Within the mid-Nineties, once I was writing a ebook on the UK’s up to date artwork scene for Tate, a curator on the gallery queried considered one of my artist entries: the then-barely identified Grayson Perry. “Why are you together with a potter?” requested the Tate grandee. “We didn’t fee a ebook about craft!” How instances change. A couple of years later Perry received the Turner Prize and right this moment ceramics are almost as frequent as canvases in galleries and artwork gala’s; that is definitely the case throughout the UK proper now the place artists from all generations and backgrounds are placing on reveals to proclaim the facility of clay.
Chief amongst them is Theaster Gates, who’s at the moment staging a London ceramics takeover with a trio of exhibitions on the Whitechapel Gallery, White Dice in Mason’s Yard and the ceramics division on the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), all beneath the umbrella title of The Query of Clay. Clay may even characteristic in Gates’s forthcoming fee to create subsequent yr’s Serpentine Gallery pavilion. “Clay made me and is perpetually the foundation of my inventive curiosity,” says Chicago-based Gates, who took up pottery as a scholar at Iowa State College after which studied ceramics with grasp potters in Japan.
On the Whitechapel, Gates combines his personal work remodeled twenty years with a condensed and significant historical past of ceramics, from Han dynasty storage jars to vessels by the late Twentieth-century potters Bernard Leach and Lucie Rie. Additionally included are much less exalted examples of the medium, starting from a pallet of humble bricks to a grim array of slavery-era tobacco jars, and newer caricatured racist ornaments. Gates’s personal work spans his earliest hand thrown pots to the newest large-scale items which he describes as Afro-Mingei, and wherein he fuses conventional Japanese craft with African American aesthetics and tradition. Including further context is a brand new movie that includes Gates in an deserted brick manufacturing facility in Montana, interwoven with vocal solos by the artist and his musical group the Black Monks, together with archive footage taken from all through his profession.
The companion piece to this movie is being exhibited at White Dice and reveals Gates singing an improvised hymn in the identical brickworks, the place on a close-by residency he made the quite a few thrown vessels that dominate this present. These modest however beautiful pots are grouped on high of rows of picket submitting cupboards the place extra little vessels nestle inside; contrasting this home show are Gates’s Brick Work: wall-based ceramic panels that deal with clay as canvas and additional blur boundaries between artwork and craft.
Clay made me and is perpetually the foundation of my inventive curiosity
Ceramics had been additionally on show at Frieze London final month, courtesy of the younger British artist Lindsey Mendick, whose cluster of 9 massive, darkly subversive vases with octopus tentacles erupting suggestively from their interiors had been proven by Carl Freedman Gallery. “I resolutely needed myself to be throughout the clay—making with clay grounds you in that specific time,” Mendick says. She particularly enjoys toying with the art-craft divide and undermining concepts of the useful object. “Ceramics are supposed to be excellent, not in a state of flux,” she says. Extra of her work, together with horned and claw-footed planters, a pair of ceramic stilettos and a china scorpion on a diamante leash could be seen in PROUDICK at London’s Hannah Barry Gallery, a present made in collaboration with Paloma Proudfoot. Right here clay performs a serious half of their exploration of teenage libidinal fantasies and voyages of self discovery.
Extra slow-burning with their provocative associations are the distinctive, full-bellied pots of the Nairobi-born, Surrey-based Magdalene Odundo, who’s at the moment exhibiting her vessels alongside works from varied UK museum collections on the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Usually impressed by her in depth travels and analysis into craft custom, the works are painstakingly constructed up in coils and sprout suggestive nodules whereas their surfaces are repeatedly fired to realize a wealthy, burnished texture. Odundo, who has achieved a lot to erode boundaries between artwork and craft, has been firmly within the artwork camp since her main touring reveals at Hepworth Wakefield and the Sainsbury Centre in 2019. She can be included in some of the eagerly anticipated exhibitions of subsequent yr: Physique Vessel Clay: Black Ladies, Ceramics & Modern Artwork, which opens in January at Two Temple Place in London and explores how ceramics have been disrupted and reimagined by Black ladies over the previous 70 years. For, as Odundo says, of all of the mediums out there to artists, “clay is essentially the most versatile and pliable and naturally earthy, sympathetic and human”.
• Theaster Gates: Slight Intervention #5, till 9 January 2022, on the Victoria and Albert Museum; A Clay Sermon, till 9 January 2022, at Whitechapel Gallery; Oh, The Wind Oh, The Wind, till 30 October, at White Dice, Mason’s Yard
• PROUDICK, till 6 November, at Hannah Barry Gallery, London
• Magdalene Odundo, till 24 July 2022, on the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge