Friday, 3 May 2013


By presenting a selective overview of what was produced in France (Vallauris, Annecy) and Germany during the 50s, 60s and 70s, in the field of what could be termed 'popular ceramics' and placing the works in a broader historical context (with reference to British industrial and Japanese studio ceramics), the exhibition aimed to open up new perspectives on ceramic history.

It did so by challenging widespread assumptions about the relation between aesthetic quality and modes of production (crafts and industrial), and by experimenting with museography (presenting the objects in conversations not in isolation from each other.).

The displays staged anthropomorphic encounters between ceramic objects to invite free comparisons; beyond conventional art historical ways of looking at them in isolation.

It brought together ceramics which are normally kept in separate categories.

Most of the works have not yet begun to attract the attention of museum curators and are awaiting incorporation into the ceramic 'canon'. I doubt whether they ever will. This is a case where the collector leads the way and curators either follow or don't.

The exhibition highlighted that, in the best cases, works produced in industrial or semi-industrial conditions could incorporate a high level of craft skills in their making.

Inspired by the Bauhaus, many German studio potters developed designs that could be serially produced and retain their artistic integrity. This is particularly noticeable in the works of Rudy and Wendelin Stahl (Germany) and Louis Giraud and Alexandre Kostanda (France), who made artistically ambitious works based on experimentation with forms and glazes, avoiding pastiche.

In the case of ceramics which focused on  glazes, some of the works decorated with 'lava' glazes, produced in the workshop of Marei Keramik, highlight the capacity of the glaze to transfigure a mass-produced, standardised slip-cast form, and achieve high artistic integrity; comparable to that of studio works. In these cases the clay body becomes a 'canvas' for painting abstract pictures. But not all mass-produced pots have the same quality; perhaps only a small minority do (as the vast mass of tat for sale on eBay and elsewhere testifies!). 

The irony is that, in spite of being hand-made, many studio works produced in Britain and elsewhere, by the 'brown pot brigade', have ended up being formulaic and lifeless; lacking both in inspiration and in formal quality.

A good Marei Keramik vase, in which the glazier exploited the aleatoric processes at work during firing — like the one displayed in case 2 and on the poster — have more aesthetic quality than the banal neo-ruralist brown pots set up for too long as examples to young potters; by Leach, Cardew and their followers.

Highlighting Dalpayrat's experiments with color, during the 1890s, enabled us to follow the emergence of color in ceramics; at a time when brown seemed to dominate the stoneware production of traditional potteries.
The experiments with crystalline blue glazes at Pierrefonds paved the way towards later experiments by  Walter Bauer, Albert Kiessling, Ferraro, Topferei Unterstab and Wendelin Stahl, among others.

Looking back from the XXIst century, these popular experiments remain on the perifery and are not likely to be written into the history of 20th century ceramics, soon.

To make sure they remain in public consciousness is in the hand of enthusiastic collectors who have taken the first steps towards digging them out of oblivion and neglect; however indiscriminately.

One difficulty arising from showcasing these works widely is that they challenge the studio ceramics establishment into reconsidering, critically, the basis of their exclusive focus on some works and to arbitrarily neglect others.

Public collections of ceramics in Britain would gain to confront themselves with these works, in the form of visual dialogues with the works they hold, to open up the aesthetic field of ceramics and, thus, to broaden the parameters currently used to define what is significant from what is not. 


  1. I Have A Pitcher Made, By Le Cyclope. Thanx For Writing This Article. It Is Very Enlightening, As I Have Had Difficulty Not Only Identifying The Potter But Validating That It Is Indeed A Le Cyclope Piece.

    Dr Rebekka Freeman
    Swan Lake in Maine

  2. do send me a picture.