Edmund de Waal debuts at Gagosian next month
The British ceramicist brings a poetry-themed show of pots and vitrines to Gagosian's Madison Avenue gallery
Phaidon followers will know Edmund de Waal as a potter and ceramics scholar, author of our Pot Book, the most comprehensive and accessible A to Z overview of ceramics from all periods. Yet the more general reader is likely to be familiar with him from his best-selling family history, The Hare With The Amber Eyes.
Perhaps both public profiles should be borne in mind when visiting his forthcoming exhibition, on display at Gagosian's Madison Avenue gallery, from September 12 to October 19. The exhibition is called Atemwende or 'breathturn' - a title shared with German-language poet Paul Celan's 1967 collection, and might perhaps make reference to the potter and the poet's European Jewish heritage.
As with other de Waal exhibitions the ceramics are displayed in a series of vitrines. These should not be ignored; “Vitrines hold space as well as objects,” he explains. “They seem to still a part of the world and suspend activity, pause the movement that attends the life of things.... Vitrines are part of what I do - not a frame for what I make.”
Placing a series of objects in a ready-made collection also raises questions about what it is to amass and catalogue objects. As he explained to The Economist last year, “I want people to think about what collecting objects is about, to explore the idea of things lost and found, hidden and half-remembered.”
De Waal studied English at Cambridge University, and has drawn titles from the poetry of Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams and WH Auden in the past, so drawing from Celan isn't a surprising move. Yet it is always heartening to see someone making these conceptual jumps between media. Pots and poetry aren't the kinds of juxtapositions one commonly expects to find in a commercial gallery, so we should give thanks that there are artists like del Waal working today, bringing references beyond the usual art-school tropes into some of the world's more prominent exhibition spaces.
To find out more about the Gagosian exhibition, go here. For more on De Waal's disparate influences, do take a look at our Muse Music interview with him. And for a greater understanding of ceramics and his place within that world, consider our brilliant The Pot Book.