“Clay is the humblest of materials. It is underneath everything…You can manipulate a world with clay. It is the foundation of sculpture.” –Theaster Gates

During an artist lecture in December 2021, Theaster Gates evoked a fascinating paradox in contemporary ceramics practice. Clay is the humblest of materials, often overlooked and more readily associated with a morning cup of coffee than with the international art world. But it is underneath everything. There is an expansiveness to work made or based in this medium, as artists push the limitations of clay, attaching layers of conceptual meaning and playing with the boundaries between ceramics and other media including film, photography, painting, performance, and installation.

This exhibition features artworks that honor the humility of the medium while simultaneously evoking a sense of grandeur and possibility. Organized to coincide with the Art Center’s 75th anniversary, “Underneath Everything” will celebrate the robust ceramics tradition in Iowa, featuring work by artists with local connections alongside those working nationally and internationally.

Artists: Ai WeiWei, Katayoun Amjadi, Eliza Au, Sally Binard, Paul Briggs, Candice J. Davis, Edmund de Waal, CBE, Theaster Gates, Donté K. Hayes, Simone Leigh, Ingrid Lilligren, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Anina Major, Heidi McKenzie, Magdalene A.N. Odundo, DBE, Vick Quezada, Ibrahim Said, Rae Stern, and Ehren Tool

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“Underneath Everything: Humility and Grandeur in Contemporary Ceramics” is organized by Associate Curator, Mia Laufer in consultation with an Artist Advisory Committee including Katayoun Amjadi, Donté K. Hayes, Ingrid Lilligren, and Chuck Purviance. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, featuring essays by Mia Laufer, Dr. Glenn Adamson, and Dr. Tiffany Momon.

Support for this exhibition is provided by:


Toni and Tim Urban International Artist-in-Residence Fund
Ellsworth Kelly Foundation