Ceramics in Venice

On Wednesday 18 September 2019 I will host a Clay Conversation in Venice, starting at the Ateneo Veneto, site of Edmund de Waal’s commission, ‘Psalm’.

I have just returned to Norwich from a sweltering Venice and am sitting at my ‘HQ’ in Upper St Giles Street enjoying the cooler temperatures and reflecting on all that I have seen and absorbed over the previous few weeks and months.

Back in May I made a short trip to the opening of the 58th Biennale, spending a day at the Giardini and half a day at the Arsenale. The selection by Hayward Director, Ralph Rugoff for the two main curated shows was entirely of living artists, a decision that kept the exhibition fresh and dynamic, with artists from across the world, many of whom are young and little known. The selection was both thoughtful and though-provoking, but I did feel that there were some strange juxtapositions of artists and work and a degree of overcrowding. For example, who would have put Shilpa Gupta’s wonderful untitled security gate alongside a moving lifesize cow by Chinese artist, Nabuqi? It just felt as if a little too much had been crammed in with little consideration of how the works would sit together.

Some of the collateral shows that accompany the Biennale however, are extremely successful and excellent examples of how to encourage visitors to slow down and take time with each piece of work. Recently I visited ‘Luogo e Segni’ at the Punta Della Dogana, a wonderful and minimally curated show in the amazing spaces of the former Customs House, now administered by the David Roberts Foundation. The difference of course is that this space can draw on the amazing collection of the foundation and is supported by its huge resources. It shows that a ‘less is more’ approach to curating big group shows, although somewhat unfashionable, does give the visitor a chance to really occupy the space and look at the work with greater focus.

On my recent trip I also visited a wonderful exhibition at the Fondazio Querini Stampalia, a combination of a living and a dead artist in the context of an historical collection. The exhibition, entitled ‘Dire il Tiempo’ (say the time) included recent commissions by Mariateresa Sartori alongside older works by Roman Opalka that deal with language and the passage of time. They had been carefully placed within the historic building, alongside Renaissance and Baroque paintings and sumptuous stuccoed and frescoed interiors. Not an easy environment to successfully intervene into but done with a light touch, it worked well. The placement of monochrome drawings and pinhole camera photographs into the spaces in the centre of decorated borders, where historic paintings would have been in the past, was particularly successful.

I am looking forward to my next visit in September to conduct a walk starting at the Ateneo Veneto, site of Edmund de Waal’s ‘Psalm’ and then visiting two contemporary ceramicists working in the city.


Book your place on this free walk on 18 September at 11am here:



Cameron Jamie, Untitled, glazed stoneware, 2019 (in Luogo e Segni, Punta della Dogana)

Cameron Jamie, Untitled, glazed stoneware, 2019 (in Luogo e Segni, Punta della Dogana)

Mariateresa Sartori, pinhole camera photographs at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venice

Mariateresa Sartori, pinhole camera photographs at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venice

'Collect' London, Friday 1 March 2019

I thought I would write a few sentences about the phenomenon of ceramic and other art and craft ‘fairs’. I have attended a few of these, not too many as it’s easy to become overwhelmed, but they can be a good way of seeing lots of work in one place. This is particularly useful if you live in a part of the country where ceramic artists’ studios and exhibitions of ceramics are few and far between.

It was great fun to go to Collect on 1 March- to talk to artists and gallerists, to meet up with Katie Spragg, who showed her work in my opening exhibition in Norwich, and to experience the diversity of ceramic and other contemporary craft practices. There is a huge buzz around ceramics at the moment and artists are pushing the boundaries of the material and really considering what is possible technically. There is also a great deal of thought going into the relationship of an artist’s work to the history of design, to studio pottery (especially relevant for British ceramics) and to fine art and more conceptual ways of working. This is very exciting and it made me think about the sorts of work that I want to support and showcase. I was like a kid in the proverbial sweetshop- but it helped me to think about my own ‘taste’ and how this relates to what I show in the gallery and what visitors would like to see in Norwich.

