(Warning, Graphic) National Ceramics Competition Winner Deemed Inappropriate for Children

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by Chelsea Reinhard

Apr 15, 2014

SAMFA patrons had to reach around behind the vase with cell phone cameras to view the imagery Friday, as it was deemed inappropriate for children. (LIVE! Photo/Chelsea Schmid)
SAMFA patrons had to reach around behind the vase with cell phone cameras to view the imagery Friday, as it was deemed inappropriate for children. (LIVE! Photo/Chelsea Schmid)
'Cupcake Eaters' won first prize in the National Ceramics Competition Friday, but the image was turned to the wall during the symposium. (LIVE! Photo/Chelsea Schmid)
'Cupcake Eaters' won first prize in the National Ceramics Competition Friday, but the image was turned to the wall during the symposium. (LIVE! Photo/Chelsea Schmid)
Wesley Harvey stands next to his first prize winning vessel at the National Ceramics Competition. (LIVE! Photo/Chelsea Schmid)
Wesley Harvey stands next to his first prize winning vessel at the National Ceramics Competition. (LIVE! Photo/Chelsea Schmid)
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In Brief: 
  • Wesley Harvey won the 20th Annual National Ceramics Competition Friday, April 11
  • His piece, a flowered vase featuring a homoerotic scene, was deemed inappropriate for children
  • The vase was turned toward the wall during the symposium
  • Leopold Foulem, the juror of the competition, says the nonconformity of the vessel is why he chose it
  • Harvey intends to further his education of ceramics with the prize money with a residency in China
  • Harvey is a ceramics teacher at Incarnate Word
  • On Monday the vase was turned back around

Hands held up to the sides of their mouths, patrons of the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts Friday spoke in hushed whispers, motioning to the back left corner of the second story exhibit room, where few stood in clusters eyeing a red, yellow, white and gold flower-covered vase.

Every now and then a brave soul would reach his or her hand behind the vase clutching an iPhone, quickly photograph the backside, then take a look at the cell phone screen. More mumbles and whispers would follow.

The vase, titled “Cupcake Eaters”, won first prize at the National Ceramics Competition over the weekend, besting some 110 other displayed items in the exhibition hall for a cash prize the artist hopes to use to complete a residency in China’s porcelain capital.

Were it not for the whispers, which traveled through the museum like a schoolground rumor, several may not have ever even seen the front face of the first prize, as it stood turned toward the museum wall. It simply was not deemed appropriate for the children in the hall.

“I use a lot of imagery from Tom of Finland, who has a lot of hardcore, homoerotic, gay imagery,” artist Wesley Harvey of San Antonio explained. An appropriated image from Tom of Finland can be seen on the side of the vase facing the wall, which features two detailed naked men and several cupcakes.

“A lot of my work is about queer theory,” Harvey continues, “which looks at the normative and deviant behavior, so kind of taking this deviant act and making it somewhat sweet, which is why the cupcakes are kind of falling from the one guy into the other guy’s mouth.”

Harvey said the vessel took a couple of months to complete, as he employs a method of “coil building” in which the vase is gradually built up by layers of clay strips. The silk flowers, he says, are representative of the culture in San Antonio, where fake flowers are commonly used in art pieces.

Speaking to his win at the National Ceramics competition, Harvey, a first-time entrant, says he was shocked to have won. Even getting the piece in the show was a compromise, he said, but he’s glad he chose to submit. The reactions from the San Angelo audience were interesting, he said.

“It’s funny walking by, because people don’t know who I am, and it’s just watching them peek around is really interesting. Some people are like, ‘we want it turned around!’” he said.

“It was a compromise to get it in the show. The director had called me and said, ‘Leopold (the judge) wants it in, but the board doesn’t really like your piece. Can we show it with the image against the wall?’ I was just so excited to be in the show, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, put it in the corner. I don’t care.’ I’m glad I made that right decision.”

Harvey’s mixed media creation consisted of stoneware, glaze, decals, luster, silk flowers and gold enamel. The theme of mixed media was fairly consistent throughout the exhibit, where several employed found objects, such as teabags and steel, and other materials to complete their pieces.

But regardless of how graphic or taboo the piece may be, ceramics competition judge Leopold Flourem says it’s the fact that the vessel doesn’t conform to the norm that moved him to select it as first prize.

“[I look for] how original it is, like a fresh thought, how significant it is an art piece, and how different it is from what is being made,” Flourem explained his judging principles.

