Nick Lenker is one of the most conceptually thoughtful and exceptionally skilled ceramic artist at work today. His selection as an emerging artist at the National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference in 2019 was certainly a well-deserved recognition. His presentation at the conference was highly regarded for the provocative rigor it brought to the understanding of what it means to be an artist working at the juncture of the tangible stuff of ceramic practice and the ubiquitous cyber-space that mitigates our lives. Nick's question continuously loops through our minds: Is it real?
Inviting Nick Lenker to exhibit his work at the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum was inspired by his presentation at NCECA and by what I saw of the actual work at that time. As the Covid-19 pandemic progressed and it became more than abundantly clear that we were all immersed globally in an unforeseen experience with cyber-space as the only lifeline to each other, I realized more clearly the actual profound implications of Nick Lenker's art and his question: Is it real?
In March this year, 2020, I began to imagine the possibility of a virtual reality exhibition for the Museum. As my thinking began to connect with my imagination, I had an aha moment. I emailed Nick Lenker and proposed an exhibition to him with the idea that his work would be the perfect complement to improve on an encounter with a virtual reality exhibition, which by then I had started to conceptualize with a mutual friend and museum guest curator Kelcy Chase Folsom. Fortunately, Nick agreed to work with me on an exhibition of his work. As time progressed, I became more and more impressed with Nick Lenker's art and his poetic, deeply thoughtful approach to the nature of his vision. The word Inventory in Lenker's exhibition title refers to the fact that in the virtual reality of video games the inventory is a device designed to organize, display and utilize a character's possessions.
Inventory: The Ceramic Art of Nick Lenker is the first in a planned series of Showcase Exhibitions featuring special issues important to art and ceramic art. The series is made possible by a generous donation from friends of the museum D. Philip Baker and David R. Bender. The Alfred Ceramic Art Museum is very grateful to Nick Lenker for his willingness to share his brilliant work with our community.
The Wayne Higby Director
and Chief Curator
Alfred Ceramic Art Museum
at Alfred University
Nick Lenker writes:
I explore the hyper reality of our current lives. Content is layered and intersected by ideas based on virtual identity within online geographies, religion and mythology, psychology and gender identity. I am interested in the prevalence of isolation and disconnection in an increasingly connected world and the impact of loss of intimacy within that space. We live in a world which is becoming increasingly intertwined with a virtual/digital space. Truth can be wildly different based on the layer of an online/virtual reality which affects how we see the events happening around us. I'm interested in the mechanisms behind this distortion. What is "real" in this "post truth world"?
As a child, I played video games, a projection of self into another world. I was alone there. As a preteen, I was a Jehovah's Witness, an outsider within my community. I was alone there. As an adolescent, I was queer with no role models. I was alone there. As an adult, I am isolated. Surrounded by windows I cannot open, screens to everyone and anyone's life. I am alone here. You are also alone. We cannot touch one another. I long to be able to connect with people.
It is all very surface, these glimpses into others' lives that are not exactly real, not exactly false. What is between their screen and mine? I saw a void between space. Something is there. It enters our personal space, takes from us. It has no identity, it is skinless, faceless, it steals from us to create.
The ceramic objects are attempting to be "real" within a physical as well as a virtual space. We are the object.
I create the object. It is blank. I give it identity with a skin made of photographs that don't belong to it. Can it be "real"? This can be complicated. A 3-dimensional form is confusing when flattened. I add a nice filter to make it seem more natural. Is it more "real" now? A play transpiring between form and surface. What is more important the skin or the body? The skin defines what the object is ... or what it wants to be. Does that make it "real"? Its identity is defined through online images. What does the skin tell us of its past? How do things translate from a virtual space? It is shallow. What about when it has depth? What is "real"? When does it become fake? When does a copy become original? How does your perspective change the way it's viewed? Through whose eyes are we viewing it? Are they "real"? When does the 3rd person become the 1st person?
The objects are shallow and surface focused, the forms simplified. They are copies, but are tied to an intimate moment with one other person: my mother, a lover, a close friend. The longing for a more intimate experience is contained within these recreated mementos. How do you connect with one person when sharing with all?
September 24 – November 21, 2020
Double Take: a surprised second look at a person, object or situation whose significance had not been completely grasped at first.
Double Take is an exhibition drawn from the permanent collection of the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum including preliminary sketches by artists who worked with Primal Screen designers to produce the Museum's virtual reality exhibition Full Capacity.
The exhibition Double Take also features work by the 2020 Master of Fine Arts graduates from the Ceramic Art Division of the New York State College of Ceramics, School of Art and Design at Alfred University. Unfortunately, because of the Covid-19 pandemic these artists were denied the opportunity of mounting their graduation, thesis exhibitions. Nevertheless, they worked with great positive energy and spirit to complete their degree requirements. The Museum wishes to congratulate them on their successful completion of the MFA degree and with this exhibition celebrates the vision of each of these individuals: Chris Alveshere, Brittany Dias, Jing Huang, Hiromi Kanada, Ara Koh, Josh Schutz, Kirstin Willders, and ChengOu Yu.
The 1930s Jazz Age Sculpture of Waylande Gregory
Exhibition extended until November 21, 2020
Opening Reception: February 13 5-7pm
Waylande Gregory is recognized as America's top ceramic artist of the 1930s. His Fountain of the Atom made for the 1939 New York World's Fair, admired by Albert Einstein and countless others, was at that time the world's largest ceramic sculpture of the modern era. Gregory came into his own during what F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, named the Jazz Age.
The Alfred Ceramic Art Museum would like to thank Tom C. Folk for his help in bringing this important exhibition to the Museum and, as a result, helping the Museum address its mission of bringing the best of ceramic art and its important history to the attention of the art world. The 1930s Jazz Age Sculpture of Waylande Gregory is an exhibition that honors, highlights and celebrates the American experience in Ceramic Art.