WhigbyIAC Presentation

IAC Presentation/Wayne Higby



Hello, I am Wayne Higby, Director and Chief Curator of the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum at Alfred University, Alfred, New York USA.


I have been asked to speak about - New Trends of International Ceramic Art Development.


Considering our time frame, I must turn away from elaborate, in-depth considerations of the topic and offer some quick general impressions regarding the State of American Ceramic Art Today.


Today, here in USA, we are living in a Kafkaesque time. This term Kafkaesque, based on the early 20th century literary work of Frank Kafka (1883-1924), is often employed to describe situations that are disorienting and illogically complex in a surreal or nightmarish way. American culture is disoriented and a drift. This is due to the Covid-19 epidemic, a political climate of distrust, media platforms flooded with disinformation as well as a newly intensified manifestation of identity politics that emerged out of the 1960s Black Civil Rights Movement, second wave feminism and gay and lesbian liberation.


The USA is navigating a highly confrontational time in our culture. America art and artists as well as American educational and cultural intuitions have been asking questions, for some time, about the kind of art that should be made and for whom. However, today there is new urgency. An urgency that is affecting all the arts including ceramic art. As a professor of ceramic art and a curator-director of a ceramic art museum, I am currently working with black artists, Mexican and Latino artists, gay, lesbian and transgender artists in a very new, open and intense way. All artists as well as the all the major art institutions across America are in a period of reflection and reassessment. This past September, 2020, the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, became the latest institution to sell off a major artwork to fund the diversify of its collection. The museum’s Jackson Pollock painting, Red Composition (1946), sold for $12 million. The proceeds will be used to fund acquisitions of work by artists of color, women artists, and others under-represented in its holdings.


Identity and authenticity are more than ever before at the core of the artists’ struggle in American art and ceramic art. The celebrated theme of the individual revealing the universal is a classic story in American art, which is always at risk in the broader discordant picture of politics, economic struggle and the art market. Authenticity is fragile.


The highly regarded Australian art critic Robert Hughes (1938-2012) writing in the New York Review, December 6, 1984 (36 years ago) offered the following visionary statement, which is quite credible today regarding the American art and ceramic art: “We have a severe unemployment problem at the bottom and an exaggerated star-system at the top of the artist population; while among the consumers, we have a lot of free-floating anxiety that precipitates itself in fairly irrational ways, and is more vulnerable to fashion than ever before. The art world now looks more like the fashion industry.” There are, of course, always the few artists who seem to genuinely connect with their time by offering an impactful point of view that rises above mere fashion or trend. For example: currently, I am working with an arts organization on a commission for a huge ceramic, mosaic wall by Rashid Johnson. As an artist, he has captured an important aspect of the history of this moment in the U.S. and given it meaning. (Image #1 and #2) 


Art, ceramic art and ceramic artists will go on and on of course. Art is at the heart of the human experience and is much bigger and more profound than the economic and social-political trends that surround it. Art –ceramic art will vanish when all problems and experiences, thoughts and feelings of countless new generations will have been resolved.


There is no question, however, that today the environment in which art is made is changing. Covid-19 has pointed a necessary way - a path ceramic artists have been walking down for some time now in other parts of the world outside of the USA --- smaller spaces, kitchen tables, limited resources. Nevertheless, or perhaps exactly because of the challenge limitations provide, creativity is on the move. Don’t look away, stay tuned -- Remarkable work is on the horizon. Viruses, wars and poverty have fortunately not killed art. But right now artists of all persuasions in America are pushed close to the edge. Some great work will emerge from the chaos.


In closing, some good news, in celebration of the timelessness of ceramic art here in American and around the globe. A new book Ceramic Art and Civilization is on the horizon written by Paul Greenhalh of the UK. Recently, I had the pleasure of reviewing this book for Bloomsbury press for a publication date of January 2021. Most interestingly Greenhalgh makes an important point about books on ceramic art. “The thousands of books don’t add up to what we might call a historiography, a structured vision of the practice, or an interconnected set of narratives and ideas.” Greenhalgh has done a very credible job of solving that problem.


Also, concerning new scholarship in ceramic art: The Alfred Ceramic Art Museum will mount in September 2021 an exhibition entitled The Path of the Tea Bowl: A Transnational Icon. This is to be a scholarly exhibition focusing exclusively on the Tea Bowl itself. Such an exhibition has not been done before and we are hoping to stimulate important dialogue about this seminal object of ceramic art.


Thank you for your attention to this presentation.


Wayne Higby

The Wayne Higby Director

and Chief Curator

Alfred Ceramic Art Museum

at Alfred University