“That was extraordinary because of its connection with ceramic history. This type of surface is mil fleur, I would translate that as 1,000 flowers. That is a porcelain surface,” he says, speaking of the vessel’s surface, “but that part is kind of anti-porcelain. If you notice, the top is brown, murky, and porcelain is slick and white.”

The surface of the image is also pitted, Flourem said, describing the style as “kind of negating the material”, which he says is an example of “sloppy craft”, a form in which technique is not an issue.

Flourem says that several of the pieces submitted for the show were “sloppy craft”, and motioned to other pieces that are termed “upcycled” for their use of objects primarily intended for other purposes.

As for the imagery, Flourem says the homoerotic theme is also consistent with historical ceramic artwork, citing similar Greek imagery and ancient Chinese artwork where illustrations are meant to portray sexual images.

“[The inclusion of the scene] kind of changed the narrative, made the narrative a little more political…I think all that made the piece very strong,” he said.

Joan Mertz, a local artist and art aficionado, says she has mixed feelings about the piece. “I was a little bit like, ‘Oh wow, it got first place,’” she said. “I saw it as this is a chance for San Angelo’s kind of ‘drawing the line in the sand’ of what we exhibit and how we tolerate it and process it to kind of get over it. “

Mertz says that she understands the educational emphasis of the museum and therefore the choice to leave the piece facing the wall, however says if it weren’t for the children she would have preferred to have it turned around for the exhibit.

Speaking to the judge’s decision on selecting the piece, Mertz said, “He (Flourem) didn’t really back it up except that he was already coming ready to salivate over it. But, I learned some wonderful things from him today about the duplicity of stuff he likes in art, referencing all sorts of art, but then, you’re always going to get the juror’s point of view, and that’s why it’s number one.”

Each year some 6,000 children come through the museum for educational purposes and Friday night several were present as well. Mertz agrees that omitting the educational essence of the museum would be detrimental to the community and would not help the museum grow, but was a bit torn on the subject of hiding the piece.

“I guess I’m sorry he selected it in some ways and we can’t show it. I think it’s better than him getting here and them saying, ‘Oh no, no, you can’t pick that one.’ I think that’s the ebb and flow of art today. Everything’s on the internet—how do you start defining what you like? It’s listening to people, it’s seeing it, and also, being slightly protected.”

That people are somewhat protected when it comes to his work is not new to Harvey, who is a part-time ceramics teacher at Incarnate Word University. “They sometimes don’t like my work, but I’m just part time,” he says. “They just prefer not to see it. You could say I wouldn’t show that piece in our gallery on campus.”

Harvey has been making art for about 15 years now, but first started in ceramics when he was attending the University of Indiana, where he received is Bachelor of Fine Arts.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do [when I was in college],” he said. “I took a ceramics class and was like, ‘This is pretty cool. I could take another class.’ It got to the point where my advisor was like—I was a math major—she said, ‘Maybe you should just switch, because you’re kind of taking class for no reason now and you seem to like ceramics.’ So I switched.”

After graduating from the University of Indiana, Harvey moved to Texas and completed his MFA at Texas Tech. Since then, he’s been working as an artist and part time instructor. With the prize money from the competition, Harvey intends to fund part of a 2-8 week residency in China, where he hopes to work on five-foot ceramic structures.

Harvey’s award-winning “Cupcake Eaters” will remain on display with the other entries of the 20th Annual National Ceramics Competition at the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts until June 29. As of Monday, the vase had been turned back around to display the imagery in the exhibit room. Whether or not it will remain forward facing is as of yet unknown.

The 2014 competition juror, Leopold Foulem, hails from Montréal, Canada and is an internationally-recognized ceramic artist, instructor and scholar. Each year, SAMFA selects a different juror to judge the competition. 


Village People?

Is that the cowboy embracing the cop, and the biker dude crapping cupcakes? I've forgotten which ones had mustaches.

I'll never understand art.

So fake flowers and shock art (ie, a naked guy shooting cupcakes out of his butt) is all it takes to win a national competition? Who knew!
If I'm understanding correctly, there is only that one guy judging the pieces; hopefully in the future SAMFA will better choose their juror or provide some sort of veto option.

It only took 4 days...

While many may find the selection a bit disturbing, what I find more disturbing is that this is a national competition and it took 4 days before anyone announced the winner publicly. I applaud San Angelo Live for at least doing that, but why the long delay? It appears our wonderful Standard Times doesn't have the guts to even mention the results, even without a photo. I understand why they would chose not to post a photo, but to completely ignore the competition does a great disservice to those who entered. Even this article only covered the winner and his piece, ignoring the other winners and entrants. We even had a local artist, Mickey Dammann, gain entry to the show and win a merit award! Whether anyone agrees with Leopold Foulem's selection is irrelevant in the covering of the event. Art is, and always will be, in the eye of the beholder. In this instance, the beholder had the power to select the winner and did so according to his ideals.

