Pot Luck; Mel Hunter Discovers a Wealth of Ceramics on Our Doorstep
Hunter, Mel, The Birmingham Post (England)
Is it possible to encapsulate 7,000 years of ceramics from all four corners of the world into six months and two rooms? Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is on a mission to prove it is.
Fire & Form, the first exhibition of its kind in Birmingham, will run at the museum for the next six months.
Aiming to create a potted history of ceramics, linking pieces by style and technique, the exhibition gives the visitor a refreshing twist on the traditional perspectives of culture and age.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is literally choc-a-bloc with ceramics. Although not all are on permanent display, beautiful, strange, ancient and modern pots form the largest single category of artefacts in the collection.
Collected mostly through donations and archeological digs since the 1870s, the collection, which has been on display since Saturday, has, as curator Martin Ellis puts it, been a long time in the making. But no time at all if you consider the 7,000 years of history the pieces collectively represent.
The wide range of pieces on show include an Egyptian jar from 3500BC, a Cypriot Chalice from 2600BC, and a Chinese Fish Tank made for Emperor Jiajing, 1552-1566.
British works include are also included, from 14th century jugs to Wedgwood to contemporary works by Gordon Baldwin and Elizabeth Fritsch.
Through them the visitor to the exhibition can gain a unique insight into a wealth of information about ancient cultures. Ceramics can tell us about a civilisation's technological achievements, wealth, their trading relationships with other regions, their diet, and of course, how they cooked, prepared and preserved their food.
Fine ceramics are so durable that they provide evidence of popular art and design in ways that few other media can and as such they are central to our understanding of art history.
What is interesting is that much of the work in the collection was created at different points in history, independent of outside influences. Yet much of it is remarkably similar in appearance and was created using similar if not nearly identical techniques.
Says Martin: 'The technique has not changed. It has actually now been rediscovered in a contemporary way. Essentially, nothing has changed and people are still working with clay in the same way they did 7,000 years ago.'
Some of the 100 works on show are simple and hand-made, others are enamelled, others mass produced. The essential role of the exhibition is that it shows the enormous wealth of ceramic history lurking in Birmingham just waiting to be discovered. …