NOMA Presents Katherine Choy: Radical Potter in 1950s New Orleans

An innovative artist in a number of mediums, Katherine Choy (American, b. China, 1927–58) developed ceramic work that was distinctively her own. In her short mid-1950s career in New Orleans, Choy was a national leader in evolving ceramics from utilitarian objects into the purview of expressive fine art. A new exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) celebrates Choy’s assuredness in a radical vision for artists working in clay.

After training at Mills College and the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Katherine Choy became director of ceramics at Newcomb College in 1952. Once in New Orleans, she diverged from clay traditions. Her pots sprouted additional necks, were boldly asymmetrical and aggressively heavy, and had glazes that intentionally left parts of the raw clay exposed for all to see. Through her pottery, Choy conveyed — in a new idea from the world of painting — that ceramics, too, could be a canvas for emotional expression.

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The artist’s ambition led her away from Newcomb in 1957, when she went on to found the Clay Art Center in New York. While organizing the center and preparing work for the Brussels World’s Fair, Choy died unexpectedly at age 30 in 1958. The current exhibition at NOMA is the first display of her work in New Orleans since her friends mounted The Katherine Choy Memorial Show, and reunites many of the same works again after 60 years.

On view through April 23, 2023, Katherine Choy: Radical Potter in 1950s New Orleans demonstrates ceramics that were revolutionary in the 1950s and still look fresh today. NOMA’s exhibition of 25 works and a forthcoming catalogue weave together archival documents and oral histories. The project presents an artist who was widely celebrated by the American 1950s craft world and aims to reestablish Katherine Choy as a leader in 20th-century ceramics.

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