Must See Exhibition: Strange Clay

Strange Clay

There are some intriguing shapes at the Hayward Gallery’s newest exhibition, Strange Clay: Ceramics in Contemporary Art 

Words by Eve Herbert

Strange Clay: Ceramics in Contemporary Art is 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.

Betty Woodman, House of the South, 1996. Glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, paint 403.9 x 624.8 x 24.1 cm
Photographer: Eli Ping. Courtesy The Woodman Family Foundation. © Woodman Family Foundation / DACS, London.

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.

Beate Kuhn, Glasbaum, 2001. Stoneware, porcelain, thrown, assembled. 24 x 40 x 37 cm.
Courtesy the Estate of the Artist. Photo: Tony Izaaks

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. 

Beate Kuhn, Kakteenkranz, 2008. Courtesy Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum. Photo: Die Neue Sammlung (A. Laurenzo)
Ron Nagle, Schmear Campaign, 2012 © Ron Nagle. Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery / Modern Art. Photo: Don Tuttle

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. 

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
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Grayson Perry, Women of Ideas, 1990. Glazed ceramic.
42 x 27 cm © Grayson Perry. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro

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. 

Installation view of Klara Kristalova: Camouflage, Perrotin, Paris, September 7–October 7, 2017.
Courtesy Perrotin. Photo: Claire Dorn.

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.

Aaron Angell, Pie #1, 2020. © Aaron Angell.  Courtesy of Rob Tufnell, London/Venice. Photo: Andy Keate.
Klara Kristalova, Sun, 2019. © Klara Kristalova and Perrotin. Courtesy Perrotin. Photo: Claire Dorn

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.

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David Zink Yi, Untitled (Architeuthis), 2010. Burnt and glazed clay. © David Zink Yi. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zürich

Dr Cliff Lauson, Curator of Strange Clay: Ceramics in Contemporary Art, says: “Strange Clay brings together some of the most exciting artists working in ceramics in recent years. Using innovative methods and techniques, they push the medium to its physical and conceptual limits, producing imaginative artworks that surprise and provoke in equal measure.” 


Until 8 January 2023

Hayward Gallery


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