The fairs seem to divide into two types: the gallery led fair, such as Collect, and the artist led fair such as the Oxford Ceramics fair. The artist led fairs tend to be dominated by slightly more traditional and on the whole functional work, having grown out of the studio pottery tradition, though this is changing and I have heard that these fairs are becoming more competitive to show at. The gallery led fair, on the other hand, shows more fine art influenced work, often in a smarter venue and the individual stands tend to be more carefully curated. So these two types of fairs serve slightly different purposes, attracting different audiences, and it’s useful to be aware of this when deciding which fairs to go to. Collect is very high end, dominated by established galleries and with prices to match. Having said that, all the gallerists I talked to were very keen to engage with the public and share their expertise- it was nowhere near as intimidating as say, Frieze. There were also a few international galleries and these were particularly interesting as the work shown gave a flavour of craft (mostly ceramic but also glass, jewellery and wood) practice in that country that one would certainly not get an opportunity to see otherwise.

So I will continue to go to the fairs, but I have yet find one that I would actually like to participate in. Maybe one day I will, but for now I am very happy to just visit in search of inspiration and ideas.

Phoebe Cummings

I got to know Phoebe Cummings in summer 2007 when she took part in the residency, BolwickArts 4 which I ran from 2002-2007 at my home, Bolwick Hall, north of Norwich. Phoebe applied to be part of the residency, having recently graduated from the Royal College of Art. The way that Phoebe was working then, in 2007 was revelatory to me for a number of reasons. She was making work in raw, unfired clay that responded to place, so that her pieces had an ephemeral quality to them and would disappear over time. She arrived with a little bag of tools, ordered some very basic ‘school’ clay and just got on with making, the ideas taking shape as she did so. At Bolwick she immediately became interested in the ‘fruit store’ studio space and a boat shed with a watery interior.

I felt at the time that Phoebe was tapping into something very basic and instinctive but also revolutionary, in a quiet way. She wasn’t worried about the pieces being ephemeral as the work survived through the performance of making and her photography of it- that very much went along with the ethos of the residency, and there was something quietly thoughtful and critically engaged about it. But the other thing about the work was that, for those who came along and were part of it, it would remain with them as an experience. It is that essence that I continue to want to capture in my curatorial work.

Since 2007 Phoebe’s career has gone from strength to strength with exhibitions and residencies around the world. In 2011 she won the British Ceramics Biennial Award and in 2018 was awarded the inaugural BBC Women’s Hour Craft Prize. In 2018 Phoebe also created a major installation for the exhibition, Material Environments at the Tetley, Leeds. 

The three photographs that I am showing of her work for BolwickArts were given to me by Phoebe and are very much treasured.

Phoebe Cummings


Launch of Caroline Fisher projects

Only six months ago this gallery was just a germ of an idea and so it is very exciting to share the plans for its launch.

My original idea was to put on exhibitions of artists who explore the area between fine art and ceramics, using clay as a fine art medium. I still intend to do this but am thinking more widely too, about how particular themes are employed in ceramics and in fine art. So I will launch the space at 93 Upper St Giles’ with a mixed exhibition of studio and sculptural ceramics combined with painting and sculpture- all on the theme of Nature in and out of place including work by Katie Spragg for the Garden Museum in London, photographs by Phoebe Cummings, a tower of clay by Scott Stuart and pots with wooden lids by David Wright.

I have long been interested in the depiction of plants and my own decorated ceramics use motifs from weeds and other plants around my garden. The definition of a weed after all is simply a ‘plant growing in the wrong place’. So what unites the work in this inaugural show is that it explores the idea of plants that get out of control, as in Katie Spragg’s wonderful porcelain plants in their architectural glass cases, or plant material that has become removed from its location as with David Wright’s found wooden lids for his ceramic boxes.

The crossover between ceramics and other disciplines is something that I want to explore in future exhibitions and so I plan to initiate inspiring collaborations with film makers, photographers and chefs.