Critics’ Picks

Matthew Warner, Garniture II, 2019, black stoneware, 17 x 47 x 9".

Matthew Warner, Garniture II, 2019, black stoneware, 17 x 47 x 9".



ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art, Milan
Via Orobia 26
June 21–September 15, 2019

Cups, sugar bowls, pitchers. These household vessels—enormously scaled by Julian Stair and arrayed on the ground floor—provide a winking initial view of this two-part exhibition, the first iteration of “Ceramics,” an annual project devoted to the multiform potential of pottery in the twenty-first century. Stair’s objects of daily sensory life abandon their original function in favor of a process of abstraction that turns them into pure, sensuous sculpture. Stair magnifies the power of close-reading our world, teasing out equivalences between usefulness and futility.

Upstairs, “Verso Nuovi Canoni,” organized by Tommsaso Corvi-Mora, is of another nature entirely. Its rigorously conceptual treatment indulges the various artistic alphabets of six ceramicists living in Great Britain: Sam Bakewell, Lubna Chowdhary, Corvi-Mora, Bethan Lloyd Worthington, Matthew Raw, and Matthew Warner. (All but the curator and Warner have done residencies at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.) An homage to the first chapter of A Potter’s Book (1940) by Bernard Leach, a British pioneer of studio ceramics, the effort converges aesthetic aspirations with themes such as migration, race, and literature, and questions of authorship. The latter concern is broached by Warner, who, citing the perfect manual reproducibility of the works of Josiah Wedgwood, a master eighteenth-century potter who helped industrialize the craft, presents Garniture II, 2019: a sequence of austere black vases atop white pedestals, whose clarity exudes a funereal timelessness. These sculptures, whether on plinths, shelves, or walls, carry strident formal melodies that stand out amid an increasingly generalist academic system.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.