Critics’ Picks

Anonymous, Pinch pot, ca. late 1800s–early 1900s, enamel on porcelain, 4 3/4 x 4".

Anonymous, Pinch pot, ca. late 1800s–early 1900s, enamel on porcelain, 4 3/4 x 4".


“Les Flammes: L’Âge de la céramique”

Musée d'Art Moderne de Paris
11 avenue du Président Wilson
October 15, 2021–February 6, 2022

Heroically recontextualizing contemporary ceramics within a long history of clay idols and vessels, this Anne Dressen–curated exhibition comprises over 350 works made between the Neolithic period and today. Organized thematically rather than chronologically, geographically, or stylistically, the show confronts issues ranging from form and function to intentionality and accident, advocating for a broadened appreciation of a traditionally marginalized medium.           

Les Flammes” opens with a selection of artworks intended to illustrate ceramics’ diversity in terms of materiality and technique. Bettina Samson’s Horloge 3 (Clock 3), 2018, a small rectangular sculpture studded with melted white protrusions, demonstrates how firing cones mark precise times and temperatures in a kiln. The glossy jumble of porcelain, stoneware, and earthenware objects that is Daniel Dewar and Grégory Giquel's Mixed Ceramics (n◦7), 2011, flaunts a multitude of clay bodies and glazes. In addition to covering the fundamentals, the exhibition abounds with enlightening unexpected juxtapositions, like the small fur-inlaid dish by Meret Oppenheim (Souvenir du “Dejeuner en fourrure,” [Souvenir of “Fur Breakfast”], 1972) posed next to a Song Dynasty vessel glazed in so-called “rabbit fur” style.

The show’s most spirited section, “Delightful and Abject,” probes clay's erotic associations. Corporeal works like Ken Price’s bosomy Oki, 2017, Marc Alberghina’s lascivious tongue jutting out from the wall (Canis lingua, 2020), and even Auguste Rodin’s arch-backed terra cotta nude (Torse d'Adèle [Adèle's Torso], pre-1884) are accompanied by a loop of the famous scene featuring Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze and a pottery wheel from Jerry Zucker's 1990 film Ghost. As the excerpt echoes across the exhibition, it is hard not to be seduced by the possibilities of clay.