Something intriguing has been happening to clay. It has gradually become a favorite expressive medium for many of today's craftsmen-artists. And the results are exciting.
This is obvious in ``American Ceramics Now: the 27th Ceramic National Exhibition,'' which just opened here at the American Craft Museum and highlights trends over the last 20 years. It will continue through Oct. 18.
The 81 clay pieces from ceramists all over the country are a far cry from the traditional vessel forms - mugs, vases, pots, plates, and bowls - with which we are most familiar.
What we see here is a new dynamic for an old medium - fresh colors and textures, new techniques, larger scale, and far more expressionism. Such ceramics have entered the mainstream of sophisticated American art, and, as such, are shown in many top galleries and museums.
There is a trend toward sculptural ceramics - clay pieces that are artistically sculptural in effect and not at all functional in purpose.
Some of the sculptures are made to resemble people. Others are intricate clay constructions painstakingly put together. One large floor piece includes 45 separate pieces combined in one six-foot-long sculpture. Even the teapots are often wonderfully wacky in form.
Whimsy is an important element in many pieces, but so are social commentary and surrealism.
It is obvious that American ceramists are more adventurous than they once were - and also that they have more mastery of their clay.
They are working out techniques with sure hands - and sometimes with computers, as well - to time their kilns and record their formulas.
Since ``potting'' is a hobby for thousands of people in the United States, many of these leisure-time ceramists will find inspiration in this show, which is the result of the first major Ceramic National Competition since 1970.
The event, begun by the Syracuse (N.Y.) Museum of Fine Arts (now Everson Museum) in 1932, when few museums were buying or showing ceramic art, was held annually or biennially through 1970. Each competition focused attention on the field's innovators at the time.
This year's competition with its 2700 entries marks the reinstatement of the tradition.
An accompanying catalogue catalog - same title as the exhibit - is available for $10 from ACC Publications, 40 West 53rd Street, New York, NY l00l9.
``Meet the Artist'' demonstrations (Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 am to 3 pm) will help introduce museum visitors to the artists and to their various techniques.