“Things of Beauty Growing”: British Studio Pottery

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

This exhibition told 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 traced 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” opened 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 traced 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 included eighty large porcelain vases, which were displayed in the Center’s Entrance Court and throughout the building until November 26, 2017. The exhibition showed 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 presented studio pottery as an ongoing concern for contemporary makers. In addition to drawing upon distinguished public and private collections, the display featured 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 was 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 were Victoria Avery, Keeper, and Helen Ritchie, Research Assistant, Department of Applied Arts.

The exhibition was 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.

“Things of Beauty Growing” was subsequently on view at The Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge from March 20 through June 18, 2018.