Monaco is more than money and the Mediterranean. But it’s true: When we think of Monaco, rarely does ceramics come to mind.
But Monte Carlo used to have a pottery studio back in the 19th century. As a local newspaper, the Journal de Monaco, reported in 1874, this ‘Potteries Factory’ was a cottage of creativity in the middle of a forest along the French Riviera. “It is really curious to see with what ease and with what art, a shapeless piece of clay is transformed into a pretty vase or baskets loaded with flowers,” wrote one reporter.
Now, the New National Museum of Monaco (Nouveau Musée National de Monaco) is having a ceramics exhibition opening September 18, including key pieces from the past and present in the retrospective: “Artifices Instables, Stories of Ceramics.”
The guest curator Cristiano Raimondi will put over 120 ceramics by international artists on view. The exhibition will tell the story of how ceramics have been instrumental to storytelling of place, of Monaco and beyond.
It also highlights the ceramics process; from shaping, decorating, cooking and enameling, as well as the various “recipes” that Raimondi calls “the almost alchemic preparations which vary from one creator to another.”
What will make this exhibit unique is how it digs into the history of Monte-Carlo’s Artistic Potteries factory (fabrique de Poteries Artistiques de Monte-Carlo), which started in 1874, and was inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement, decorative, fine arts movement in Europe and the British Empire that saw the rise of artists like William Morris between the years of 1880 and 1920.
It was a time when colorful floral, plant and animal imagery dominated ceramics, which often looked so good, they practically looked edible, like cakes. But not everyone played copycat. In America, artists like George Ohr, from Mississippi, started creating abstract vases that went against the grain, and for thinking outside the box, he is remembered as a pioneer of American modern art.
There’s also works from the Poterie de Monte Carlo movement, which ran from 1907 to 1914, including works by French ceramicist Eugène Baudin, who moved to Monaco in 1906, used bright psychedelic colors, and was heavily influenced by Surrealism.
There will also be works by much-overlooked Monaco ceramicist Albert Diato, a local artist who helped revolutionize ceramics in the 1950s. He traveled the world, worked with stoneware in Italy, opened a workshop in Milan, lived in the attic of a button-maker in Paris, and traveled to Afghanistan, where he studied ceramics and created stone and marble works for the then Afghan king. His works will be shown alongside ceramics by Pablo Picasso, a colleague of his time.
Among the contemporary artists in the exhibition, the ceramics works of Ron Nagle will be on view, who brings an otherworldly touch to ceramics, and are influenced by California architecture. There are also the works of Venezuelan ceramicist Magdalena Suarez Frimkess, who incorporates Disney characters into her pieces in odd, unexpected ways.
This exhibition is bound to show how far ceramics have come since French artist Paul Gauguin said: “Ceramics are not futile things.” True, Gaugin experimented with ceramics in 1887, then, rather over-confidently, proclaimed that one day in the far future, he would be recognized for elevating ceramics to an art form.
But he didn’t think about all of the women who have contributed to this art form, too, from Harriet Hosmer, who is remembered as the first woman sculptor, to Nampeyo, a Hopi pottery maker who was born in Arizona in 1856. Hopefully, the best is yet to come.
For more information visit the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco website.