Exhibit shapes perception of clay

Claire Oliver

Art from across the nation will help shatter preconceptions of clay as a medium as Linfield hosts the 21st Century Iconographic Clayworks exhibit this month in the Miller Fine Arts Gallery.
The show, curated by Nils Lou, professor of art and visual culture, features pieces from 33 American artists, 30 of whom are still living and working today.
“The sheer number of artists is impressive,” Cris Moss, gallery coordinator and adjunct professor of art and visual culture, said. “It’s a beautiful cross-section of possibilities.”
Lou, who began the process of compiling the exhibit about six months ago, said he sought out artists who had made major contributions to ceramics as a medium during the last three or four decades. Some are students of each other, one a student of Lou himself, but each has stood out in his or her own merit.
“They’re the hot shots, the stars,” he said. “They have had a lot of influence.”
Moss said he hopes the attention to detail shown in the exhibit will prompt spectators to reevaluate what comes to mind when they consider it.
“A lot of people have the tendency to think of claywork as teapots,” he said.
Although the show features several of the more traditional forms, other pieces unveil the realism clayworks provides.
One vivid example of this realism is a ceramic model of a tin can filled with painting supplies, meticulously shaped and shaded down to the label remnants on the can and the dust atop a pencil’s eraser.
Another, sculpted in the form of a suitcase, rests in the corner of the gallery.
Moss said he enjoys how the exhibit displays not only different styles, but features work from different regions, as well.
With work hailing from a variety of places, including New York and Louisiana, arranging the show proved to be a logistical challenge, as aside from the task of coordinating the schedules of many artists, Lou said several pieces arrived at the last minute, one of which had broken in transit.
Moss said the exhibit would have been harder to put together without Lou as guest curator.
“Nils Lou has wonderful connections,” Moss said. “He knows many of the artists firsthand, and several pieces are from his private collection.”
An expert in the medium himself, Lou’s clayworks were the focus of ¡POTS!, the gallery’s most recent exhibit, in February.
Although Lou was responsible for selecting the featured pieces, Moss said challenges also emerged surrounding the decision regarding how to arrange the show within the gallery’s space.
Because of the fragility of the medium, Moss said much of his attention was devoted to protecting the art while allowing the smooth flow of people throughout the room.
“[We’ve] never had a show that required this many pedestals,” he said. “It was a challenge trying to make it not feel too packed.”
Starting in ceramics, Moss said he is excited about the show on a personal level, but said the exhibit has something for everyone.
“There are so many different approaches,” Lou said. “[It shows] a wide spectrum as is developed over excellent examples.”
21st Century Iconographic Clayworks will be on display in the Miller Fine Arts Gallery through April 8. The gallery, which is open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, will be closed March 24-29 for Spring Break. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

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