The hidden poetry in Edmund de Waal’s Frieze show

The artist and Phaidon author talks us through his new works which occupy all of the Gagosian stand at Frieze
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Edmund de Waal at Frieze, London 2016
Edmund de Waal at Frieze, London 2016

It’s no coincidence that Edmund de Waal’s porcelain and prose are the same colour. The ceramicist’s fired clay vessels and the vitrines that house them are almost exclusively either black and white, as are the printed pages that carry his writing.

This relationship between de Waal’s two forms of expression is explored in a series of new, intensely personal works, all made within the past year, which occupy all of the Gagosian stand at the Frieze Art Fair.

The artist told us at the fair that he sees these as “a series of elegies for people and for places.” The places include cities such as Odessa, Cernowitz and Paris; while the people include de Waal’s late Great Grandfather and the 20th century European poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan.

 

Edmund de Waal's work at the Gagosian Stand at Frieze. Photograph by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze.
Edmund de Waal's work at the Gagosian Stand at Frieze. Photograph by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze.

De Waal has been inspired by Celan for some time. In our 2014 monograph, Emma Chrichton-Miller describes Celan’s poems being scattered around de Waal’s studio during a visit; while de Waal quotes the poet himself in the same book, writing, “Paul Celan once described the task of the poet as ‘measuring off the area of the given and the possible’. It is a beautiful description of a space in which to think and work.”

 

Edmund de Waal, white sail (detail), 2016, 27 porcelain vessels with gilding, porcelain shards, 3 silver pieces, 7 tin boxes and 13 alabaster marble blocks in an aluminium, wood and plexiglass vitrine, 66 15/6 × 43 5/16 × 5 5/16 inches (170 × 110 × 13.5 cm) © Edmund de Waal. Photo by Mike Bruce
Edmund de Waal, white sail (detail), 2016, 27 porcelain vessels with gilding, porcelain shards, 3 silver pieces, 7 tin boxes and 13 alabaster marble blocks in an aluminium, wood and plexiglass vitrine, 66 15/6 × 43 5/16 × 5 5/16 inches (170 × 110 × 13.5 cm) © Edmund de Waal. Photo by Mike Bruce

Expanding his interest, de Waal told us at Frieze, “Celan has been really important to me. He’s always dealing with memory. Celan is a poet of loss and fragmentation – he breaks up language and puts it back together again.” De Waal said that the “areas of white space in these works are very much like Celan’s use of the white page.”

 

Edmund de Waal's work at the Gagosian Stand at Frieze. Photograph by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze.
Edmund de Waal's work at the Gagosian Stand at Frieze. Photograph by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze.
 

And that's something perhaps worth dwelling upon when taking in de Waal's works at the fair this week. You can learn more about this important writer and artist by ordering a copy of our Edmund de Waal monograph here; and for more on the history of ceramics, order de Waal’s other brilliant Phaidon title, The Pot Book. Meanwhile, for more on Frieze get our new contemporary art book by the fair’s makers: Frieze A to Z of Contemporary Art.


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