I wrote this piece below and would be interested in any feedback.
God and Galena Grey
I am sitting in the McAulay Gallery of the V&A. This gallery houses a selection of contemporary ceramic pieces in the recently re-vamped ceramics display within the Museum.
The gallery has a theme ‘Signs and Wonders’. It is crowned by a porcelain dome 30′ above the floor and around the bottom edge of the dome is a red metal shelf. On this high altar, sitting in a ring around the circumference, are over 300 porcelain pieces made by Edmund du Vaal . They are quite untouchable, bathed in a gentle light but actually quite hard to see because they are so high up, a seductive explanation, hangs nearby. Below, way below, on two large semicircular stands are freestanding examples of large expressive pieces from different leading ceramic artists, such as the late Simon Carroll. An installation of smashed shards festoons one wall, a cabinet of small pieces another. Below du Vaal’s dome the walls are painted a heavy leaden [galena] grey, which saps light and the works struggle for attention. I was reminded of an underground station.
But then it gets worse because we go into the next gallery where all the rest of the contemporary and modern potters’ work is crammed into unlit cases. For example, the bold strength and rigour of Michael Cardew’s work sits almost drowned in this gloomy, overcrowded pall.
My objection is the blatant messages that are coming out of this. The emphasis on the installation in the McAuley Gallery upstages the other contemporary ceramics, which are so full of vitality and strength. For me pottery is both visual and tactile but also quite intimate. There is none of this in du Vaal’s display. We have a strong tradition of ceramics/pottery in England. There are several outstanding potters, like Clive Bowen and Svend Bayer, whose work I feel is not properly displayed. I recently attended a lecture by Simon Olding on the subject of placing ceramics in public places and was quite looking forward to my visit to the V&A. The sculptor Anthony Gormley has moved art into the public domain and this installation is an example of that, but I would prefer to see this in Tate Modern where it can be judged against other conceptual art.
So what am I saying is: sort out the lighting and the overcrowded cabinets of contemporary potter’s work in the V&A and challenge modern art with ceramics in an art gallery.
The rest of the 5-6 galleries were fine.