odds and ends

THE OZ CONFERENCE

Those who watched Takeshi Yasuda, late last year, may remember the very well paced, half hour, insightful film of his life in Jingdezhen, China. That was made by his UK based gallery, Goldmark. The owner/director of Goldmark Gallery was a keynote speaker at the Australian Triennial of Ceramics on July 9-12. All Keynote speakers were excellent. There was the UK craft historian, Tanya Harrod who followed the Aussie gig by being in New Zealand (just left)talking about her book on Cardew and other craft matters. There was Jacques Kaufmann, Swiss/French President of the International Academy of Ceramics and Mike Goldmark whose gallery (although he calls it, deliberately, ‘the shop’ , is probably currently the UK’s leading venue for ceramic exhibitions despite the fact that the Goldmark gallery is situated, not in London or some major city but in Uppingham. Where? I hear you ask. Uppingham, in the Midlands – smack in the middle of rural countryside and picture book villages to the east of Birmingham and before you get to Peterborough.

Mike Goldmark had the packed audience eating from his hand in very few minutes. Urbane, relaxed and articulate with no notes in sight he proved a superb raconteur. He made the following points as to why and what his ideas are.

His gallery already sold paintings and prints (names like Chagall, Matisse, Paolozzi, Matta, Klee, Kandinski and Duchamp and many more, less familiar). Then, he had been using hand-made pots himself for nearly 40 years but ten years ago he decided to add pots (not ceramics) because he became aware of how badly many gallerists treated their potters (he actually said England had a lousy set of ceramic retailers) and determined that the best thing he could do was sell as many as possible for the potters. He was ‘not interested in making money but in selling pots’. He has, reputedly, achieved extraordinary results for those he represents but feels he has ‘not yet scratched the surface.’

He thinks the world needs ‘no more ornaments – there are already far too many’ – so he would sell only tableware. His potters include, Jim Malone, Svend Bayer, Mike Dodd, Phil Rogers and, a personal favourite – Jean-Nicolas Gerard from France as well as several Japanese, Koreans and Scandinavians.

He requests that all clients handle the pots. Everyone who enters gets a coffee and often a meal if they time their visit right.

He makes it a rule to give away at least a unomi/cup a week, preferably to a young onlooker and telling them that if they do not enjoy it to pass it on to someone else. In a world overloaded with the virtual and the mass produced, a ‘real’ unomi from which to drink was a learned and pleasurable experience, or should be. So, believing this, he makes it happen by starting the process.

He was ‘not interested in collectors’ but in people who love and wish to use pottery.

Instead of the usual 60/70 pots for an exhibition he asks for 200+ and requests the potter to make these the best he/she has ever made. He ‘did the maths’ and realised that shows confined to 65 pieces, on display for 2/3 weeks, equalled no money, or not enough, for artist or gallery.

He starts selling as soon as he unpacks rather than waiting for the opening. When told this was ‘pre-selling’ he calmly agrees, saying that selling as much as possible was only good for the artist.

He makes a catalogue at no cost to the artist for every show and usually also a film on the artist and his/her work. They are for sale online along with the gallery publications on artists and art. However if you purchase work these are gifted to you. In his view, too few galleries are generous to clients. He is very sure it pays – both artist and gallery – to be just that.

It certainly seemed a very popular approach in Canberra. He received thunderous applause that threatened to approach a standing ovation!

His gallery and the artists he represents are online – Goldmark.

Or Goldmark Gallery in Uppingham will encourage Mr Google to help.

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Ross M-A continues to steadily improve down there in the Hutt Rehab unit, according to news from there and Wanganui – thanks to Raewyn. This will be a long haul though. Any cards/letters c/o 90 Mortimer Tce Brooklyn Wellington please.

