69th Scripps Ceramics Annual Satisfies Curators

Art exhibitions are a timeless part of the 5C experience. De-Natured Nature, for example, is the 69th iteration of the Scripps College Ceramic Annual, which is the longest continuous exhibition of contemporary ceramics in the United States.

This exhibit, held at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, combines work from distinguished and emerging artists in the field of ceramics such as Freida Dean, Alex Hibbit, and Bri Kinard.

For the past decade, guest curators have designed the Annual. This year, Virginia Scotchie, professor of art and head of ceramics at the University of South Carolina, was the guest curator.

The exhibit’s opening plaque states that it “presents ceramic artists who enlist the use of change to explore the natural given qualities of familiar objects of choice.”

The idea behind the current exhibit came from the scientific term “denature,” meaning to modify or remove the original properties of a protein. Scotchie created the exhibit by contacting artists whose ceramic sculptures reveal similar alterations.

“Through the process of denaturing, some of the original properties are diminished or eliminated, breaking down the structure and altering its meaning and being,” Scotchie wrote in the exhibition statement.

“The challenge every year is to make it fresh,” said Mary MacNaughton, the director of the gallery and an associate professor of art history at Scripps. “We invite ideas from artists who present themes that contrast from the years before.”

MacNaughton described the gallery as a teaching collection, saying that it makes ceramics visible. She is “very happy” when both new and old ceramics lovers come to visit, she said.

“In some ways the pieces refer to your grandmother’s china, and in some ways they don’t at all,” MacNaughton said.

Emily Matteson SC ’14 has been working at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery for three years.

“I love the dress pieces in the center that are made out of porcelain,” she said.

Kate Roberts designed the dresses, which are created from slump bodies and chicken wire. Named “Scarlet” and “Melanie” after characters in Gone with the Wind, the dresses denature the sophistication of the antebellum female.

The pieces, which can be purchased at the gallery, include “Unmanned,” an MQ-1 Predator drone created from mixed media that denatures the elegance of American military technology, and “Wishbones,” a selection of clay wishbones balancing on a cord, which denatures hope according to a statement written by Bri Kinard, the artist.

The exhibition’s 69-year history indicates that it has a loyal following. Visitors travel from all over Southern California to view the work.

“We have hundreds of ceramics students come and visit the show,” MacNaughton said. “If you study ceramics in the area, chances are you will see the exhibition.”

Fortunately, the pressure to surpass the previous year’s exhibit does not torment Kirk Delman, the registrar and collections manager of the gallery, too much.

A friend once told Delman, “Remember, about 40 percent of people are going to love the exhibit, 40 percent are going to like the previous year’s more, and 20 percent are coming for the food, drinks, music, and to see friends. So just don’t worry.”

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