It all makes sense now

After googling the judge's name, it is absolutely, 100% predictable that he would have picked that as the winner. Why? Apparently Léopold L. Foulem's OWN work has a strong theme of homosexuality, some of which is prominently displayed in the book: Sex Pots: Eroticism in Ceramics.
His current exhibit is called 'Camp Fires: The Queer Baroque' which "addresses subversive ideas about queer identity through clay." Further, Léopold L. Foulem has made "gay male culture a central part of [his] respective artistic practice for more than three decades."
Some of his pieces include: " Returning From Brokeback Mountain", "So Many Men, So Little Time" (being said by Santa Claus), and "Penis Cup".

Basically he just picked the piece that was closest to his own personal style - what a dupe! I get that art is in the eye of the beholder, but why have a judge with such a narrow preference? Might as well have one of my kids judge the competition next year....(Spoiler - they'd pick whatever closest resembled monster trucks, Legos or Star Wars).

Can't please everyone

If a judge who was partial to nature themes would've picked a project which depicted wild animals or waterfalls, would it have been such a big deal?

If this judge honestly found value in the winning project, yet deliberately forwent his vote due to his fear of accusations of partiality--would this be better?

Whats the big deal??

Heck we see this kind of stuff on lifetime channel all the time.
Shoot wasn't our last mayor into those cupcake thingys?):


Nature is a very broad category and wouldn't necessarily raise suspicion unless there were other pieces that were clearly "better". But lets say a judge has a strong penchant for, oh I don't know, art depicting body organs, and the winning piece just happened to be a ceramic lung. Then yes, I would consider that suspect.

art competitions are...

art competitions are never fair... the judge or judges are subjective and choose the winners according to their likes or own style. i am sure i would not have picked this entry to win, but i would have picked something stood out as very diff. cudos to the judge for having the ba**s (no pun intended) to pick an entry like this one. this is west texas where paintings of windmills, cows, and sheep are held up as high art... so very gusty

Oh, me!

If no one else will say it, I certainly will... This is the ugliest piece of "art" that I've ever seen. Nevermind that it's homoerotic! I could care less about that. Who covers a vase with flowers and leaves a bald spot on one side for something as ridiculous as a guy shatting cupcakes?!

I've traveled a bit, and was very blessed to be able to visit the Louvre in Paris. THOSE people know art. This piece? This is a joke. Makes me ashamed to be from West Texas.


You said, "This is a joke. Makes me ashamed to be from West Texas."

This? This is what embarrasses you about West Texas? If this is what you feel is the most embarrassing thing, then you are doing much better than I.


Sorry, perhaps I worded this wrong. I should have said "just another reason I'm ashamed to be from West Texas!" It certainly isn't the most embarrassing thing.

Oh good...

I was worried that I was missing something else about this town. ;)


I concur with J.D. in terms of how this piece compares to the other great pieces of artwork. I've also seen my fair share of incredible art. I guess for West Texas, this ain't half bad. It evokes emotion, which, I guess, is what art is supposed to do. However, for me it elicits the same emotion as seeing an old lady wearing a small-patterned, flowery dress. I generally think to myself, "Hmmm, that's a really ugly dress."

So, if that's what folks consider great art, I'd hate to see the other ladies...


This isn't art. It's a JOKE! I would love to be a fly on the wall if Mr. Harvey were to hand-carry his "art" to the Louvre and ask them to put it on display.

West Texas is so far behind in the culture gap. After serving overseas for 6 years and submerging myself in the German culture, and touring Europe... I came back here and realized that our people are simple, close-minded individuals who think they know EVERYTHING.

Ugh, this whole article makes me vomit in my mouth... can we delete it?

To Rational Texan

Just an FYI to the Rational Texan…if you actually donate to SAMFA at all you might rest at ease knowing your money doesn't fund the National Ceramics Competition. It has an endowment and will continue strongly without your help for many years to come. And to all nay sayers, the jurors for this show are selected on their qualifications as art professionals; educators, gallery directors, artists, scholars, collectors… so whether or not you enjoy this particular show, another will be selected in two years. Be open minded. Allow the challenge to your perceived notions of what ART is.