Brussels has just hosted the world’s first fair dedicated specifically to contemporary ceramics, with 60 galleries at Tour & Taxis. The quality was consistent, and the exhibitors were generally pure in their approach with only one example of glass (I asked the gallerist about this and he explained that ‘the skin of ceramic is glass’, so there is no real difference! The organisers told me that glass was meant to be excluded, nonetheless). In addition, by way of a neat joke, Lee Bauwens Gallery was allowed to show a couple of Meekyoung Shin’s vases – which look like porcelain but are made of soap.
The flexibility of ceramics was very much in evidence. There was a mixture of ceramic specialists giving a modern twist to ancient traditions; artists who operate in fully contemporary mode with ceramics as their primary medium; and multi-media artists who sometimes use ceramics, just as they will any other material. And the medium lends itself readily, for example, to baroque excess, humour, focus on material, and crossover with functional objects; and can operate in the realm of painting as well as those of sculpture and decoration.
Kim Simonsson: ‘Moss twins with cauliflower hoodie’ 2020 and other moss people at NeC Nilsson et Chiglien, Paris (top)
If you wanted wow-factor, then the installation of eight of Kim Simonsson’s ongoing series of moss people delivered, even though visitors could hardly be surprised in this context – as I was a few years back, when I first saw some – that they were ceramic. The forest-dwelling Finn’s eerily charming forest-coloured feral children come from a tale he has created in which they face power struggles in a forest community.
Johan Creten: ‘The Cocks’ 1994
Guest of honour Johan Creten was a pioneer in challenging the boundary between ceramics and sculpture. His enormous glazed terra cotta cocks dominated the entrance: they might be taken as mocking phallocatric pretensions; encapsulating struggles for dominance – between media, perhaps; or asserting the naturalness of homosexuality.
Ule Ewelt: ‘Rhinoceros XXIII’ 2023 at Gallery Grès, Mallorca
German artist Ule Ewelt smoke-fires her ceramics to prehistoric effect, evoking cave painting and the symbolism, danger and opportunity associated with animals then. One might take that as yearning for a time when the connection between human and non-human beings was more balanced.
Natasja Alers: ‘Nipplevase # 1’ 2020 at NQ Gallery, Antwerp
Bodily uses of ‘the human clay’ are natural enough. Young Dutch artist Natasja Alers plays on that by pushing and stretching the sculptured body from within. This vase is made up from many casts of her own nipples. It’s more democratic than inward: she has made a much larger version as a publicly performative work built up from visitors’ nipples (male and female).
Kevin Mcnamee-Tweed: ‘Accumulation (Due Date)’ and ‘Sun/Moon’ 2023 at Tatjana Pieters, Antwerp
Kevin McNamee-Tweed’s quirky ‘ceramic paintings’ were popular: witty conjunctions, and interiors acting as packed anthologies of their interplay. Not surprisingly, his studio practice in North Carolina also embraces drawing, painting and printmaking to similar effect.
Carolein Smit: ‘Medusa’ 2022 at Jonathan F. Kugel, Brussels
Dutch artist Carolein Smit can be relied on for extravagance of surface: she talks of seeking ‘the turning point where seriousness becomes melodramatic, beauty turns into overkill and love becomes hate’. Her idea of extending the gorgon’s snake-covering from headdress to whole body at full human scale certainly does that, drawing us into a fantastically detailed dark side.
Jiana Kim: ‘Yellow inside Yellow’ 2019 at Lee Bauwens Gallery, Brussels
The gallery, run by Gil Bauwens and his Korean partner Minyoung Lee, aims to fuse east and west. Jiana Kim’s monochromes elegantly attach broken porcelain to make – in effect – abstract paintings: the porcelain being, in its potentially functional stages, the same colour within and without.
Pierrick Naud: ‘Lueur d’ébène’ 2023 at Modulab, Metz
A technical innovation prize to French artist Pierrick Naud: for the series translatable as ‘the glow of ebony’, he integrates his dual practises of drawing and ceramics by covering his somewhat surreal stoneware figures with graphite. The effect suggests they derive from photographic sources. Here his display took on the appropriately enigmatic and dreamlike subject of ‘doubles’.
Daphné Corregan: ‘Still life’ series 2023 at Christine Colon Gallery, Liège
The subjects of still life compositions become the still lives themselves in the French artist’s attractive shelf-incorporating compositions. They seem sociably inclined, as if talking to each other about how people are just containers like them, albeit of experiences rather than liquids and flowers, and shouldn’t feel so superior.
Nikita Kadan: ‘Procedure Room’ 2009-10
The outstanding group presence was provided by Gallery Transit from Zandpoortvest, who sat on ceramic stools by Johan Creten and included a humorously disruptive set of plates by Nikita Kadan -one of the best known artists currently at work in the Ukraine. Do they show sex play or art performances? Probably not: they include didactic visuals appropriated from the Soviet era ‘Popular Medical Dictionary’ and serenely instructive drawings of police torture techniques. Even in 2010, Kadan stated that ‘to be a conscious citizen means to be a social-political activist now’.
I’m taking a break from ‘Gallery of the Week’ to report on some fairs…