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The two talks by Tanya Harrod that I have heard recently were excellent. One in Canberra that was around the conference theme of Stepping Up and which roamed historical ceramics and cultural issues most engagingly, and the other, on Michael Cardew at Studio One in Ponsonby Road, to a packed audience, was a grand adjunct to her comprehensive book about this ceramic magus. Cardew has always puzzled me to an extent. He was a paradox. The grand pots, and we have a number of fine examples here in NZ made during his first visit and to be found in the collections particularly of art galleries like Dunedin’s, contrasted with his cavalier treatment of his wife and children who were, by his decree, condemned to a very austere (to say the least) existence. Or the esteem bestowed on him by all the people I ever talked with, who worked with him at Abuja or Winchcombe compared with his disdainful, dismissive attitudes to staunch and unswerving workmen like Sidney Tustin and Elijah Comfort, and yet he saw himself as democratic and counter-cultural! Harrod spared him not at all, yet her liking and acceptance for the man shone throughout her talk. It was erudite, exhaustively researched and delivered with grace and generosity. Ten years of research and writing condensed into an hour. Her selections of what to address was well considered. A tour de force and a privilege to hear.

I recently was a small part of an exercise by the American, Studio Potter magazine, currently easily one of the world’s very best in my view, where the new Editor, Elenor Wilson, asked a number of people to write a short critical article on the book, hoping that this review will enlighten a new generation (the one younger than me) of American potters about Cardew and his impact on ceramic culture everywhere’. The people asked included former apprentices, and workers plus writers like me from a variety of sources. I’m looking forward with great interest to my copy arriving to see what others made of this contradiction of a man.

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Tony Bacon’s critical article on the morphing of his “Domestic Ware Award” into, following removal of the word ‘functional’, a “Fire and Clay lite” exhibition and competition is a point in time and worth discussion. With enormous interest all around the world in new tableware this exhibition was neither fish nor fowl with not a lot that was different from what appears in the annual Fire and Clay show. What’s wrong with having two, very separate, public exhibitions instead of two where the only real difference was the venue, which incidentally was excellent with a good display that allowed ample space – very necessary for a show that wishes to be seen as an exhibition and not as another sale of work.   But there is nothing foolish about keeping the content very different from the show at Pah Homestead – usual venue for Fire and Clay these days. Surely it’s beneficial for the two shows to complement and counterpoint one another rather than look like two bites of the same cherry?

Then the Editor’s point about comparisons between usage values for a bottle form and a fruit bowl form is well made. Both are largely unusable as one could only keep fruit of a certain scale and surface tension contained while the other sits with those 19thC English wares that include cider flagons, puncheons and such bottle forms, which are more about profile than containment. Classifications in this day and age are a conundrum. There was little wrong with what was on show at Allpress Gallery and who knows what the instructions to the Selector/Judge were? But some fell into the category labelled ‘sculpture’ these days. They aren’t. It’s ornament or object and like Mr Goldmark says – far too much in the world. I too would like to see more teapots rather than pots about a teapot. Far too many of those also, and nothing new to say. Here are a few images from Oz taken a week or two back that caught my eye…

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all very functional but fresh to the eye for various reasons!

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Then the other big event; the national, NZ Potters Inc 50th at Auckland Museum. Again the same range of work – perhaps a bit more ‘sculpture’ that isn’t and more ornament that is, but what a dismal display! Surrounded by walls that carried images and information that had nothing whatsoever to do with the ceramics on display the Museum had supplied far too few vitrines so that the ceramics were fighting for a bit of breathing space. It seemed a bit like the vitrines, tightly packed with pots had been temporarily set down before being moved on to where they were meant to be. There were enough pots to make a good display, just not enough vitrines in which to display them. The vitrines themselves were given ample space so the exhibition looked OK on approach, however the vitrines were insufficient in number for the job. Cavalier treatment for a medium that had been a major draw-card for the place for many years.

In one vitrine Merilyn Wiseman’s akimbo-armed vase in dazzling Rinso white was about the only piece that seemed to defy the massively scaled vessel by Greg Barron that towered above it and all else. Everything else was cheek by jowl with often four exhibits in a case that required but one, or two at most. It all felt as though the museum just cleared a bit of their Auckland Stories exhibit for the ceramics and that all would be restored in a day or so. And so it came to pass, for a few days later I saw the space without the ceramics and all seemed to have returned to ‘normal’. It was possible to see what all the superfluous wall information was about once the ceramics had been removed (Auckland social history). Again whatever was instructed to the selector was cast to the wind by the seemingly capricious attitude of the Museum. What could be some good pieces here and there were unable to be seen in any kindly light. It was a sad display for the Society’s 50th.

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general view with Wiseman and Barron works plus two other exhibits

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Merilyn Wiseman (foreground) Greg Barron behind

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Louis Kittilson display. 

