Pottery or ceramics are one of humankind’s oldest inventions, the earliest examples date back to 29-25,000 BC. Essentially baked mud, pottery has given us everything from the humble bowl and chamber pot to Wedgewood and Quing Dynasty porcelain. Artists got in on the game fairly quickly, even Pablo Picasso had a pottery period and who could forget Jeff Koons’ life-size porcelain of Michael Jackson and Bubbles. This month Berlin offers up four shows dedicated to the medium.
The first is at Berlin’s Ceramic Museum, founded in 1990 by a group of enthusiastic volunteers who still run the fairly small town feeling museum. In a modest 1712-built Charlottenburg villa, it houses up to six exhibitions a year. Their current exhibition features products crafted by the ceramics factories of Max Roesler Feinsteingut with works ranging from the late 1800s to the early 1930s. The best on show here are from the last decade of this period, when the brand’s Rodach and Darmstadt studios were making dynamic pieces that celebrated modernist aesthetics, novel designs, and foreign cultures (although some of the “appreciation”, especially the“Jazzband” figurines, read as racist caricatures in 2019). The objects are a stirring reminder that pre-Nazi Germany was focused on artistic expression and innovation, even in its functional ceramics.
Artist Edmund de Waal’s delicate monotone vessels were never made to drink or eat from, but their life as installations have made him the art world’s favourite potter. His work has been shown in museums and country houses alike and in 2010 de Waal published his million-selling family memoir The Hare with the Amber Eyes, firmly adding writer to his title. At Galerie Max Hetzler this month he is presenting a new body of work titled A Sort of Speech. Housed in vitrines are stacks of thin white porcelain tiles embossed with de Wall’s own writing as well as texts by author Robert Walser (1878-1956), often referred to as Switzerland’s answer to Kafka. These porcelain text tiles are also found propped up on de Waal’s trademark shelves alongside ceramic vessels and the odd piece of alabaster. Walser’s “micrograms”, extremely small handwritten texts, are cited by the artist as a special source of inspiration for these works.
Presented in more familiar and (at first glance) traditional forms of pottery, Berlin and Montreal-based gallery Art Mûr is giving ceramics a double bill this month. In Transfiguration, veteran potter Greg Payce’s graceful thrown vases keep the horizontal ridges acquired on the wheel, sometimes with slips of striped colour following them. However, it’s his playful approach to the images he creates out of these vases that really push them into the conceptual realm: their profiles are crafted to produce intricately detailed silhouettes of human busts. The Azulejo hand painted tiles or porcelain figurines of 18th century characters displayed in Figures de Décoration may seem like something you’d see in an antique shop, but not Dana Widawski’s. Hers depict a toilet or have speech bubbles attached to them. In “Figures de Decoration no. 1” the woman coyly holding her basket of flowers says “Me too!” and her male friend “Mon Dieu!” These shows give a sadly underrated medium a deserving airing in Berlin this month, just make sure you’ve got your Haftpflichtversicherung up to date before you set out.
Figures de Décoration and Transfiguration | Art Mûr, Mitte. Through Oct 19.
A Sort of Speech | Galerie Max Hetzler, Charlottenburg. Through Nov 2.
Max Roesler Feinsteingutfabrik Rottach und Darmstadt | Berlin Museum of Ceramics, Charlottenburg. Through Jun 1.