Clay has an earthy sensuality quite apart from its more refined, and often aloof, cousin, glass. You know the artist's hands have been all over it. In "Clay?", the latest show at Kirkland Arts Center, 21 ceramic artists from around the country try their hand at making something new with this very old material. The show is juried by three professors from UW's ceramics program, Jamie Walker, Akio Takamori, and Doug Jeck, and curated by the gallery's artistic director Jason Huff. Though pitched as a national exhibit, there's a good local showing (seven artists from the Puget Sound area) and representation from odd pockets in the nation like East Lansing, Mich., and Hopewell, N.J. The show highlights innovation in an ancient art form that UW's well-regarded program has helped foster. Why the uncertainty in the title? To draw viewers in to question their expectations of the medium. Much of the work accomplishes this nicely. Robert Kirsch's Humility Text evokes a bound human form caught in a web of words, and Shu-Mei Chan's porcelain Cut Box looks like a bale of straw made entirely of needles. The exhibit also effectively demonstrates clay's breadth, from the voluptuous vessel of Jasmine Zimmerman's Suspend to the sublimely disturbing expanded head of a Scoutmaster in Marty Shuter's Always Be Prepared to Linda Lopez's untitled ceramic blanket lined with steel pins rippling over a clump of human hair. First-place winner Ashley Lyon of Seattle likely won for concept—a ceramic child hiding behind a curtain, clutching it from behind, only chubby legs visible from underneath. It's a little on the cute side, though it captures the playfulness of a classic child's pose. But I rather prefer the demented figurines of third-place winner Heidi Preuss Grew of Salem, Ore. Her Boy with Drumstick and Family (pictured) and scary Tourist clearly have a strange story to tell. Kirkland Arts Center, 620 Market St., 425-822-7161, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. second Thursdays. Ends July 29.

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