From traditional thrown vessels to hand-formed sculptural pieces, an upcoming exhibition at the National Gallery will feature delicate and rare pieces from around the world.
“Ceramic Art – from the 15th century to the contemporary” runs from Oct. 6 through Nov. 27.
Gallery director Natalie Urquhart and Eme Paschalides are the curators of the exhibition, which includes historically important wares from U.K.-based Belvedere Collection, as well as contemporary works by artists from Europe, South Africa and the Cayman Islands. There will also be a series of events, including screenings, lectures and ceramic art courses and workshops for adults and children, in conjunction with the exhibit.
Local artists involved are either exclusively ceramicists or sculptors who have used clay. Among them are Cecilia Urdaneta, Alan Darvil, Joseph Betty, Virginia Foster, Lorna Reid, Chris Mann, Al Ebanks, Davin Ebanks and Avril Ward.
The Belvedere Collection contains one of the world’s most comprehensive selection of Vincennes and early Sèvres porcelain, two royal French manufacturers established in the 18th century.
“Pieces from these manufacturers are collected round the world for the exuberant beauty and brilliance of their designs, the unbelievable skills they reveal, and also simply because they speak of wealth, sophistication and prestige,” said Paschalides.
Samples from other major manufacturers and contemporary studios will also be on display, covering a broader history of ceramics from the 15th century to today, including simple clay dishes to more elaborate gilded and enameled wares.
The contemporary pieces generously loaned from Belvedere showcase the works of well-established artists such as Edmund de Waal and Kate Malone of the U.K., Lucie Rie of Austria, and Hylton Nel of South Africa.
“With modernist, eccentric designs, these ceramic artists have helped revolutionize the way we view ceramics in general,” said Paschalides. “Edmund de Waal, whose work is in many museums such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Fitzwilliam Museum and Tate Britain, produces objects that come out of a dialogue between minimalism, architecture and music.
“Kate Malone, another British artist, has made a huge impact on the British ceramics scene with her use of extraordinary glazes, often with crystalline surfaces.
“A great deal of innovation and creativity continues to go into the making of unique pieces today, but in the privacy of studios instead of the eminent manufactures of yesterday.”
History of ceramic art
Ceramic objects have a long history in most developed cultures, often being the only artistic evidence of vanished cultures, such as clay objects and pottery. While some ceramic objects are decorative, industrial or archeological artifacts, others are regarded as fine art, such as objects made of porcelain. China, Crete, Greece, Persia, Mayan, Japan and Korea are particularly well known for ceramics, each with its own distinct elements, such as shape, paintings, carvings or glazing techniques.
Paschalides explained that from an art historical perspective, ceramic art largely refers to a difficult alchemist process that produces beautiful and expensive objects, especially since the European discovery of porcelain in the 18th century. Owning ceramic objects made of porcelain at that time was akin to having the latest and newest technology in today’s world.
“Objects produced during that period and thereafter can seem ostentatious to our modernist eyes, but they were like the iPhones of their day – the product of art and science coming together and creating something beautiful yet functional,” she said.
She also noted that trade between China and Europe not only changed our idea of what was beautiful “by introducing us to the idea of works of art we could eat off,” but also began to affect the whole tradition of Chinese aesthetics, as the ceramicists of the East sought to meet the aesthetics of the West. Europeans, in particular, have had an obsession with Chinese porcelain since the 16th Century.
“The porcelain fever that gripped European countries drove conspicuous consumption and fueled the craze for tea parties. Today the new emperors – China’s rising millionaire class – are buying back the export wares once shipped to Europe,” Paschalides said.
She cited the sale of a Chinese cup at auction earlier this year. Measuring only 2.1 inches in diameter, it sold for £20 million (US$32.5 million). “Auction results like this show that the lure of porcelain is as compelling as ever.
“Although far less valuable, the pieces proudly exhibited by the National Gallery are rare, very representative of their period and very collectible,” she said.