Birmingham Museum of Art
Continually Shapes a Focus on Ceramics
Renowned Danish Potter Speaks,
American Ceramic Circle convenes annual symposium at the BMA
The Birmingham Museum of Art maintains an active, ongoing curatorial interest in the ceramics traditions from around the world, with not only the largest collection of Wedgwood anywhere other than England, but growing concentrations of African, Asian, and American ceramics enlivening our galleries. Our current exhibition, Tradition Transformed: Danish Ceramics in the Twentieth Century, and our upcoming Dragons and Lotus Blossoms: Vietnamese Ceramics from the Birmingham Museum of Art emphasize the importance of ceramics to our collection.
This week, two activities bring the ceramics to the forefront at BMA: a lecture by a world-renowned Danish potter Morten Løbner Espersen, and the American Ceramic Circle annual symposium being held at BMA for the first time.
“Ceramics have long played a significant role in the shaping of our Museum's collection and I am particularly pleased that as our collection of ceramics have grown to include the works of artists from throughout the world, documenting the importance of ceramics in the lives of diverse peoples, our reputation as a center for study and scholarship has grown along with it,” said Gail Andrews, the R. Hugh Daniel Director of the Birmingham Museum of Art.
“We couldn't be happier to have the recognition of the American Ceramic Circle which honors us by holding it's annual symposium here. We are also excited by the recent addition of so fine a collection of Danish ceramics, and about the enlightenment the acclaimed potter Morten Espersen will bring to our understanding of Denmark's vibrant ceramics tradition and practice.”
Master Danish Potter Morten Løbner Espersen
Espersen, former professor of ceramics at Göteborg University, Sweden, will talk about his experience, his work, and the Danish tradition in pottery in conjunction with our exhibition Tradition Transformed: Danish Ceramics in the Twentieth Century as part of the Museum’s First Thursday slate of programs, Thursday November 3 at 7 p.m. in Steiner Auditorium.
Espersen’s 2010 work of brightly glazed stoneware, Orange, is on view at the entrance of Tradition Transformed. Espersen himself is one of the bright lights in a prolific atmosphere of artistic Danish pottery-making.
“Morten is a well-known working potter and teacher, and is highly regarded in his field. He represents a new generation of Danish potter, who builds on tradition while imbuing his pieces with a completely modern sensibility, “ said Anne Forschler-Tarrasch, the BMA’s Marguerite Jones Harbert and John M. Harbert III Curator of Decorative Arts. “We’re very excited that we are able to bring him to Birmingham to share his knowledge with us.”
Kristian Jakobsen, former director of Kunstindustrimuseet (The Museum of the Decorative Arts), in Copenhagen said (in a catalog of Espersen’s work) that Espersen’s “treatment of shapes, which he models and invests with a subtle relation between base, height, and curvature, is always clear. But to this clearness he manages to attach delicate monumentality which sometimes contains an almost minimalist intensity. Based on objective knowledge, and particularly on experience and experiment, his work with clay mass and glaze pushes the material to its practical and aesthetic limits. In combination
with the codetermining life of the firing, this endows the finished works with a quality of presence which is quite unique.”
A 1999 book by the Danish Ministry of Culture hailed Espersen as one who ”has no intention of escaping from the clay and the territory of applied art. Instead the ceramic tradition appears to function as a soundboard for his works. There are for example parallels with Japanese ceramics, and there is an unmistakable classic Scandinavian dimension in his work with the simple and inevitable forms.”
The same catalog describes his work in relation to shape and light. ”Espersen’s ceramic works look different depending on the angle you see them from, the way the light falls on them. The light is reflected and glistens on the smooth, glossy surfaces of the glaze. It gathers in the hollows, vanishes entirely in the folds and tiny grottos. Indeed, it is as if the richly varied surfaces embrace the light, as if the light is formed into things, and precisely these ways in which the light settles around the object and is formed by it are, as we know, one of the most important sources of our expectations about how it would feel to touch it.”
The American Ceramic Circle at the BMA
The American Ceramic Circle symposium, open generally to registered guests only, begins Nov. 3, and continues through Nov. 6.
Function and Fancy: Ceramics from across the Globe will highlight the Museum’s extensive collection of ceramics from all regions and periods. Themes covered will range from Vietnamese ceramics to Alabama folk pottery to Wedgwood, English and French porcelain, and Meissen stoneware.
The symposium features a number of lectures by acclaimed ceramicists, scholars, curators, and other experts from around the world including several BMA curators. Director Gail Andrews will welcome the conference attendees on Friday morning. Anne Forschler-Tarrasch, the Marguerite Jones Harbert and John M. Harbert III Curator of Decorative Arts will discuss Wedgwood; Don Wood, the Virginia and William M.
Spencer III Senior Curator of Asian Art will discuss Vietnamese ceramics – the subject of BMA’s upcoming exhibition Dragons and Lotus Blossoms; Graham C. Boettcher, the William Cary Hulsey Curator of American Art will discuss American ceramics and the drama of modernity. Also featured are Jim and Margaret Burnham, independent objects conservators from Maine, who frequently provide on-location services at the Birmingham Museum of Art.
Other speakers include Aileen Dawson from the British Museum; Dr. Martin Eberle from Schloss Friedenstein in Gotha, Germany; and Timothy Wilson from the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford in England.
The American Ceramic Circle will also include cocktail receptions at the Museum Thursday night (5:30 p.m.) and Saturday (6:30 p.m.). The circle’s annual Gala Dinner will be held at the BMA Saturday at 7:15 p.m.
The last day of the symposium will include a workshop in ceramics connoisseurship, and a detailed look behind the scenes at the BMA’s ceramics collection.
About Tradition Transformed: Danish Ceramics in the Twentieth Century
Now through January 8, 2012, the Museum is highlighting an exceptional recent gift of more than forty pieces of 20th century Danish pottery. The collection, on display in the Museum’s Arrrington Gallery, was given to the BMA by William Hull and Dr. and Mrs. Frederick Baekeland.
The exhibition reflects Denmark’s distinctly artistic pottery tradition, particularly dating to the 1880s, when a small group of Danish artists began to take an interest in ceramics as a medium for expression. Known as studio potters, these artists worked alone or in small groups and performed each stage of the ceramic process themselves – preparing the clay, mixing glazes, throwing, trimming, glazing, and firing – all tasks that might be performed by different people or machines in an industrial setting. As the 20th century progressed, these potters, some of whom worked for Royal Copenhagen or its competitor Bing & Grøndahl as well as in their own studios, produced vessels that were diverse and individual but always distinctly Danish.
Tradition Transformed: Danish Ceramics in the Twentieth Century addresses the evolution of the Danish pottery tradition through an exploration of Modernist pieces produced for Royal Copenhagen and Bing & Grøndahl, works from Copenhagen’s great studio workshop Saxbo, teapots and tea bowls reflecting the profound influence of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean ceramics on the studio potters of Denmark, and creative yet traditional vessel forms of the Postmodern age. The wide range of
Danish studio potters represented in Tradition Transformed include early-to-mid-20th century artists such as Jais Nielsen, Arne Bang, and Axel Salto and contemporary potters Ulla Hansen, Malene Müllertz, Bente Hansen, Hans Vangsø, and Lis Ehrenreich. This recent gift enhances the Museum’s strong collection of ceramics and provides an important link between its historical and contemporary holdings in European and American ceramics.