Home Magazine The Revival of Ceramic in Contemporary Art...

The ceramic medium is very ancient and has seen a wide diffusion in distant geographic areas since its origin, as well as an enormous technical diversification. In recent years, into the current creative scene, the ceramic medium is witnessing an increasing revival, both in design and contemporary art field. 

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The origin...

The first traces of ceramic processing date back to the Prehistoric era, specifically thanks to the discovery of some specimens dated 16100-14500 BC, discovered inside the cave of Yuchanyan (Hunan, China). Many experts have argued that the original invention of this material is attributable to the Saharan populations and Japanese.  Its development in Europe dates back to the Minoan-Mycenaean civilization of the VI -V century BC, and it also saw an important development in during the late Middle Ages, especially in some Italian areas as Forlì, Faenza, Pisa, Siena, Orvieto and Ariano.

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Eye Idol Miniature Statue (Mesopotamia, ca. 3000 BC).


An interesting evolution in the use of this material (and its derivatives) was in the Eighteenth Century when in parallel to the First Industrial Revolution, this product came to be used in homes, vehicles or medical tools. Also in the artistic field, the typical attention on classical shapes by the Neoclassical movement leads to the creation of new beautiful ceramic objects (vases, jewellery, tools). A great example of objects from this age, is the Waterford Wedgwood Factory, founded by Josiah Wedgwood and still considered to be one of the most famous and quoted porcelain industries in the world.


Wedgwood pottery, Jasperware and collectors. Wedgwood for auction.


Different pottery-technique... 

There are different types of ceramics and among the best known there are terracotta, earthenware, majolica, stoneware and porcelain. Usually the term pottery refers to pottery, statues, statuettes and all building elements, in fact, the etymology of the word that derives from the Greek and corresponds to clay for the crockery, also in the meaning of clay pot.

  • Compact paste ceramics: stoneware and porcelain are included in the group. They have very low porosity and good qualities of impermeability to gases and liquids. They do not allow themselves to be nicked even by a steel tip.

  • Porous paste ceramics: typically earthenware, majolica and terracotta. They have a tender and absorbent paste, more easily scratched.

The Avant-Gardes experimentation...

During the twentieth century, the artistic avant-gardes were the first to exploit the metamorphic complexity of the ceramics. Starting from Russian constructivists and supremacists (El Lissitzky, Kasimir Malevich), as well as the futurists and the Bauhaus school, there are many examples of ceramic works that go beyond the concept of a design object by giving officially a new artistic thought. After the II World War great masters like Lucio Fontana, Pablo Picasso, Asger Jorn, Carlo Zauli, Luigi Ontani and Grayson Perry, started to sublimating this media through a purely artistic approach.


Luigi Ontani, EPIPìSTEMMA, 2017 - 2019 Ceramic and gold. Courtesy Massimo De Carlo Gallery


Lucio Fontana, Battaglia, 1947.


The official entry into contemporary manifestations... 

Through the new relationship between technique, matter and thought established by these visionary masters , in the last few years an unpredictable and versatile exploration system has been born around this media, which does not follow codified rules and crosses different knowledge, establishing new relationships with other media including performance, installation, photography, and video.


Installation view of “Sterling Ruby: Ceramics” at the Museum of Arts and Design.Credit Charlie Rubin for The New York Times


The ceramic medium is continuing to expand its history becoming a constant sculptural presence in fairs, biennials, museums and other important artistic events. Among the contemporary artists that work with ceramics, we can mention Ai Wei Wei, Jeff Koons, Salvatore Arancio, Anders Herwald Ruhwald, Anish Kapoor, Sterling Ruby, Shio Kusaka, Takuro Kuwata, Betty Woodman, Jennie Jieun Lee, Ken Price. Don't miss the guide on 51 Most Popular Contemporary Artist you should know. There are ever more young Italian artists that are focusing all of their production on ceramic artworks: Cosimo Valla, Emiliano Maggi, the artistic duo Ornaghi & Prestinari.  


Ai Weiwei, Coloured Vases, 2006. 

Cover image: Luigi Ontani, ALBERICUS BELGIOIOSIAE AUROBORUS, 2017-2018 Ceramic and pure gold. Courtesy Massimo De Carlo Gallery


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