How can a teapot resist the status quo? How can clay push back against cultural homogeneity?
These are the kinds of questions Patsy Cox, the guest curator of this year’s Scripps Ceramic Annual, is interested in exploring. This semester, she chose to showcase works from artists of a multitude of cultural backgrounds and identities.
Every spring, Scripps College’s Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery hosts an artist’s choice show, choosing a different leading ceramicist to curate each year.
Cox is a professor of visual art and head of the Ceramics Department at California State University, Northridge, where she was hired straight out of graduate school 18 years ago.
Growing up in Massachusetts and Missouri, Cox was born in Thailand to a Thai mother and a white American father, and has an African-American brother. Cox’s work consists of mostly installation-based sculptures, and she focuses on the urban landscape: the mixture of cultures, race, and identity.
Entering its 74th year this semester, the Scripps Ceramic Annual is the longest continuous exhibition of contemporary ceramics in the United States, which, Cox said, makes it an important survey of the field. She wanted to include people who had not yet appeared in that survey and whom she felt deserved a place in it.
“One of the first things I did was look through [the Gallery’s] brilliant archive,” Cox said. “I looked through that archive and chose people who weren’t in it and who were making good art. It sort of confounded me that they hadn’t been a part of that conversation.”
When Cox decided she wanted to put on this exhibition, titled “Stories without Borders: Personal Narratives in Clay,” President Donald Trump had just been elected.
“We had a new president talking about all of this stuff — about walls — so I chose work from artists from a multitude of cultural backgrounds,” Cox said. “The response was: ‘Look, America is already great, and the reason we’re great is because we have all these different cultures, and we celebrate them.’”
The show, which opened Jan. 20, includes works from seven artists: Jennifer Ling Datchuk, Christina Erives, Steven Young Lee, Roberto Lugo, Kyungmin Park, Zemer Peled, and Roxanne Swentzell.
According to Cox, Lugo is a rising star in the ceramics world. A self-proclaimed “ghetto potter,”
Lugo pays homage to a variety of artists and thinkers of color through his ceramics.
His two pieces featured in this exhibition are a teapot and an urn, both of which are printed with ornate designs. The teapot features a collaged portrait of Frederick Douglass, and the urn an impressionistic rendering of a young Whitney Houston.
“His work is very timely,” said Kirk Delman, the gallery’s collections manager. “He’s reinterpreting ceramic tradition and using it as a vehicle for his personal beliefs.”
Kyungmin Park, a Korean artist, has four pieces on display at the gallery, one of which is a sculpture of two baby heads positioned against a speckled blob of hardened clay.
One of them, mouth agape and brow furrowed, points at the other, who is blank-faced and has snot running from his right nostril. The work is titled “Seriously, this one over me?!!” (2017).
For Minah Choi PO ’18, Kyungmin Park’s departure from what Choi considers traditional East Asian art struck a personal chord.
“I loved the Korean artist’s creepy babies with the snot coming out of one of their noses.” Choi, who is Korean-American, said. “With Asian art especially, I feel like there’s supposed to be a refined air, this very delicate aesthetic. [Park’s pieces] weren’t that cute — they got away from that aesthetic, and I liked that.”
The Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery is open from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday during exhibitions. The ceramic annual will close April 8.