Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Redefining Ceramics through Exhibitionary Practice (1970-2009)*

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Redefining Ceramics through Exhibitionary Practice (1970-2009)*

Article excerpt

When the Craftsmen Potters' Association launched its magazine Ceramic Review in 1970 it selected a title that accommodated forms of practice that stood outside of the studio pottery tradition as well as within it. The magazine's content was focused on hand making, perpetuating craft values, which, as Glenn Adamson has argued, were constructed in tandem with and in opposition to industry.1 Philip Rawson's book Ceramics, published a year later, proffered a different take on the term, addressing the symbolic, tactile and associative values of ceramic objects and the symbiosis of aesthetics and function.2 However, this paper explores how the designation 'ceramics' has provided a key means of accommodating art-oriented studio practice, delineating a field that has since been reconfigured in relation to changing conceptions of craft and industry as well as work in clay produced by fine artists.3 As these additive and unhinging processes encompassed sculpture, ready- mades, concept-led, site-specific and relational works, the trace of the maker's hand and the skilled manipulation of clay became less certain guarantors of a work's status as ceramics. Writing on similar shifts in fine art practice during the 1960s and '70s, Benjamin Buchloh observed that institutional validation and legal position became central to admitting a work into the category of art.4 Although ceramics and craft galleries and publications have largely provided that institutional context for ceramics, public museums and galleries in Britain also began to collect and exhibit contemporary ceramics on a more sustained basis in the 1970s. Faced with practices that straddled existing categorical divisions, they often employed temporary exhibitions as a means of addressing contemporary approaches to medium.5 Operating at a tangent to its existing discursive formation, these exhibitions provided opportunities to re-negotiate the field's horizons in relation to both new forms of clay practice and those outside its purview. Furthermore, exhibitions had become a central means of separating art from the mass market6. As Corinne Kratz has posited 'Producing and visiting exhibitions [...] can be ways people formulate and sometimes debate notions of quality, worth, and other social values and meanings. These processes entail judgments that help create hierarchies of merit and importance and define such broad fields as aesthetics, history, and morality, as well as particular political economies.'7 Largely organized by contemporary ceramicists and craft critics, such projects might, therefore, be viewed as attempts to attract new critical audiences and raise the value and status of the art-oriented ceramic practices that were their core focus.8

Ambiguities and re-definition

The Anglo-Oriental standard outlined in Bernard Leach's A Potter's Book dominated British studio pottery production in the early post-war period, but by the 1960s, inspired by Lucie Rie's functionalist Modernism and Hans Coper's obsessive engagement with form, a new generation of students had begun to explore the aesthetic qualities of the pot.9 The rejection of function by American makers such as Peter Voulkos and Robert Arneson also had a marked impact, whilst the mobilization of the material and historic associations of clay by artists such as Carl Andre and Judy Chicago would have further repercussions for the field. Pottery was largely regarded as one of the crafts: a set of medium specific disciplines which, as Tanya Harrod has elucidated, occupied an ambiguous position in the post-war period.10 However, whilst many practitioners had fine art ambitions, efforts to secure the future of the crafts resulted in the foundation of the Crafts Advisory Committee (later the Crafts Council) in 1971. This move demanded a consolidated identity - one that operated in tension with the increasing heterogeneity of clay practice within the arts.

Produced at this pivotal moment, Cartwright Hall's Modern Ceramics 71 (1971) was one of the earliest attempts to survey the impact that these developments had on ceramic practice. …

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