Pots in the gallery! Visit to Tate Britain, 11th May, 2015.

At a recent seminar (21st April 2015), it was posited that perhaps the Modernist period of the 1920s and 30s was the closest ceramics came to true recognition within the world of Fine Arts, when Bernard Leach, William Staite-Murray and Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie were in their prime. The new Tate Britain display of pottery in the 1910-1930 room supports this view. I’m intrigued, the Tate web-site also includes a forum for debate on When is craft  an art? introduced by Kirstie Bevan (in 2011) who opens the piece with an explanation that it was the rise of artists such as Grayson Perry and publication of works such as Richard Sennet’s The Craftsman (2009) that has prompted the “resurgence” of interest. However the pervading view seems still to suggest that pottery and “ceramics” are not truly at home as art – or certainly not fine art? It was interesting that the display case in question is poorly lit and the pots on display, whilst maybe fine in their own right, look insignificant and slightly dowdy, almost cementing the point that these are pots, not art? When I arrived at the Tate that morning, I asked at the information desk where the display might be found (I had only heard a rumour of it’s installation!). The lady at the desk was very helpful, but her first response was “pots, pottery…..no, I don’t think so!” She then looked through her guide and reference books – to no avail…. Guerrilla ceramicists active within the Tate curatorial division – I wonder? These “silent pots” ( see de Waal 2004 ) do not convey any meaning on their own, they are pots; vases, bowls, jars. Perhaps it is the concentration on form and material within Modernism – which fits with part of the Tate’s own definition of the movement – Modernism refers to the broad movement in Western art, architecture and design which self-consciously rejected the past as a model for the art of the present, and placed an emphasis on formal qualities within artworks and processes and materials…… that justifies their presence. De Waal, E. (2004) Speak for Yourself. Interpreting Ceramics. Issue 5. http://interpretingceramics.com/issue005/speakforyourself.htm

 

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