Ceramics are all of the artwork world rage in the intervening time, however a brand new exhibition at Thomas Dane’s Naples gallery is one aside. Postponed twice as a consequence of Covid, A Matter of Life and Demise, deliver collectively a global line up of 13 artists who’ve made works in clay.
Organised by curator Jenni Lomax, it feels extra like an institutional present than a business one—though it incorporates a formidable quartet of artists on the gallery’s roster: Magdalene Odundo, Lynda Benglis, Anya Gallaccio and the late Philip King. For 27 years, Lomax was the pioneering director of Camden Artwork Centre the place, lengthy earlier than at this time’s upsurge in curiosity, she established a fame for championing work in ceramics in addition to the very best in modern and Twentieth-century artwork. Throughout her time at Camden she instigated a programme of ceramics fellowships and her departure was marked by the gallery’s institution of The Freelands Lomax Ceramics Fellowship, which continues to supply residencies and exhibition alternatives to rising artists working with clay.
This abiding dedication to the historical past and potential of ceramics is clear in Lomax’s alternative of labor for Thomas Dane, which spans generations and pushes on the limits of what clay will be made to say and do. A trio of smooth new burnished pots by Magdalene Odundo is offset by a pieced painted terracotta plaque by Lucio Fontana; Philip King sliced vessel sculptures cavort alongside two totemic perforated standing constructions etched with English and Yoruba textual content from Lawson Oyekan; and in Keith Harrison’s movie, clay is wrapped instantly across the parts of his grandmother’s electrical hearth to doubtlessly deadly impact.
Serena Korda’s grimacing, anthropomorphic pots are designed to be blown into whereas Anya Gallaccio’s amorphous kinds have been recycled from an earlier work during which uncooked clay was robotically formed utilizing a 3D printer. Half bones, half intestines, these suggestive shapes at the moment are given a brand new glazed, patinated lease of life by being ceremonially cremated in each industrial and outside, wood-fuelled kilns.
Extra clay rituals are conjured up within the mysterious encrusted constructions of Masaomi Yasunaga, that are fired by being buried in sand blended with fragments of pebbles, glass and ash. (As soon as Yasunaga even added the ashes of his grandmother.) These weird kinds, some resembling corals, others barnacled artefacts taken from the ocean ground, are right here proven lined up alongside a funerary mound of the mineral detritus out of which they initially emerged. Phoebe Cummings’ took up residence within the gallery as a way to create her intricate and impossibly delicate preparations of flowers and fruit that resemble Flemish vanitas work, and which, being customary from unfired clay, are additionally destined to perish over time. One other memento mori is obtainable by Chiara Camoni’s vases, that are exuberantly adorned with the seductive but in addition malevolent types of butterflies, after which crammed with reduce blooms which, fairly than being changed, arejust allowed to wither and die.
The presiding genius of A Matter of Life and Demise is the nice Argentinian-Italian artist and theorist Lucio Fontana, whose perforated, gouged or vigorously modelled ceramic works are positioned all through the exhibition, beginning with a punctured egg-like terracotta sphere in first room. Fontana arrived in Italy as a small little one at the start of the Twentieth century, simply similtaneously a sequence of violent earthquakes devastated the nation. This eruptive high quality fed instantly into his ceramic work the place he made piercings and slits into clay, in addition to his higher identified holes and cuts into canvas. Fontana’s revelling within the properties and processes of clay units the tone for this exhibition, and his description of his ceramic works as “terremotata ma firma” (earthquaked however immobile) may even have been its title.
