Celebrated sculptures shine at GRAM

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Anina Major (Bahaman, born 1981). Guard, 2014. Digital photograph in light box, 20 x 28 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

An exhibition of 30 ceramic works by renowned regional, national, and international artists is now on view at a downtown Grand Rapids museum. Entitled, “Underneath Everything: Humility and Grandeur in Contemporary Ceramics,” the exhibition– which opened in early October at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, 101 Monroe Center St. NW.– continues through mid January.

Clay is the humblest of materials,”

-Theaster Gates

The works in this special ceramics exhibition honor the “humility” of clay while simultaneously evoking a sense of grandeur and possibility. The exhibition’s moniker was inspired by Theaster Gates, one of the presenting artists. ​Clay is the humblest of materials,” said Gates. ​It is underneath everything. You can manipulate a world with clay. It is the foundation of sculpture.”

In addition to Gates, the exhibition includes work by some of the nation’s most celebrated sculptors working in clay, including Ai Weiwei, Katayoun Amjadi, Donte K. Hayes and other artists who embrace the qualities of clay as a means for both sociological critique and cultural preservation. The accessibility and utility of the medium serves as a metaphor in itself— it is of the land and available to nearly everyone, with the history of its existence intrinsic to its ever-evolving form.

Hayes translates waves on a Ghanaian pot into his work Wavelength, an Afro-Futurist design that speaks of the trans-Atlantic passage that brought both the Ghanaian pot and the artist’s ancestors from West Africa to the Americas.

The exhibition will also include works by Vick Quezada, who calls clay an ​inherently political material” and artist Simone Leigh, who melds eighteenth century and modern-day architectural references to comment on the history of incarceration with her 10-foot-tall sculpture, Panoptica. a mixed media sculpture that resembles dwellings in Cameroon and Chad and the design of a certain type of penitentiary (panopticon), an eighteenth century symbol for authority and discipline.

Rae Stern’s immersive installation, A Frugal Arrangement, reflects on topics of war, genocide, loss, and memory using photographs of Jewish families who lived in Europe in the 1930s which she incorporates into simple porcelain household objects.

“’Underneath Everything’ at the Grand Rapids Art Museum examines the varied ways in which some of today’s most exciting contemporary artists are engaging with one of art’s most ancient mediums,” said GRAM curator Jennifer Wcisel. ​We look forward to sharing with guests a wide variety of new earthenware forms that expand the medium beyond the expected, including sculpture, photography, painting and video.”

Additional works by artists Eliza Au, Sally Binard, Paul Briggs, Candice J. Davis, Edmund de Waal, Anina Major, Heidi McKenzie, Magdalene A.N. Odundo DBE, Ibrahim Said and Ehren Tool will also be on view as part of the exhibition. For more information on the exhibition and for museum hours and admission fees, visit artmuseumgr.org.

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