Reconsidering Exhibition Practice: NCECA Biennial

Article excerpt

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CAN THE NCECA CLAY NATIONAL BIENNIAL EXHIBITION become the quintessential ceramic exhibition? With the proliferation of international biennales, should NCECA consecrate its biennial to create consequence beyond the conference? The NCECA Biennial has the potential to be the platform the conference revolves around--not merely 'one of the jewels in the crown but the crown itself. Reconsidering exhibition practice to increase the Biennial's potential will establish a framework to recapitulate both NCECA and the Biennial's purpose and mission among growing membership and cultural globalisation. I submit the title should have been changed from The NCECA 2007 Clay National Biennial Exhibition to 'The 2007 NCECA Biennial'. This more succinct label corrects the misnomer, redundancy and inaccuracy. Firstly, the majority of work in the Biennial is not 'clay' in the strict sense of the term. 'National' appears twice in the title, repeating what is for all purposes false. The Biennial is an international juried exhibition, so long as the international candidates are members of NCECA, therefore reiterating 'National' is unnecessary and inaccurate. The exhibition should be open to the international community regardless of membership status. An international Biennial has the potential to make explicit the dynamic and potentiality of the field while increasing the educational component of the conference. Additionally, it is common knowledge that a biennial is an exhibition; therefore, it need not be repeated in the title. Simplifying the title makes it more accurate and attains prestige through association with other art exhibitions and fairs.

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Publicity is another factor that can contribute to the success of the Biennial. While readers of American ceramic journals and NCECA members are already aware of the exhibition, reaching beyond this specialised group to the larger public would elevate awareness and credibility. Advertisements in Art-Forum, Art in America, and in all ceramic journals worldwide can increase attendance, prestige and awareness of important research in the field. The money earmarked for awards should be diverted to promoting the exhibition. The added exposure would result in increased recognition for the artists as opposed to a nominal monetary sum. With 14 separate purchase, juror, and merit awards, the Biennial looks more like an awards show or pageant than a serious critical perspective of the contemporary state of the ceramic sphere. Although nice additions to artists' resumes, the promotion of an arbitrary meritocracy is a detriment to the show, trivialising the exhibition. Additionally, the money spent on the NCECA Dance, no doubt a significant amount, would be better spent on the development of the Biennial. The dance is a form of frivolity having nothing to do with ceramics, art or the mission of NCECA. Lastly, having the Biennial opening on Friday evening, the night historically reserved for the dance, could increase attendance at the exhibition and encourage more critical participation.

Exhibition catalogues are growing in size and importance while those of NCECA remain insignificant. Even MFA programs produce catalogues that are more substantial. Catalogues can convey the theme and its importance beyond the show. Producing the document in a hardback format, with larger images, and essays explicating both the exhibition and the art, lends credibility to the introduction of the work and the ceramists, to a public perhaps seeing them for the first time. Including substantial catalogue essays and relevant texts by prominent artists or critics would elevate the discourse providing substance beyond the images and the exhibition.

How well does the NCECA Biennial represent the dynamic of the field? Does it make a significant statement about ceramic practice in 2007 that is different from 2005? The function the Biennial fulfills within the public should contain connections with the purpose and mission of its members and those of NCECA, which should reflect those embodied within the ceramic sphere. …