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Innovation and Change: Great Ceramics from the ASU Art Museum Collection

Michael Gross - Untitled Vessel

Michael Gross, Untitled Vessel, c. 1988, Terra cotta, 42 ½ x 20 ½ x 20"
Gift of Stéphane Janssen


Clay is one of the oldest art materials known to humanity, used for both utilitarian purposes and creative expression. It has recorded the life of prehistoric civilizations; reconstructing the lives of ancient mankind for archeologists and historians. Pottery from Africa, Asia and Greece continues to inspire artists and viewers with its sophistication, decoration, beauty and story telling.

Innovation and Change: Great Ceramics from the ASU Art Museum Collection highlights 80 masterworks by many of today’s leading artists, offering a panoramic survey of clay’s potential as an expressive art form. The objects on view range from functional ware for everyday use to more expressive sculptural forms.

Several of the participating artists, including Carlton Ball, Rose Cabat, Otto and Vivika Heino, Edwin Scheier and Gertrud Natzler, started their careers when the American studio movement was in its infancy. After World War II, there was renewed interest in the craft movement with many universities establishing programs and more museums showcasing the work. European émigrés, escaping harsh political realities, came to the United States and became important role models to aspiring young American artists. Influenced by European modernist design, as well as Asian pottery tradition, these emerging ceramic pioneers created a new American aesthetic. 

During the 1960s, the craft matured and prospered. Noted British potter Bernard Leach and Japanese Living Treasure Shoji Hamada were influential figures in the field, promulgating the value of functional pottery in everyday life. Growing appreciation from the public and strong support from galleries and museums helped propel the careers of artists seeking more meaningful ways to express their creativity.

Coinciding with the heightened interest in European and Asian aesthetics, a revolution in clay began under the charismatic leadership of Peter Voulkos, a pioneer of postwar ceramics. Voulkos was inspired by his summer at Black Mountain College in 1953, where he was exposed to experimental artists, including potters Karen Karnes and David Weinrib, potter/poet M.C. Richards, composer John Cage, dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham, and painters Jack Tworkov and Esteban Vicente. Voulkos’ contact with Abstract Expressionism had far-reaching impact on his handling of clay and on the generation of students he inspired in California. 

The figure became a prominent vehicle for artistic expression in clay and witnessed a resurgence of interest in the 1960s, primarily from west coast artists, including Robert Arneson and Viola Frey. During the 1970s and 80s, another sea change occurred. Many ceramists began using the vessel form to express painterly concerns or to convey personal stories, either as painted narration on the surface or as fully integrated form and design. One such artist is Betty Woodman, who appropriated sources ranging from the Mediterranean pottery traditions of Greece and Italy, to Asian influences, such as T'ang and Oribe. Woodman was part of the Pattern & Decoration (P & D) movement, which germinated in the 1970s. 

Throughout the 1980s and beyond, narration, postmodernist tendencies and a growing awareness of social and political issues became evident in ceramists’ work. With each successive generation, emerging artists have forged a new voice within the ceramic idiom. Borrowing freely from different time epochs and cultures, incorporating new technologies and materials, as well as an increasing fluidity among art media, these new artists are not limited by past traditions, but continue to expand the potential of the ceramic medium. Innovation and Change: Great Ceramics from the ASU Art Museum Collection and the Ceramic Research Center’s collection showcases the infinite range of creative expression, recording humankind’s evolution and providing a legacy for future generations.

Exhibition Schedule

Feb. 3 – March 30, 2008
The Arkansas Arts Center
Little Rock, Arkansas

April 20 – June 15, 2008
J. Wayne Stark Gallery, Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas

July 6 – Aug. 31, 2008
Roswell Museum and Art Center
Roswell, New Mexico

Sept. 21 – Nov. 16, 2008
Plains Art Museum
Fargo, North Dakota

Dec. 7, 2008 – Feb. 1, 2009
Las Cruces Museum of Fine Art & Culture
Las Cruces, New Mexico

Feb. 22 – April 19, 2009
Huntsville Museum of Art
Huntsville, Alabama

May 10 – June 28, 2009
Wichita Art Museum
Wichita, Kansas

July 26 - Sept. 20, 2009

Nov. 13, 2009 – Jan. 10, 2010
Vero Beach Museum of Art
Vero Beach, Florida

Jan. 31 – April 25, 2010

May 16 – July 11, 2010


Information regarding the catalog for this exhibition can be found on our publications page.

Have Questions?

For more information, contact the tour management:
Smith Kramer Fine Arts Services
Anne C. Jones, development and marketing specialist
1622 Westport Road
Kansas City, MO 64111
Toll free: 800-222-7522
Fax: 816-756-3779