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general view with four exhibits.

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There is a flush of shows around town currently. Sadly I failed to get to ‘Beastly’ at Masterworks by Katherine Smythe as was away at the Oz Ceramics Triennale. This year it was a low budget affair in comparison with the many earlier events I have attended over the years. Seems Tony Abbot’s budget cuts are biting deep and his disdain for arts shines through. Best remark of the conference was from an aboriginal potter from Ernabella in the Narutjarra Homeland, south-east of Ayers Rock/Uluru who asked that someone please tell the Prime Minister that living in remote desert locations which need support and resources, is ‘not a lifestyle choice’.

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The window at Objectspace, holds some large scale works by Darren Keith, a recent graduate from Whitecliffe. Consisting mainly tapered forms, open at both ends, which, in their constructed surface details, suggest something industrial like a nose cone section from a piece of salvaged space junk or else something historical and architectural – maybe part of a Greek column where it expands to support a pediment or anchor to a wide base. They reminded me most of the work of American, Stephen Montgomery who makes massively scaled fictitious assemblages embodying industrial decay. But Mongomery’s work is trompe l’oeil with utterly convincing surfaces of decay and disintegration and the work by Keith is either too inexperienced to convey that convincingly or he wishes to deliberately retain some hand-made qualities and avoid the mimetic. Still, the pieces have a presence that few recent grads manage to communicate and where Keith travels from here will be of interest.

I do, however, hope he drops the habit of the overreaching statement that many Whitecliffe grads produce as there have been several in recent times who have achieved a showing in Objectspace’s window. While some statements are plain unintelligible, others confuse, seemingly deliberately so as to subdue any doubts by the reader and observer that this is serious art. Stuff like, ‘…integrate a visual dialogue between construction and fabrication’ (which are surely the same thing?), or ‘…reveal intimate visual memories connected through time, material process, which gives spirit to the selective memories and shapes of an object’. (Whaaaat?) or ‘… the ability to show and abstraction heightened and intense energy in an object or image to represent the original historical reference of a memory’ (jeeeeze…) or quotes dropped in from other artists which in the context, just don’t make sense, like, “’Rocks and angle grinders are a big part of my history and these pieces pay tribute to them.’ Peter Lange.” No context makes no sense.

The artist’s statement is a challenge. Making a good one can be easily as difficult as making the work. Too much euphuism is as problematic as too much ‘my inspiration…’ at the other end. Simple, short and shining clarity works best.

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Portage entries are due by Sunday, August 23rd. This year’s judge is Ingrid Murphy who is head of ceramics at the UK’s principal undergraduate teaching institution in Cardiff, Wales. She has extensive experience as a teacher and has received a number of awards for her teaching and for her personal work including a fellowship for Innovative Teaching, and Awards for Individual Practice, and Purchase prizes. One of her specialties is as I heard her talk last year in Dublin, as part of ‘The Future’ section of the International Academy of Ceramics Assembly. An exploration of change making technologies applied to traditional ceramic practice. Here is an opportunity to hear one of the best demonstrate and explain where ceramics might be heading, and why, or not. She is a National Adviser for the Arts Council of Wales and a fellow of the Higher Education Academy- UK, an External Examiner for B.A., M.A. and M.Phil at colleges in the UK and Supervisor of Research degrees to PhD level. She has articles in journals and magazines – Ceramics Art and Perception, La Ceramica, Neue Keramik, Ceramic Review and Ceramics Ireland. She is bringing a variety of talks with her so once opportunities are opened do get her to talk to your group if you can. I have a list of talks and their abstracts now. From my experience in Dublin last year I can promise a great deal of humour and guarantee that at the same time you will learn a lot and hear a lot that you never thought about before. Besides she is bringing a small portable 3D printer with her.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “odds and ends

  1. Philip Clarke

    I have been to the Goldmark Gallery and can confirm it is a lovely plce that seems to specialise in prints/works on paper. Uppingham is a lovely town famous for the leading public school there and I think about an hour’s drive from Cambridge.

  2. Bravo Moyra – As always I feel as if I have travelled with you! So entertaining and interesting to read your honest account of events. Great to have Google to visit the names you mention, making an ever widening, recognizable global community of clay lovers. Thanks G

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