Clay Art Center reinvents itself at 60

Written by Nancy Yates

This year, Clay Art Center in Port Chester, a nonprofit for the advancement and practice of the ceramic arts, is celebrating its 60th anniversary with a yearlong focus on the role of clay in the past, present and future.

There have been five core exhibitions, culminating in the fall exhibit, “Reinvented” (through Nov. 11), which highlights the future of ceramic art and the cutting-edge technologies that are pushing ceramic artists to take risks and explore new ways of creating.

Curated by Adam Chau, the center’s program manager, the exhibit features an international roster of 13 artists, who use digital technology in their ceramic art and are the trailblazers in the field, pushing the limits of what ceramics can do. Chau, a researcher in the field of digital ceramics, presents the idea that digital technology can work with traditional studio practices. Processes include 3-D printing, laser cutting, 3-D scanning, CNC routing (on a computer-controlled cutting machine) and more. In this new frontier of the digi-modern era we can find artists who use laptops right next to their potter’s wheels. Computer culture is neck-in-neck with critical craft. 

“Reinvented” exhibiting master potter Chris Gustin was invited to use digital technology in a recent ceramic residency at Medalta, a ceramics space in Alberta, Canada. Not familiar with the process, Gustin wanted to produce ceramics in a more organic way. He asked singer Titilayo Ngwenya to sing into one of his vessels and recorded the sound waves. The data was converted into a 3-D surface and then manipulated into a shape that references Gustin’s body of work. The pieces were 3-D-printed and put in a traditional wood-fueled kiln, a 16th-century firing technique that results in unpredictable surfaces. This work juxtaposes “perfect” technology with the organic nature of ceramics. 

“This entire project was a good one for me, getting me thinking in ways that opened a new door with my work,” Gustin says. “I think the difficulty in 3-D printing is how you bring the process into your work, where the technology offered actually adds to the ideas you’re working with. Most 3-D printing that I see does not have a lot of connection to ideas. It seems more tech-based, more about the wow. That’s what is interesting — how to reconcile the process with the ideas.” 

For the closing event for “Reinvented,” the center will host an intimate catered “Digital Dinner” on Nov. 7 with custom-designed 3-D printed tableware. Special dinner guests include artists Gustin and Megumi Naitoh, who will talk about their work. Guests will go home with their place setting at the end of the evening.

The center was founded in 1957 by Katherine Choy, a ceramicist whose experimental sculptural forms are included in the permanent collection of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and private collections around the country. The 11,000-square-foot space houses adult and youth classes, community outreach programs, professional artist studios and a nationally recognized gallery that continues to exhibit some of the nation’s most talented ceramic artists. The Shop at CAC sells handmade, one-of-a-kind functional ceramic pottery and sculpture by local artists. 

American ceramic art underwent a renaissance in the 1950s, and the center has played a crucial role in the reemergence of ceramics as an art form that is now an important part of mainstream contemporary art. The center has had an indelible effect on some of the top artists in the field, with many well-known ceramists having spent their formative days defining their style and learning from their peers at the site. 

But you don’t have to be a professional to appreciate the transformational qualities of clay.  

For more, visit clayartcenter.org or call 914-937-2047.

Nancy Yates is the communications manager at Clay Art Center. She previously worked at Christie’s auction house in Manhattan as a fine art cataloger and sells artwork straight from artist studios to clients through Nancy Yates Art Advisory. She lives in Rye with her husband and daughter. For more, visit nancyyatesart.com.

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