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Earthen Exploration
This month, clay and its sandy brethren will make the local art world spin.


Composition of Enclosed Cylinders by Lauren Mabry

Clay can be shaped, baked, twisted, electrified, mixed with found objects, danced upon or purified to such gracious extremes that the medium’s earthly origins become inconceivably remote. But no matter how contemporary and conceptual it becomes, it still harkens back to its ancient, dug-from-the-earth, functional history, be it vessel, tile or brick.

This month, Milwaukee will be hit hard by all things ceramic as 5,000 art professionals come to town for Material World, the 48th annual conference of the National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts. Although most conferences tend to be insular, this group will take over the city with projects by some 300 artists occupying every nook and cranny.

Expect diversity and a chance to dwell deeply in a field that still doesn’t often take center stage.

Head first to the Pritzlaff Building (311 N. Plankinton Ave.), where more than 70 artists will join in 12 spirited exhibitions throughout the 1875 Cream City brick warehouse. Evidence of how the once-cloistered field of ceramics (tethered to a ‘craft’ mystique) burst its seams into contemporary art discourse will come in many forms. A collaborative project by Colorado’s Katie Caron and Martha Russo, Oxytocin, presents porcelain configurations, bonded with steel and electrified by networks of wires. Cell division and human, tangled relationships are suggested. Another even less-conventional collaboration involves School of the Art Institute of Chicago professor Katherine Ross’ The Subjective Meadow, a delicate installation of hundreds of porcelain spheres that were scattered in her mules’ grazing field while still wet and pliable enough to enable the animals to sniff, push, nudge and shape them.

The Milwaukee Art Museum chimes in with a curated group show, “Flow,” which will include the funny, lush, Rococo-influenced figurative romps of Chris Antemann, and the often outrageous rabbits and goats of Beth Cavener Stichter.

Material World (March 19-22). Various venues, 866-266-2322, nceca.net.

This article appears in the March 2014 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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