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Grand Rapids Art Museum Opens Underneath Everything: Humility and Grandeur in Contemporary Ceramics

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Exhibition includes work by Ai Weiwei, Theaster Gates, Katayoun Amjadi, Donte K. Hayes, and more.

/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. © Ai Weiwei; Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio. Photo by Rich Sanders, Des Moines.

Meijer Free Tuesdays and Thursday Nights

Enjoy free admission to GRAM on Tuesdays from 12 - 5 pm and Thursday nights from 5 - 8 pm. 

An exhibition of 30 ceramic works is on view at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) this fall in Underneath Everything: Humility and Grandeur in Contemporary Ceramicsopen from October 7, 2023 through January 14, 2024. The exhibition includes work by renowned regional, national, and international artists working in clay, including Ai Weiwei, Theaster Gates, Katayoun Amjadi, and Donte K. Hayes.

During a lecture in December 2021, Theaster Gates evoked a paradox in contemporary ceramics practice that gave the exhibition its name. 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.” The works in the exhibition honor the humility of clay while simultaneously evoking a sense of grandeur and possibility. 

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,” commented 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.”

The artists featured in Underneath Everything embrace the qualities of clay as a means for both sociological critique and cultural preservation. Artist Vick Quezada calls clay an inherently political material.” 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. 

Simone Leigh melds eighteenth century and modern-day architectural references to comment on the history of incarceration with her 10-foot-tall sculpture, Panoptica, that mimics dwellings in Cameroon and Chad. It also references the panopticona maximum-security prison developed in the late 1700s with an insidious system of psychological control. 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. Donte K. 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.

Featured Artists:
Katayoun Amjadi 
Eliza Au 
Sally Binard 
Paul Briggs 
Candice J. Davis 
Edmund de Waal 
Theaster Gates 
Donté K. Hayes 
Simone Leigh 
Anina Major 
Heidi McKenzie 
Magdalene A.N. Odundo DBE 
Vick Quezada 
Ibrahim Said 
Rae Stern 
Ehren Tool 
Ai Weiwei 

Underneath Everything: Humility and Grandeur in Contemporary Ceramics is organized by the Des Moines Art Center in consultation with an Artist Advisory Committee including Des Moines Art Center Associate Curator Mia Laufer, Katayoun Amjadi, Donté K. Hayes, Ingrid Lilligren, and Chuck Purviance.

Support for GRAM’s presentation is generously provided by Wege Foundation and MillerKnoll Foundation, with additional funding from GRAM Exhibition Society. 

About the Grand Rapids Art Museum 
Connecting people through art, creativity, and design.Established in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, the art museum is internationally known for its distinguished design and LEED® Gold certified status. Founded in 1910 as the Grand Rapids Art Association, GRAM has grown to include more than 6,500 works of art, including American and European 19th and 20th-century painting and sculpture and more than 3,000 works on paper. Embracing the city’s legacy as a leading center of design and manufacturing, GRAM has a growing collection in the area of design and modern craft. 

For museum hours and admission fees, call 616.831.1000 or visit 

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