Contemporary Ceramic Art - the Return and the Appeal of Clay

May 24, 2016

When something is still modern after 27,000 years of existence, then it surely deserves one big 'wow' to start from. Yes, you've read that correctly – twenty-seven thousand years! Close to the beginning of mankind, there was a beginning of ceramic art as well. Clay was used for such various purposes throughout the history. It was a necessity, a utility, a toolkit, an ornament, artifact, jewel, decor, appliance, and much more. Sometimes it was worshiped and sometimes neglected, sometimes lost and again found. It went from Ancient to Arts and Crafts, and then from Modernism to the Studio Craft. But then again, it has never been as popular as it is now. And it surely hasn't been such an important part of the world of fine art as it has been for the past year or two. Contemporary ceramic art is making a great revival in the world of fine arts, and it is doing so with such style and elegance. Usually, there is a broad distinction between fine arts, as unique objects created purely for their visual appeal, and crafts on the other hand, as objects that are made by focusing on their functionality in the first place. But, don’t be surprised if you come across so-called fine art pottery because ceramic items are usually beautifully shaped and they still have a function.

museum american white pottery studio collection work artist porcelain sculpture day pottery studio collection work artist porcelain sculpture day
Left: Jessica Harrison - Nude, 2014 - Image via / Right: Sophie Elizabeth Thompson - 3 Pieces - Image via

Return of the Ceramic Art

Today, galleries around the world are saving dates for ceramic shows within months up front. If you want to see how the ceramic art scene looks at the moment, just turn to the nearest gallery, as they all have so much to say on this subject, that's for sure. There are tens and hundreds of skillful and respectful artists out there, who are making true artistic wonders out of clay and porcelain. In recent years, ceramics are entering the world of fine art with a style, and clay and pottery pieces are more and more often recognized as unique artworks. This form has been making a huge impact on today’s world. Ceramics are particularly praised in the UK. London Art Fair 2016 had a special focus on ceramics, featuring crème de la crème of the British ceramic scene. Some of those artists are renowned for using traditional techniques, while others are eager to innovate, experiment, question the established principles, and explore the unknown fields of the slow art, as ceramics are usually called. Like in every other style, each ceramics artist sets their own artistic approach and specific language that addresses the public the way they want it to speak to the audience. The value of ceramic objects is being estimated unbelievably high, and, needless to say, they are so passionately wanted by the collectors. But then again, contemporary ceramic art isn't just trendy, and it most certainly won't disappear from the radar with the passing of this re-incorporation time. On the contrary, the more time passes the more value it gains.

pottery studio collection work artist porcelain sculpture day museum american white museum american white
Amanda Simmons – North Lands Decoded - Image via

Rediscovering Dali

Ceramics are no longer seen only as ancient artifacts found at archaeological sites around the world. Even though the importance of their existence can hardly be valued enough, there is an obvious rise in the estimated values of the contemporary ceramic art, and they are entering the art market in a big style. Until recent years, museums haven’t been that much interested in the ceramic objects, but now they are literally striving for superiority in this field. Many of the venues are purchasing artworks and exhibiting them in attractive ways, with highest references on display. And the prices per piece are constantly going in one direction – up, up, and up. Not only that the clay art from many emerging artists is receiving much care, but some of the famous names out there are popping out when least expected. Did you know that Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, among others, had created their own portion of ceramic pieces as well? Oh yes, and now is the payoff time! Long ago, their ceramics were discarded as not-so-much relevant, but these days one of Dali’s ceramic pieces, Montre Molle au Cintre from 1980, is being estimated for the $18,000 while Picasso’s 1960s ceramic pieces are following up slightly behind that. Moreover, ceramic works of some modern day artists, such as Dominican Jose Arias, for instance, are also positioned high at the market, with estimates at around $5,000.

