For Immediate Release
Contact: Amy Day
Tel: 515.271.0344 (o)
515.612.0775 (c)

New Exhibition Explores Clay and Ceramics in “Underneath Everything: Humility and Grandeur in Contemporary Ceramics”

DES MOINES, IA (May 2023) – The Des Moines Art Center is unveiling a textural feast with an exhibition titled “Underneath Everything: Humility and Grandeur in Contemporary Ceramics” on Saturday, June 3. The exhibition runs through September 10, 2023, in the Anna K. Meredith Gallery.

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

While the medium is often overlooked and more readily associated with a morning cup of coffee than the international art world, there is an expansiveness to work made or based in clay. Artists continue to 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.

The objects included in this exhibition represent many parts of the globe and numerous points of view. They demonstrate clay’s unique ability to carry potent content as well as portray everyday life, honoring the humility of the medium while simultaneously evoking a sense of grandeur and possibility. The concept for the show was inspired by the Theaster Gates quote above, delivered in his 2021 Fingerman Lecture.

Organized to coincide with the Art Center’s 75th anniversary, “Underneath Everything” celebrates the robust ceramics tradition in Iowa and beyond, highlighting pieces by artists with local connections (Ingrid Lilligren) alongside those working nationally (Theaster Gates) and internationally (Ai Weiwei). Among the 19 artists included in the exhibition, more than half are being shown in Iowa for the first time. The show’s 34 works range in size from cups that can fit in one’s hand to monumental sculpture.

This exhibition has been 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 Laufer; Dr. Glenn Adamson, former director of the Museum of Art and Design in New York; and Dr. Tiffany Momon, assistant professor at Sewanee: The University Of The South.

An opening celebration will be held on Friday, June 2 from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. at the Art Center’s Macomber Lobby. Guests will enjoy refreshments and music from classically trained violinist, Hanna Wolfe. The event is free with no registration required.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the public is invited to attend a virtual lecture by internationally acclaimed artist and writer, Edmund de Waal on Monday, June 12, 2023 at 6:00 p.m. De Waal is best known for his large-scale installations of porcelain vessels, often created in response to collections and archives, or the history of a particular place. His interventions have been made for diverse spaces and museums worldwide, including The British Museum (London), The Frick Collection (New York), Ateneo Veneto (Venice), and Schindler House. De Waal has been praised for his bestselling books, ”The Hare with Amber Eyes” (2010) and ”The White Road” (2015). His most recent book, ”Letters to Camondo” a series of haunting letters written during the Covid lockdown, was published in April 2021. The lecture is free, however registration is required. Sign up on the Des Moines Art Center’s website at

Support for this exhibition is provided by the Harriet S. and J. Locke Macomber Art Center Fund, the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation, The Toni and Tim Urban International Artist-in-Residence Fund, and EMC Insurance Companies.

For additional information or images, contact Director of External Affairs Amy Day at 515.271.0344 or

Artwork Featured Image:
Ai Weiwei (Chinese, born 1957)
Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds), 2008
Hand-painted porcelain
Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Purchased with funds from the Edmundson Art Foundation, Inc., 2012.76

About the Des Moines Art Center + John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park
Recognized by international art critics as a world-class museum in the heart of the Midwest, the Des Moines Art Center, an AAM-accredited institution, has amassed an important collection of art from the 19th century to the present, with a major emphasis on contemporary art. Focused on quality and global in scope, it includes major works by Henry Ossawa Tanner, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Francis Bacon, Andy Goldsworthy, Henri Matisse, Wangechi Mutu, Ai Wei Wei, and Kara Walker, among hundreds of others. The collection is housed in three major buildings, each designed by a renowned architect—Eliel Saarinen, I. M. Pei and Richard Meier. With the exception of select special events, admission to the museum is free.

In September 2009, the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park opened in Des Moines’ Western Gateway Park. Philanthropists John and Mary Pappajohn provided funding for and donated 32 sculptures by internationally acclaimed contemporary artists to the Des Moines Art Center. The collection of sculptures by such artists as Martin Puryear, Louise Bourgeois, Deborah Butterfield, Willem de Kooning, Mark di Suvero, Olafur Eliasson, Keith Haring, Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Yayoi Kusama, Jaume Plensa, Richard Serra and Joel Shapiro is the most significant donation of artwork to the Art Center in a single gift in the museum’s history. The Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a collaboration of the Pappajohns, the City of Des Moines, the Des Moines Art Center and numerous corporate and private donors.