Much has been written on the story of sculptural ceramics since the nineteenth century. From Gauguin and Picasso to the collector’s pieces of Bernard Leach and the British Studio Ceramic Movement, through to American Expressionism, installation and performance - ceramic artists have continuously challenged accepted norms and altered perceptions. Frequently referencing the broad traditions of craft, they have taken the opportunity to reinterpret, subvert or even exist beyond these traditions as each generation has felt, according to Edmund de Waal, “the complexity and expansion of the field for themselves, turning away from the past, doubting the previous generation’s ability to renew the art of ceramics.”1 But as we settle into the 21st Century it has become increasingly clear that, whatever tropes emerge, ceramics is now, as Paul Gauguin once famously declared, “a central art.” Today’s ceramic artists apply their skills in continually new and exciting ways, addressing ideas and exploring conceptual concerns in ways their predecessors could never have imagined and people are paying attention to this evolution; as is evidenced by the increasing presence of ceramics in established galleries, at international art fairs, and in the media.
Since its establishment in 2012, Taste Contemporary has championed the work of both new and established international artists who work in clay. Founder, Monique Deul, believes that while ceramics is still a rather untapped segment of the art world, perceptions are changing as “art collectors are discovering the leading lights of the ceramic art world”. Some of these leading lights are now featured in a new exhibition at Musée Ariana, Geneva, Switzerland. For many years Musée Ariana has initiated valuable partnerships with galleries as a way of highlighting works by internationally acclaimed artists who have contributed to the canon of contemporary ceramics and glass. In 2017 this collaboration was extended to Monique Deul, who was invited to develop an exhibition featuring several of the gallery’s artists. The result is Contained|Contenu which showcases seven distinct and unique voices. Co-curated by Monique Deul and Ana Quintero Pérez from Musée Ariana, Contained|Contenu explores the notion of containment, of inside and outside, of borders and beyond.
Today’s ceramic artists apply their skills in continually new and exciting ways, addressing ideas and exploring conceptual concerns in ways their predecessors could never have imagined and people are paying attention to this evolution.
Throughout her career, Alison Britton’s slab-built containers have continued to challenge and deconstruct notions of functional pottery. Surfaces are painted with gestural painterly marks or are completed by pouring and painting slip, then glaze, across their surfaces. The pieces selected for this exhibition include a number of recent works as well as new pieces such as Freight, a wide vessel with an intriguing second contained section. Norwegian artist Marit Tingleff also employs a painterly approach to her work, using multiple layers of coloured slips, before her pieces are repeatedly fired and glazed. For this show at Musée Ariana, she has specially created double-walled vessels that explore volume. Initially viewed as objects of containment, and so possessing an inherent utility, the function in this instance is subverted by the inclusion of holes, which invite endless perspectives as they are viewed from different angles.
Belgian artist Anne Marie Laureys begins her process by throwing a classic, symmetrical pot, an object of containment, however, she then disrupts function by pulling, folding, pinching and altering the clay, remolding and refolding it over and over again until it speaks with her unique voice. Her ceramics are renowned for their sense of excitement, freshness and tactility. They exude an emotional energy that both attracts and intrigues the viewer.
Andrea Walsh also questions ideas of containment but unlike the larger works shown here by Britton, Tingleff and Laureys, her exploration is on a more intimate scale. Requiring quiet contemplation, her collections are presented in the exhibition’s second gallery alongside a beautiful installation by one of the two glass artists in the exhibition - Jeremy Maxwell Wintrebert (the other being Richard Meitner, whose works frequently question our perception of beauty). Walsh also works in glass and on closer inspection, her smooth translucent containers reveal exquisite fine bone china boxes. High fired and diamond polished, with an inner gloss glaze, the Waterwork series by Deirdre McLoughlin is inspired by her daily cycle to and from her studio along the banks of the IJ in Amsterdam. Two of the works from this series have been selected for the show while another, Waterwork I, was a finalist in this year’s LOEWE Craft Prize.
There is a tendency for discussions around ceramics to remain focused on the descriptive, the technical and the historical. Contained|Contenu reminds us that it’s high time we also considered the conceptual, analytical and emotional concerns of this extremely expressive and powerful art form
There is a tendency for discussions around ceramics to remain focused on the descriptive, the technical and the historical. Contained|Contenu reminds us that it’s high time we also considered the conceptual, analytical and emotional concerns of this extremely expressive and powerful art form.
1. De Waal, E, 2003, 20th Century Ceramics, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London. p. 2014.
Contained |Contenu continues at Musée Ariana, Geneva, Switzerland until October 7th 2018. For further information see: www.ariana-geneve.ch and www.tastecontemporary.com
Frances McDonald provides consultancy and support services as well as project and event management for clients within the art, craft and design sectors.
Working with state agencies and academic institutions, commercial galleries and practitioners, she has worked on projects both in Ireland and internationally. She also writes regularly on contemporary craft and has contributed to publications such as Ceramics Ireland, Irish Arts Review, Ceramic Review UK, Neues Glas: Art & Architecture and CFile.org.
Frances McDonald has a Degree in Design Communications from Limerick School of Art & Design and an MA in Design History & Material Culture from the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, Ireland.