It’s our goal to cover as much of the contemporary ceramics world as possible. It pains us to let an exhibition go unmentioned. So in order to scoop up as many worthy shows as we can, we run this column, “Exhibitions in Brief.”
Above image: Beth Katleman, Folly, 2010, porcelain, 20-foot installation (Detail). Photo courtesy of the artist.
White gold. White earth. Porcelain. This precious commodity that goes by many names has been the lifelong interest of Edmund de Waal’s career and artistic practice. His father was the chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral, later appointed the dean of Canterbury Cathedral, and his mother was a historian, so it is not surprising that de Waal had the opportunity to become acquainted with England’s best architecture and spaces. The sacred spaces he spent his time in during his youth certainly translated into the bodies of work he is producing now.
His latest work and installation, white (London, September 26th, 2015 – January 3rd, 2016), an intervention of objects inside of the Royal Academy (RA) library, showcases his collection of white objects that he has collected, made, and inherited through his years, along with the library’s lesser known items such as the intact porcelain palette of J.M.W. Turner. These objects are tucked in and integrated within the library’s alcoves and bookshelves. De Waal allows these treasures to be discovered by displaying these objects in the quiet and unassuming space of a library, to be found and uncovered by the passerby looking for a good read.
Not only is de Waal searching to discover the meaning of white for himself, but he is also finding that discovery through the white objects of other artists, using their struggles of white to help express his understanding of the color and the mediums used with it. White is unassuming. White allows room to breathe. White is the breath of fresh air that frees us from our inner turmoils. He talks about how “other things in the world are white but, for me, porcelain comes first.”
White also carries a lot of meaning (and baggage) for many peoples and cultures, which calls attention to the elephant in the room (in this case the room is the Royal Academy library): race. De Waal skirts around the topic of race within his installation, not mentioning the politics of “whiteness” and his own privilege to own and access these art objects. He is a beneficiary of his own whiteness. This installation is also slightly reminiscent of the Western tradition of cabinets of curiosity, where objects that have been acquired through the removal from their native ritual or setting are displayed together for ethnographic, geological, archaeological, or personal purposes.
His book, The White Road: A Pilgrimage of Sorts, details his journey through Jingdezhen, China (among other ceramic hot spots) where he uncovers the lost and forgotten remnants of Chinese ceramic production and history. He writes, “And under the tyres of our car amongst the weeds are broken saggars, brown and black, rough thrown clay vessels with high raised ridges, five, six inches across. And shards, pale crescents of porcelain in the red earth. I pick up the first and it is the base of a twelfth-century wine cup, a fine tapering stem holding a jagged bowl, a thumb’s breadth across. It is impossibly thin. And not white at all, but a very light washed-out blue celadon, with a network of brown crackles across it where hundreds of years of this soil has stained it.” In this book he discovers the vast history of ceramics around the world, in China, England, Germany, America, and beyond, and their obsession with white ceramics.
Edmund de Waal has permanent collections in renowned institutions such as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Clay Leonard wants to take the table back to what it once was— a place to unwind and review the day with family and friends. Devoid of that meaning now in the 21st century, Leonard is hand throwing and slip casting white porcelain tableware to bring the spice back to the dinner table. He draws his inspiration from mass-produced forms, using crisp lines and geometric shapes to create something truly remarkable. He says, “I celebrate what my unique touch offers that is lost with the machine,” honoring the humility of the craftsman. These forms are not meant to collect dust in the china cabinet, they are intended to be used, to draw people together at the dinner table. They serve as a reminder to experience something special over the shared meal, to pick them up, use them, to be involved in the experience of their use with a loved one. His work was featured in Lively Experiments at NCECA 2015 Biennial (Brown University, Rhode Island, March 25-28th, 2015).
Kim Simonsson’s work is child-like and bizarre in nature because most of his sculptures are children in grotesque scenes, such as a young girl choking the neck of what looks like a bird with the head of a snake. His work is mostly devoid of all color, adding to the eerie narrative he seems to passionately pursue. The all-white adds a delicate, calm layer to the already heavy subject matter, leaving the viewer wanting of the comforts of color. You can read an earlier review of his work here.
Accidentally stepping into the subversive, Beth Katleman’s work is best described by Ken Johnson at the New York Times as “doll‐sized rococo theaters of murder and domestic mayhem.” We reviewed her work before. Using the design language of 18th century wallpaper in a way that completely destabilizes the viewer’s idea of household domesticity and obedience, Katleman is interested in “blurring the lines between the fine and decorative arts. Porcelain suggests both the opulence of royal porcelain and the kitsch exuberance of mass-market souvenirs.” From far away everything seems just as it should be, but once a second look is taken there is turmoil and depravity ensuing all over.
She describes her way of working: “As I cast the trinkets in white porcelain and arrange them, stories begin to emerge. Often the narratives touch on domestic disturbances or themes of lost innocence. The tales have a cinematic quality, moving across the wall like stop-motion animation: a bridesmaid sinks lower and lower into the pond until all that remains is a ripple on the water’s surface.” She sources her subjects for these scenes at flea markets, allowing surprise and chance to drive her work.
What do you think of this assortment of contemporary ceramics? Let us know in the comments.