Hayward Gallery presents Strange Clay: Ceramics in Contemporary Art, the first large-scale group exhibition in the UK to explore how contemporary artists have used the medium of clay in inventive ways. Given the recent surge of interest in ceramics by artists around the world, as well as countless people who enjoy sculpting clay as a pastime, Strange Clay offers a timely reflection on this vital and popular medium.
Featuring 23 international and multi-generational artists, from ceramic legends Betty Woodman, Beate Kuhn, Ron Nagle and Ken Price, to a new generation of artists pushing the boundaries of ceramics today, the exhibition will explore the expansive potential of clay through a variety of playful as well as socially-engaged artworks.
Curated by Dr Cliff Lauson, Strange Clay features eccentric abstract sculptures, large immersive installations, fantastical otherworldly figures and uncanny evocations of everyday objects. The artworks vary in scale, finish and technique, and address topics that range from architecture to social justice, the body, the domestic, the political and the organic. Regardless of background or route into the material, all of the artists in the exhibition celebrate the sheer possibility and versatility of clay.
In a brand new commission for the exhibition, titled Till Death Do Us Part (2022), Lindsey Mendick explores the domestic realm as a site of conflicts and negotiations. A reflection on the ambivalence of domestic settings and relationships, the home is represented as a battleground where vermin infiltrate every corner of the house.
David Zink Yi’s giant ceramic squid, Untitled (Architeuthis) (2010) sprawls across the floor of the gallery, spanning more than 4.8 metres and lying in what appears to be a pool of its own ink. Fascinated by the extreme biological differences between humans and squids, he explores the relationship between myth-making and the construction of identity.
In his ceramics sculptures, Takuro Kuwata radically reinterprets the shape of a traditional Japanese tea bowl or chawan – a vessel used to prepare and make tea for traditional ceremonies. Greatly varying in scale, the artist’s sculptures are glazed with elaborate colours and textures that evoke organic forms, pushing traditional techniques to create something entirely unique and surprising.
Fantastical creatures are displayed in a botanical installation from Klara Kristalova, featuring plants and ceramic sculptures. Roots, moss, grass and branches evoke the forest surrounding the artist’s studio in the Swedish wilderness and the woodland setting of fairy tales.
Woody De Othello’s surreal clay sculptures modify the shapes of traditional household objects into over-sized, twisted and sometimes anthropomorphic forms. With his distinct approach to ceramics, Othello reimagines the mundane with a humorous twist while offering a serious reflection on society and race.
Strange Clay features works by Aaron Angell, Salvatore Arancio, Leilah Babirye, Jonathan Baldock, Lubna Chowdhary, Edmund de Waal, Emma Hart, Liu Jianhua, Rachel Kneebone, Serena Korda, Klara Kristalova, Beate Kuhn, Takuro Kuwata, Lindsey Mendick, Ron Nagle, Magdalene Odundo, Woody De Othello, Grayson Perry, Shahpour Pouyan, Ken Price, Brie Ruais, Betty Woodman and David Zink Yi.
Takuro Kuwata, Untitled, 2016. Porcelain, glaze, pigment, steel, gold, lacquer 288 x 135 x 130 cm. Courtesy: Alison Jacques, London © Takuro Kuwata; photo: Robert Glowacki