Ulrich’s “Clay Currents” brings together 60 pieces created by 24 ceramic artists

Seeing his artwork displayed isn’t something new for Brooks Oliver, a Dallas-based ceramic artist and designer.

But there was no doubt he was pretty happy about the display of two of his pieces in the Ulrich Museum of Art’s current exhibition “Clay Currents: The Wichita National Ceramics Invitational.”

“It looks phenomenal,” said Oliver, as he walked into the gallery.

He was even happier when he heard one of the pieces was recently purchased. It was the vibrant red and black one called Zipper, a rectangular vase that has been showcased on the exhibition’s promotional material. Both the Zipper piece and Oliver’s other piece, a yellow wall-mounted vase with a name related to its shape, U, readily capture a visitor’s eye, with stark white walls serving as the backdrop.

“Clay Currents” brings together 60 pieces created by 24 ceramic artists from around the U.S. and internationally. The exhibition in the Beren and Amsden Galleries and will continue through Dec. 8. The Ulrich Museum, which has free admission, is located on the Wichita State University campus.

Some of the pieces are available for purchase, with proceeds from the sales being divided between the artist and the Kansas Food Bank, according to Ulrich officials.

The exhibition includes work by contemporary masters and up-and-coming ceramic artists. It is meant to showcase the range of possibilities and creations in ceramics using traditional and unique methods.

The exhibition also has another purpose, said Ksenya Gurshtein, the museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art and one of the exhibition’s organizers.

“For a long time there’s been a divide between what is fine art and what is craft” among ceramic artists, she explained. “There is a movement to erase this divide. This is a way for (the museum) to embrace that trend and embrace ceramics as art.”

Pieces like Oliver’s have a functional purpose but are reimagined and reinterpreted into less familiar shapes. Some pieces convey commentary.

Of the 24 artists in the show, five have Kansas connections — with the artists having been born or educated in the state or living in Kansas.

On a recent tour of the exhibition, Gurshtein shared insights on several of the pieces. Later, Dallas-based artist Louise Rosenfield, who has amassed a significant collection of contemporary, functional pieces of ceramic art, also pointed out several unique pieces. She was visiting the Ulrich to participate in a panel discussion, as she owns pieces created by several of the same artists in the Ulrich’s exhibition.

Here are their observations of six of those pieces:

Chinese artist Yewen Dong installed her piece directly onto a gallery wall, making it a unique, one-off piece that will no longer exist when the exhibition is dismantled. Dong installed the piece Labor Day weekend.

Butler Community College instructor and WSU alum Trisha Coates premieres a large panel piece called Love Letter to My River. Her artwork tends to relate to how individuals perceive memories and she often makes molds of different objects to incorporate into her pieces. In the process of making the molds, the items often burn away, just like memories, she has said. The panel in the exhibition includes stoneware, porcelain and glass and evokes images of what might rest in a riverbed.

Pueblo artist Virgil Ortiz has created a cast of characters involved in a sort of sci-fi futuristic struggle happening in 2180 that is based on the historic 1680 Pueblo rebellion that overthrew Spanish rule in New Mexico. Ortiz’ piece depicting the character Thunder, Watchman Army is in the exhibition. Visitors can also view Ortiz’ short video of the reimagined revolt.

Artist Pattie Chalmers had specific instructions on how to display her autobiographical piece, That Day. She wanted it placed in the line of an air vent so the ceramic figure’s hair, red dress and grass would move. Chalmers will lead a ceramics workshop and an artist talk and participate in an artists panel related to the exhibition during a visit Nov. 7-9.

Montana-based artist Julia Galloway created six urns that each draw attention to a threatened or endangered species in Kansas’ ecosystem: Mead’s milkweed plant, the snowy plover bird, the Neosho mucket mussel, the Eastern spotted skunk, the Strecker’s chorus frog and the Plains minnow. While one side clearly depicts a species, an outline is all that remains of the item on the other side.

The clean lines between the colors on a piece by well-known ceramist Peter Beasecker are created in a not-so simple way, Rosenfield explained. His glazes are dipped and poured, not applied by brush, and yet he creates very distinct lines.

“Clay Currents” is the third iteration of a ceramics exhibition introducing Wichitans to contemporary artists. Two earlier editions took place at the Reuben Sanders Gallery.

Clay Currents: The Wichita National Ceramics Invitational exhibition

What: An exhibition of 60 pieces created by 24 U.S. and international ceramicists

Where: Ulrich Museum of Art on the Wichita State University Campus, 1845 N. Fairmount

When: On display during gallery hours of 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 1-5 p.m. weekends. Closed Mondays and major or university holidays. Related workshops and artist talks happen Nov. 7-9.

Admission: Free

More information: wichita.edu/museums/ulrich/