Kentuckians have excelled at making pottery, particularly the production of household goods, for hundreds of years.
But "we don't see a lot of sculptural ceramic work in Kentucky," said Kate Sprengnether, director of the Tuska Center for Contemporary Art at the University of Kentucky. "Not that it's not being made or not being shown, but generally in Kentucky, the emphasis is on more traditional crafts when you talk about ceramics."
For the next month, the Tuska Center and Transylvania University's Morlan Gallery will show contemporary ceramic sculpture that is far from traditional.
"We wanted to pool our resources. It's a small town, and we wanted to create something larger than our universities alone could produce," said Andrea Fisher, director of the Morlan Gallery.
Figuration to Fragmentation, an exhibit showing in both locations, is comprised of ceramics sculpture centering on the human figure, in a variety of ways.
The artwork, though all ceramic, often involves other media such as acrylic, encaustic (hot wax) and wood. Some pieces are small and finely detailed; others, such as Gunpoint by Georgia artist Keith Smith, are large installations.
"We saw a fragmenting of the human body both psychologically and physically," Fisher said. "In this you see whole figures and also fragments of the body and deformed figures. Each of these pieces has a psychological anxiety to it."
In their selection of the work, Sprengnether and Fisher were able to choose a theme for the show.
"We knew we just wanted to do ceramics sculpture, but we needed to narrow it down," Sprengnether said. "The figurative work was so striking and strong."
The two are excited by the quality of the work.
Fisher called attention to the ambitious details of To Wait For by Russian artist Sergei Isupov, including the hidden image on the bottom of the piece. Sprengnether spoke of the contributing benefit of light in sculptor Anne Drew Potter's The Judgment of Br'er Rabbit.
The gallery directors worked with ceramist and UK assistant professor Hunter Stamps, whom Fisher described as the "third curator."
"The idea of a ceramics show evolved because Andrea wanted to have a show with Hunter Stamps," Sprengnether said.
"His work is the most fragmented and least obviously figurative," Fisher said of Stamps' work.
Stamps said he sought to provide an experience of beauty, unexpected though it might be.
"This experience has the potential to make one think differently about the body's corporeal identity and open new perspectives on the discourse surrounding abject art," he said.
Stamps helped Fisher and Spregnether recruit more artists and develop the show's theme.
The list of artists includes some of national acclaim and others who are rising in the ceramics world.
"We all felt that it was important to expose the community, students and faculty to the most current and contemporary ceramic art that addresses issues surrounding the human body," Stamps said.
The art itself won't be the only attraction during the monthlong exhibit. There will be a lecture series accompanying the show. This was an attempt by the curators to "broaden and deepen the discourse surrounding the exhibition," Stamps said.
In early October, there will be a mini-conference to which ceramics faculty, students and regional clay groups have been invited.
The first lectures will be on opening night of the exhibit, with talks by Stamps and Western Kentucky University associate professor Tom Bartel, a sculptor.
"This an amazing opportunity to hear critics, art historians, artists talk about the contemporary ceramic sculpture world," Fisher said.
The galleries will be open for Gallery Hop, in addition to the regular daytime hours. The catalog for the show is available for download or purchase at www.lulu.com.
"We wanted there to be a lot of opportunities for people to interact with the show and interact with the artists in many different ways," Sprengnether said. "We're hoping we get an audience outside the ceramics community and outside our universities."