The Impostors Cup Show prompts selected ceramic artists to study and mimic the work of their peers. The results are convincing fakes, plus community connections and a fun challenge. 

Impostors Cup Show: Origins 

During my time in graduate school at The Ohio State University, I frequently shopped for inspiration (as well as unnecessary home goods) at Odd Lots, now rebranded and better known—albeit less accurately, perhaps—as Big Lots. Drifting through a bric-a-brac aisle in Columbus, Ohio, in the late 1990s, I came across a small, lidded ceramic canister—glazed porcelain with a cornucopia of vegetables attached to the lid in bas-relief, with packaging boasting of the work being “handcrafted.” 

While obviously mass-produced for a global marketplace and both concealing and weaponizing its own making (Maybe only the signature was done by hand? Maybe no part of it was handmade?), I took this claim of the totality of an object being made by hand as a design challenge. Could it be my hands? Purchasing the canister, I returned to the studio and meticulously recreated it from scratch, replicating every aspect of the original as closely as possible, entirely by hand. This reverse engineering was a technical challenge, metaphysical inquiry, and obscene joy—calibrating and mimicking the precise coloration, developing industrial glaze qualities, reflecting the ambiguous involvement of the hand, ensuring lid fit, duplicating the intimate scale, all of it. If it was truly handcrafted then mine was just another brick in the wall, right? 

1 Bryan Wilkerson’s Big Lots “handmade” canister, 1999. Original packaging shown on the left, replicated canister shown on the right.

Upon completion, I repackaged my replica and returned it to the store (I had the original receipt, always intending the project to be cyclical). Inspecting it on the premises, the store manager inquired if anything was wrong with it. No, nothing is wrong with it. He then processed my refund; the accompanying photo documentation is all that now exists of that work. 

There’s a “Far Side” cartoon that depicts a hunter holding a rifle, standing in the middle of an elliptical room framed by a row of mirrors, with each mirror holding the image of a duck. The mirror directly in front of the hunter is shattered, glass on the ground in front of the panel, and a caption threatening ominously: “Ah, yes, Mr. Frischberg, I thought you’d come. . . but which of us is the real duck, Mr. Frischberg, and not just an illusion?” 

Scrolling across Instagram now, I’ll often see innumerable videos of diverse ceramic practices, and speculate on the artists’ approaches and development; how they fell into particular rhythms and methodologies, and what could be at stake (or maybe just funny) if they wandered off their own paths into parallel worlds? Like the multiverse, what if we developed an exhibition structure that offered numerous artists that kind of freedom, but also encouraged the expectation they become someone else? How do the artists rediscover themselves in others? A welcome dialog about the nature of appropriation—the pitfalls of using someone’s imagery or proprietary techniques, and the possibilities of recuperating or expanding their (our) shared world. Would the project function equally as homage, as challenge, as collective? 

2 Screenshot of Instagram Live show previews. Moderator Isaac Shue (top) showing work by Tim Kowalczyk (bottom right) impersonating Bryan Wilkerson (bottom left).

Format of the Exhibition 

This annual exhibition, which began in 2020, consists of a group of selected artists secretly replicating each other’s signature styles while subtly nodding to their own practices. Instagram acts as an invaluable research tool in trying to create doppelgängers—to mimic not only the technical achievements of their work but to convey the essence of the maker’s hand. Working in a clandestine format—artists developing their work in complete secrecy until the group reveal—allows for introspection, deep research, and freedom to explore. Within each artist’s interpretation, there is usually a small and clever personal touch to indicate who made the actual pieces—a tell concealed somewhere. The works are copies, but are also impostors, caught between worlds. 

3 A few of the many tests created by Renee LoPresti. These were used to impersonate the work of Lori Phillips, 2022. 4 Renee LoPresti impersonating Lori Phillips’ mug, 41/4 in. (10.8 cm) in height, porcelain with oxides, glazes, underglazes, fired in oxidation to cone 5, 2022. Photo: Isaac Shue.

Starting simply from word of mouth, the show has now featured over 200 submissions from contemporary ceramic artists who have taken on the challenge. Our dedicated team now includes Mike Regan and Isaac Shue (both of whom have been involved since the inception of the project and are essential to the success), as well as Beth Harden, who has recently joined us to coordinate logistics and manage social media. Our jurors have included Renee LoPresti (2023), preceded by Katie Marks (2022). We now organize an online preview for several days prior to making the works available for purchase to enthusiastic collectors. Initially, works were distributed through Gallery Mostaza but in recent iterations, we ask that artists ship directly to their clients, organically expanding and connecting a new network of collectors and artists. This connectivity unites this community, continuing to showcase the diverse skills and technical ceramic knowledge of all participants. I feel like this show also really keeps artists on their toes as there is a fair amount of pressure when being scrutinized by one’s peers. 

5 Marisa Mahathey impersonating Tony Young’s mug, 4½ in. (11.43 cm) in height, stoneware, underglaze transfer decoration, glaze, 2022. Photo: Isaac Shue. 6 Carol Long impersonating Brett Kern’s sculpture, 7½ in. (19 cm) in width, stoneware, glaze, underglaze, 2022. Photo: Isaac Shue.

Into the Future 

What began as a loose group of artists connecting on social media has grown organically into something much more complex and has now taken on a life of its own. As collectors, aficionados, and the artists themselves begin to see the possibilities in creating (and collecting) these duplicates, how is the exhibition becoming a unique moment to capture known works reinterpreted? Is it like catching that one rare Pokémon? As we embark on its fourth year, I sense that this will be the most impressive display of talented makers to date. 

7 Tim Kowalczyk impersonating Bryan Wilkerson’s sculpture, stoneware, glaze, underglaze, 2022. Photo: Isaac Shue.

Moving forward, the show will continue the simplicity of the application process. No need to submit images or send emails as the juror makes their decision solely from an applicant’s Instagram account. This applicant’s Instagram account acts as a portfolio and provides the necessary materials for participating artists to conduct their research. Not only has social media played such a large role in the formation of the show, but each year we also have Instagram Live artist panels during the show’s preview. It’s one of the best parts of the show and allows makers and collectors to communicate and connect. The panels normally contain four people at once with a moderator. 

The 2024 Impostors Cup Show will accept submissions for consideration from February 5–March 12; selected artists will be notified on March 22nd. The online show will go live in July 2024. To view more information about this show visit Instagram @impostorscup

the author Bryan Wilkerson is a ceramic artist and professor of art and design at Roane State Community College in East Tennessee. To learn more, visit his Instagram @bryanwilkerson

Topics: Ceramic Artists