The Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia

If the art world was a High School and the students in it were the mediums in which an artist could work, video, sculpture in general, and installation would currently be vying for the title of coolest kid. Each medium fashionably dressed with a hint of outsider rebellion even though they are firmly aware they fit right in. Screen-printing is the highly amusing social butterfly who fits in with everyone. Painting might be like a head cheerleader or have some position on the football team, drawing/works on paper might be her slightly mousier best friend (adjust metaphor if she is a he) who sometimes looks longingly across the cafeteria at “the cool kids.”  Specific mediums such as glass, ceramics, comic books, and dance would all be various forms of “nerd” groups, soundly immersed in their individual dungeons and dragons type hobbies. Each of these groups have their own little economies and at times may be thoroughly unaware of the fact that the rest of the school has such a high opinion of themselves.



To understand why I think Dirt on Delight is so cool it is imperative that you continue thinking of the art world as a High School in which clay as a medium is an unloved and misunderstood outsider. If you do not keep this in mind you will still find an awesome and educational exhibition. (Libby, on this very blog, has taken great lengths to showcase some of the exhibition’s highlights, here.) You must understand that in my Art World High School, institutions like the ICA hang out with the cool kids and don’t usually walk over to the clay side of the cafeteria. Dirt on Delight is equivalent to Veronica Sawyer (Heathers) deciding to hang out with her old pal Betty Finn.

Following my metaphor, we find that our lives are often enriched by hanging out with “the nerds.”  Betty Finn was a much better friend then any of the Heathers; Lindsay Lohan became a monster when she hung out among the in-crowd in Mean Girls, Napoleon Dynamite. . . etc. Of course there are people who will applaud the ICA’s “generosity” in using it’s popular status to bring clay into the fold and then there are those who will claim that they only did it for a bet (She’s all That), and though they have come to love clay now, they have not loved clay as some have loved clay–in fact they even gave clay a make-over to fit their personal contemporary image of her, they could not love pots or cups. They could not love clay as a “nerd.”

In the words of Levar Burton, don’t take my word for it, some amazing reviews have been written on the subject:


Clay’s Big Day
The Art World Is in a Place That’s Very Familiar Ground in the Realm of Ceramics
By Blake Gopnik
Washington Post Staff Writer

Those diminished expectations seem to have infected potters, too. Judging by this show, the discipline that gave us ancient Greek amphorae, Renaissance majolica, the tea bowls of Japan and the constructivist coffee sets of Kasimir Malevich now seems content to treat clay as fun stuff to fiddle with. In art schools, the “serious” art students call their pot-throwing colleagues “mud bunnies.” “Dirt on Delight” shows its artists living up to the insult: Their work is mostly about dug-up mud, and what a craftsman’s hands can do to make it weird, wacky and, of course, dirtily delightful. Those notions have ruled ceramic art for such a time, they’ve become its most entrenched cliches — and like all cliches, they’ve lost whatever impact they once had.

Crucible of Creativity, Stoking Earth Into Art
By Roberta Smith
The New York Times


The show’s determination to integrate ceramics into the art mainstream is nothing new. But its refusal to do so simply by slipping some universally agreed-upon ceramic exceptions into a show of painting, sculpture and so forth is close to groundbreaking.

In short, I like Dirt on Delight. The exhibition has expanded the dialogue along the lines of fine art and craft and though we still have a long journey ahead of us it has paved the way for understanding between the various mediums of art. Someday our High School will be a better place. Go see it before it’s gone.