When we wrote about Bente Skjøttgaard in 2014, Garth Clark said she is “known for a certain toughness in her work. Yes, there is beauty too, but she takes on difficult themes, marries them to equally challenging processes and pushes toward the edge.” The next evolution of her contemporary ceramic art is currently on display at Galerie Maria Lund with New Species – Especes Nouvelles (Paris, January 30 — March 12). The gallery charts the progress of the sculptor over these last 12 years.
Above image: Bente Skjøttgaard, White Species no 1559, stoneware and glaze, 36 x 42 x 39 cm. All photographs by Ole Akjøj, courtesy of the gallery and the artist.
Bente Skjøttgaard’s first exhibition in Paris in 2004 suggested the transition from pottery tradition – the exploration of the container, the jar, the pot, the dish as a base for experimenting with the ceramic matter – towards a purely sculptural approach where the potential function was definitely left out. The transition had happened through “the deviation” of a series of “dishes”. The dishes, saturated with lustrous glazes had turned into lakes – and the “handles” had taken the shape of branches that circled the lakes or disappeared in them. Then, the handles-branches had evolved towards infinite ramifications and interlacing; some extremely delicate, others thick as tree trunks…Vegetation was explicitly here.
What followed was something more geological: the Elements in white ensemble (2008) presented an exploration of the clay matter, of the mineral and of geological movements. All covered in dense and matte, white glazes with surprising surfaces. A ceramic feat, not only in terms of new textures but also as goes for the monumentality of the pieces. The weight of the rock was succeeded by the illusion of the clouds’ lightness with the series In the clouds (2010) and Resting area (2012). In these works, the attention was focused both on a contradictory challenge – the rendering of a fluctuant and vaporous phenomenon with ceramic matters – and on color. Bente Skjøttgaard developed a very marshmallowy range that took up the entire celestial spectrum while recalling fine pastry textures. With her exhibition Cumulonimbus (Copenhagen Ceramics, 2014), the exploration of clouds reached a state of apotheosis. The direct inspiration, the Cumulonimbus, king of clouds – a complex phenomenon born from the meeting between cumulus creating a upward movement – had led to a an abundance of open shapes in psychedelic colors: orange, blue and mauve variations – and certain whites with very sensuous red blushes. A captivating world of shapes, where bad weather had called forth the floral, the haute couture and sugar candy.
If, as evoked before, vegetation has one day grown from a container, it is now a poetic story of both of them – the container/pot and the branch/coil – that constitutes Bente Skjøttgaard’s proceedings. One day the human being felt the need to contain, transport, preserve and protect. Maybe he took a shell to carry water to his mouth; rejoiced that the rainwater had accumulated in a rock’s cavity or he admired the nests’ weaving that allowed birds to live in the air, far from the dangers of the ground. These assumptions are part of the story of civilizations. We know that the clay container can be found in every culture and that it represents one of the first traces of human work. Starting off from rather large branches, Bente Skjøttgaard’s new pieces look to be knitted with large needles. The structures are open and swaying. In this organic mesh, “nests-bowls-containers” lie alone or together, unless they outright rest on it, forming a most extravagant “high rise” construction. The branches support, circle and penetrate the “bowls.” Holes and passages appear. There, the artist allows the cultural product of the container to find its natural origins again and to turn into imaginary variations on their relationship to one another. The branch is also coil, snake, straw and rope and the container stone, pod, shell, nest or a simple hole in the earth.
The colors are bright – pinks, mauves, lemon yellows and cobalt blues in combination with an immaculate white. The matte surfaces meet glossy ones; densities and transparences unfold in a crackling game and in three dimensional patterns, recalling those of bark or animal skin, or even the veins of a marble that has yet to be discovered.
Bente Skjøttgaard has gone off to add another highly personal chapter to the infinite story that culture and nature share, whilst continuing her exploration of ceramic possibilities.
Galerie Maria Lund has presented five exhibitions (2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010, 2012) of Bente Skjøttgaard (born in Denmark in 1961), that were all warmly welcomed by the public, the press and institutions. Her sculptures have joined the Fond national d’art contemporain, Paris and the V&A, London, the Musée National de la Céramique, Sèvres, the Musées de Châteauroux and a number of public collections in Northern Europe. Bente Skjøttgaard often exhibits in Europe, in the United States as well as in South Korea (KIAF in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011). Her work has also been shown at the Biennale de Châteauroux (2009 and 2011), at the Biennale de Vallauris (2010) and recently she has participated in the Parcours Carougeois (2015, exhibition on the line, Halles de la Fonderie).
In 2012, the artist created the exhibition platform Copenhagen Ceramics in collaboration with artists-ceramicists Martin Bodilsen Kaldahl and Steen Ipsen.
Text (edited) and photographs courtesy of Galerie Maria Lund and the artist.
What do you think of this latest evolution of Bente Skjøttgaard’s contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.