Contemporary Ceramics Exhibition

Transgressions Contemporary Ceramics Exhibition

Barcelona’s Design Museum sought out artists who negotiated endless possibilities and challenges on their road to the Transgressions Contemporary Ceramics Exhibition.

This summer in Barcelona, the city’s Design Museum presents Transgressions, a contemporary ceramics exhibition celebrating the exemplary transformations happening in the world of clay. Ceramics is the art of the four elements: earth, water, fire, and air. Artists working in this medium challenge themselves by exploring and altering any of these elements to reach new effects and share unique perspectives never before seen in ceramic art.

Contemporary Ceramics Exhibition
Rosa Cortiella, Leak (2020). White clay and enamel. 19th century earthenware basin.

From Tradition to Innovation

There have always been progressive artists working with clay, but the current global trend of ceramicists pushing this traditional craft into the experimental realms of modern art is unprecedented. Barcelona’s Design Museum is keeping up with the movement by updating their existing ceramics collection of over a thousand artworks from 230 different artists, including Llorens, Artigas, Picasso, and Miró.

The Transgressions exhibit adds contemporary works from artists like Madola, María Oriza Perez, Xavier Toubes, Ángel Garraza, Nuria Torres, Sophie Aguilera Lester, Corrie Bain, Yukiko Kitahara, and Roger Coll. The curators sought out “creators who are not confining themselves to repeating processes and formulas, they’re contributing to new knowledge and experiences.”

Contemporary Ceramics Exhibition
María Oriza, Espacio Espiral (2013). White stoneware paper clay and metallic oxides.

Center for Barcelona’s Institute of Culture

The Barcelona Design Museum is the result of merging several previously existing local museums. Located in the Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes, the modern building acts as both a museum and a laboratory with a focus on four branches of design: space, product, information, and fashion. The building’s expansive architecture brims with daylight and reflections from the fountains outside. At the front door were selections from a recent exhibition on biomimicry in fashion—surprising guests with outfits that included up-cycled materials and drones. Transgressions was located downstairs, in a large, open exhibition space with artworks ranging in scope—from pieces that fit in the palm of your hand to Rosa Cortiella’s large-scale sculptures that spread halfway across the room and wandered up the walls.

Barcelona Ceramics Exhibition
Carles Vives Llocs de Syracuse (2008). Stoneware and Chamottes. Oxides and enamel. 

Material Transgressions

The first exhibit space encountered was titled “Material Transgression”, displaying works by artists experimenting with forms, textures, and dimensions. With a background in architecture, Roger Coll’s sculptures were “constructed” not modeled or carved. Coll explained, “In my works, I use segments that I put together to create the final shape. The same way you use bricks to build a wall I guess.” María Oriza’s Espacio Espiral highlighted the sculptor’s ability to manipulate space and physical limits through optical effects. Her use of form as an agent projecting an illusion — one that was not necessarily implicit in real space — invited the viewer to interact with her sculpture in unexpected ways. Likewise, the dripping glaze on a vessel by Albert Montserrat and the rough textures on Carles Vives Mateau’s Llocs de Syracuse sculptures practically called out to be touched by viewers. 

Ceramics Exhibition
Ruth Cepedano, Low Tide Echoes (2016). Paper Clay, slabbing and oxidation firing.

Conceptual Transgressions

If experimenting was the name of the game in the first exhibit space, the pieces highlighting “Conceptual Transgressions” asked visitors to expand their imagination even more. Symbolism, rather than materiality, was the main attraction—pointing out issues such as gender roles or immigration, reexamining concepts through satire or humor.

Measuring over a meter long, vibrant colors caught one’s eye in Sophie Aguilera Lester’s Under the Daisies, where the remnants of a woman peeked out from under a patch of flowers, begging the viewer to ask, “What happened here?” Meanwhile, on other sculptures — such as Get Out by Jordi Marcet i Rosa Vila-Abadal and Ruth Cepedano’s Low Tide Echoes — no color was needed at all. The forms spoke for themselves. 

modern ceramics
Sophie Aguilera Lester. Under the Daisies (2017). Stoneware and enamels.

Subtlety and Transgression

Finally, the third exhibit space swung to the opposite end of the spectrum, towards simplicity and austerity. Vases exploring nature, which were designed by Martín Azúa and produced in collaboration with the ceramist Marc Vidal, showed the beauty of unrefined objects. As described by Azúa, “Craftsmanship and nature converge in one object without artifice where materials and craftsman gestures are equally honest.”

art in barcelona
Design by Martín Azúa, production by Marc Vidal. War (2017). Red clay, stone, branch

Ceramic Art as Rebellious Art

Written on the walls of Transgressions were the words: “It’s part of human nature to rebel, become curious about the unknown and seek to expand our limits beyond those established.” The works presented at this exhibition were similarly surprising and unexpected, made by artisans who are alchemists and explorers in their own way. Aware of the imperfections and unpredictability that comes with clay, they negotiate endless possibilities on the border between artistic bravery and bravado. 

By Amelia Johannsen

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