Montre Molle au Cintre 1980 - Image via Auction fr; Joyce de Gruiter - Windmill High Heels - Unique artwork made of reduced and recycled ceramic - via Virtualshoemuseum com
Left: Salvador Dali - Montre Molle au Cintre, 1980 - Image via / Right: Joyce de Gruiter - Windmill High Heels - Unique artwork made of reduced and recycled ceramic - Image via

Back to Nature

Modern days have brought some modern troubles as well. Reconnecting with Mother Earth has become very important to many people around the world. The whole movement was born out of the need of returning back to nature. Or, maybe it’s better to say - bringing the nature back to the people. Because this is the time we need it the most, this is the time we need to care about nature the most, this is the time to think about the future of the planet. People get to think they are so smart having all that technology and stuff made up, but nature cannot be fooled, and it certainly must not be neglected anymore. So, some of the conscious souls out there have been making relevant steps towards this ultimate goal – preservation of nature. Believe it or not, there are more than just a few ceramic artists among them as well.

Wayne Higby - Mirage Lake 1984 Gift of Mary-Louise Meyer in memory of Norman Meyer - Image via Mfa org
Wayne Higby - Mirage Lake, 1984 - Gift of Mary-Louise Meyer in memory of Norman Meyer - Image via

Recycling Clay

With the rise of concern for the environment, there is a rise of eco-centered thinking as well. Awareness about the importance of the preservation of the Earth is getting higher and higher, and it is incorporated into everyday life, now more than ever before. Within all that, one issue is becoming more and more popular, and an essential need as a matter of fact. Yes, you are guessing it right, it is – recycling. As a highly appreciated social virtue, recycling really is an indispensable part of the green environment. You might not think of ceramics as a recycled material, with all that plastic, paper, and metal around, but you would be wrong. Nowadays, things made out of clay and porcelain are being seen as a compost raw material, and a recycling subject. Actually, recycled ceramics are becoming a new artistic form. In a way, ceramic stands as a symbol of the ecological awareness. Artists are giving their best never to waste a ceramic again. And the recycled artwork is on the rise in such wide range of art pieces, from abstract to linear, from a color splash to richly decorated objects, and from traditional clay pots to innovative masterpieces.

Pablo Picasso - Il Furetto 1961 - Image via Scontent cdninstagram com
Pablo Picasso - Il Furetto, 1961 - Image via

Find your Favorites

One thing is for sure – ceramics aren’t going anywhere. This medium of art is going to stay with us for a long, long time. So, we get to enjoy the marvelous, bold, experimental, and engaged work from many great ceramic artists around the world. Make sure not to miss a ceramic exhibition near you, you won’t regret stumbling upon it. To your list of favorite painters, sculptors, and photographers, add some names of ceramic artists as well. Here are few to start from, as some of them are currently making a huge impact on the market. Watch out for Jesse Wine, Brian Rochefort, Jonathan Middlemiss, Amanda Simmons, Agata van Dijk, Nao Matsunaga, Liz Lescault, Jessica Harrison, Rosemarie Trockel, Francesco Ardini, and many others. If you don't know where to begin, there are many galleries and museums around the world that regularly include ceramic exhibitions in their program, besides ancient ceramic collections of the Louvre, Pinakothek in Munich, and the Hermitage in Sankt-Peterburg. Fine art pottery and sculptures can be seen at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Brohan Museum in Germany, the National Gallery in Melbourne, Australia, the Musee des Arts Decoratifs de Montreal as well as the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Los Angeles, the JB Speed Art Museum Louisville, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York, Nancy Margolis Gallery in New York City, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Mingei International Museum in San Diego, the Schein-Joseph International Museum of Ceramic Art in New York, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and many other venues.

For further reading on contemporary ceramics, take a look at our book recommendation.

Editors’ Tip: 500 Ceramic Sculptures: Contemporary Practice, Singular Works (500 Series)

Inside this book, you will find most important and highly valued ceramic sculptures of today’s world of arts. Curated by renown critic and historian Glen R. Brown from the International Academy of Ceramics in Geneva, and selected among 8,000 entries, these artworks present ceramic arts at its best. It will help beginners to involve with the subject matter, while professionals, enthusiasts, and collectors, can find a true inspiration and different meanings hidden beneath. As part of the successful 500 series, this book shows various artistic styles, from innovative pottery to céramique nouveau, from ceramic design technology to avant-garde, and from postmodern to abstract.

Featured image: Liz Lescault - Contemporary Ceramic Art - Image via
All images used for illustrative purpose only.

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