As a substitute, A Matter of Life and Demise is called after the traditional 1946 Powell and Pressburger movie during which a World Battle 11 fighter pilot, performed by David Niven, bales out of his airplane and finds himself neither alive nor useless. Suspended in a limbo place between these two states, he has to cut price for his life, in a spot someplace between heaven and hell. Equally it’s the unsure standing of clay, encompassing each fragility and energy, magnificence and abjection, that’s the central theme of the present. The stuff of the earth, ceramics are formed, customary but in addition incessantly destroyed by the water and hearth that give them their type. Each resilient and delicate, works produced from clay can survive in all climates for millennia, but in addition be shattered by a misfiring or an opportunity topple. At each stage, as everybody working with ceramics is aware of, the potential for disaster isn’t far-off.
So what higher setting for this exploration of elemental, existential precarity than Naples, a metropolis stacked round a watery bay and presided over by a volcano? A spot of magnificence and resilience, it’s redolent of loss of life and drama: beneath the streets is a maze of underground catacombs piled with the bones of the useless and even the bollards are topped by skulls. Roofed with clay, floored with terracotta, Naples can also be the house of Capodimonte porcelain. It bristles with archaeological, anthropological and ceramic wonders, and the drama, environment and instability of this historic and sometimes violent metropolis infuses each work on this exhibition.
This Neapolitan setting highlights the lava-like high quality of Anya Gallaccio’s squirming lustrious kinds, it provides Lynda Benglis’ shimmying strips and slabs of brilliantly glazed clay assume a baroque curvaceousness and accentuates the affiliation of Philip King’s sculptures with classical vases, jugs and pitchers, similtaneously they strike human poses with their bulbous bellies, angular handles andprotruding spouts. A extra contained power is to be discovered within the poised pots of Magdalene Odundo which additionally nod to the vessels exhumed from Pompeiian ash as they hover perilously en pointe on their plinths, their surfaces smoked with the patterning of repeated firings.
Typically a way of destruction is constructed into the work itself. Andrew Lord’s wall-mounted circle of sixteen hovering swallows flaunt the breakages to their wings and tails in golden seams of Japanese kintsugi restore; whereas the dusty pile of destroyed blooms mendacity beneath Phoebe Cummings’s luxurious floral sconce is all that’s left of the sooner model that unexpectedly fell to the ground, dramatically foretelling the final word destiny of the present piece as soon as the ambient temperature has triggered all its unglazed leaves and petals to crumble into mud. Cummings’ works aren’t alleged to survive this present: one other much more intricate unfired clay confection slowly oozes a trickle of water that may finally soften all its intricate element right into a muddy mass .
Thomas Dane Gallery overlooks the bay of Naples and this unstable watery atmosphere additionally makes its presence felt. Serena Korda makes direct reference to the dramatic vista in a huge ceramic necklace made particularly for this present. Draped throughout doorways and spilling onto the ground, it’s strung with large ornamental baubles within the form of unique fruit, in addition to sweeping, double-faced weeping mermaid’s head which apparently refers back to the mythological sirens that tempted sailors from their boats. Breaking away from this chain are a sequence of grotesque severed ceramic arms and tentacled creatures that appear to be scuttling throughout the ground in the direction of a energetic pouting fish by Lucio Fontana.
The baroque grotesquery and ornament-overload of Naples finds extra echoes in Korda’s different sequence of big-bellied ceramic and stoneware bottles which have bearded—and in a single case vomiting—faces and surfaces that variously sprout a number of breasts, atom-bomb clouds and a vaginal gash. Opposite to their look, these extreme, suggestive vessels are designed to include not liquids however air, they usually sit, ready to be blown into and activated as a part of Korda’s “jug orchestra”.
However whereas this explicit orchestra could also be silenced there isn’t any scarcity of animation on this dynamic, vibrant exhibition. In Jenni Lomax’s arms, clay is but once more confirmed as each a timeless and a well timed medium, and particularly on this dramatic metropolis which teems with each life and loss of life. However whether or not in Naples or past, this parade of marvellous, multifarious ceramics provides a strong and unsettling metaphor for our present unstable occasions the place nothing is fastened, static or sure.
• A Matter of Life and Demise, Thomas Dane Gallery, Naples, till 28 Could