The rapid-fire succession of having SGC International and NCECA in Philadelphia got me thinking about how the art exhibited in the city of late has really played to these particular audiences. The thought process in trotting out the work of ceramic artists or print artists specifically when their professional associations have come to town feels like a knee-jerk reaction to me. It is a gambit that lures the out-of-town conference attendees to one’s gallery space, estimating that they only have limited time to spend and will probably want to see work by artists within the same discipline. But the question that I want to ask is such: does this trend perpetuate the ghettoization of an artistic medium?
In some way I would liken this behavior to the quibbles that are often raised with heritage history months, such as Black History Month or Women’s History Month. It is important to set aside time for the examination and celebration of individual achievements within all communities, especially minority groups whose narratives may have been chronically treated short-shrift. But confining them to such a brief and finite time span can send the message that for the one month, the subject at hand is all that matters, and after that month is over, it is no longer of consequence until next year rolls around, keeping it neatly in its own little isolating cubicle.
For ceramics, a medium whose practitioners have historically been hyper self-conscious of the perceived lack of respect from critics and other artists, as well as persistently vigilant about their struggle to be seen as deeper than just decorative, I find this conundrum especially relevant. The fact that dozens of galleries within Philadelphia concentrate on ceramic artists only when NCECA is present, I fear, sends the message that ceramic art only matters to ceramic artists. Moreover, I would ask, is it really true that artists of a certain medium are single-mindedly focused on viewing art of this selfsame kind when they visit somewhere new?
I do not have answers to these questions, but I would love to hear commentary from anyone with perspective on the matter.