into its usual presentation, despite having a meaty conceptual bite?
Time will tell if our current love of clay is a fad or if it is another wall that we are shedding in our move toward a globalized community. Boundaries everywhere are falling, and why shouldn’t the exclusion of craft fall too?
In the mean time, I have plans for my work. I don’t want to be a historian of craft, documenting its past in the not-so-vague reference to vessel. I want my clay to push forward and leave fresh marks of form and surface. I want to see my work hanging from the ceiling and the walls, rejecting the table and pedestal altogether. Most of all, I want to see my thoughts communicated to an audience through whichever medium I choose.