“Things of Beauty Growing”: British Studio Pottery

Thursday, September 14, 2017
Sunday, December 3, 2017

This exhibition tells the story of studio pottery in Britain, from the early twentieth century to the present, by focusing on the evolution of the vessel form. Vase, bowl, charger, set: this family of forms ties ceramics to its functional origins. A vessel exists to hold or contain—a purpose it may fulfill literally, metaphorically, or both. The antiquity of the vessel, the familiarity of its shapes and forms, provides a ready-made language, which ceramic artists have for decades invoked and emulated but also transformed and renewed. The exhibition traces the major typologies that have defined studio pottery since the beginning of the twentieth century while also looking back to the historic precedents that inspired modern pioneer potters. 

Things of Beauty Growing” opens with the iconic form of the moon jar, originally developed in Korea during the Joseon dynasty and reinterpreted in the hands of contemporary potters as an emblem of transcendence. It then traces the development of studio pottery through a series of archetypal forms that mark out a loose chronology, as well as a trajectory of thinking: from the tea bowls that Bernard Leach brought from Japan and shaped into the foundations of British pottery to recent monumental works by Julian Stair, Felicity Aylieff, and Clare Twomey, which have pushed the medium beyond limits previously imagined. Twomey’s installation Made in China includes eighty large porcelain vases, which are displayed in the Center’s Entrance Court and throughout the building until November 26, 2017. The exhibition shows that the story of studio pottery is a global one—pots and potters alike have traveled between England, continental Europe, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere. It also presents studio pottery as an ongoing concern for contemporary makers. In addition to drawing upon distinguished public and private collections, the display features several works that were especially created for the occasion of the exhibition. 

Akiko Hirai, Moon Jar (detail), 2016, stoneware, porcelain slip, paper fiber, wood ash, and white glaze, Collection of Akiko Hirai, London, photograph by Jon Stokes

“Things of Beauty Growing”: British Studio Pottery has been organized by the Yale Center for British Art in partnership with The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, and co-curated by Martina Droth, Deputy Director of Research and Curator of Sculpture at the Center; Glenn Adamson, Senior Research Scholar at the Center; and Simon Olding, Director, Crafts Study Centre, University for the Creative Arts, UK. The organizing curators at The Fitzwilliam Museum are Victoria Avery, Keeper, and Helen Ritchie, Research Assistant, Department of Applied Arts.

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication of the same title, an elegantly assembled catalogue co-edited by the curators. Co-published with The Fitzwilliam Museum in association with Yale University Press, this book features contributions by an international team of scholars and the biographies and portraits of artists presented in the exhibition.

This display is on view at the Center in New Haven through December 3, 2017, and will subsequently travel to The Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge, where it will be on view from March 20 through June 18, 2018.