CityLife Arts

The story of South African ceramics on focus at forthcoming auction

By Edward Tsumele

I am sure to a layman and even those not layman but are somehow really interested in a category of art called ceramics, are sometimes left confused as to when does a pot become art and when is it simply a pot that your grandmother or mother used to make and was functional in practice. I am personally lucky enough for having a mother who used to make these beautiful clay pots, whose role was purely functional, such as storing water that was almost always quite cold enough to drink in the face of hot weather. She also made the material with which she used to make these clay pots and I often wonder what could have happened to her career as an artist If she was born in different circumstances where opportunities to practice her art were abundant, such as now. Yes she sold some of them, but not at a professional level, such as in a gallery. But from where I am standing, my mother was an artist, a ceramist that never got the recognition.

Well, these vexing questions will be answered by Strauss and Co. senior art specialist today, October 27, 2020, at Zoom function. This Zoom meeting is held in the context of Strauss&Co’s forthcoming flagship North/South Auction, which will take place from November 8 to November 11. This auction dubbed Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art, Decorative Arts, Jewellery and Wine, will include the Tasso Foundation Collection – an important single-owner collection of South African art assembled by the late Italian businessman and connoisseur, Giulio Bertrand (1927–2018). The new cross-country, cross-departmental sale will also include a single-owner collection of highly sought-after wines from the Domaines of Burgundy and the Rhône Valley; a Chinese Famille Rose Collection; and a special focus on South African Ceramics.

But for now it is perhaps helpful to focus on the following quotation [1]Frieda Harmsen (1985) Looking at South African Art: A guide to the study and appreciation of art, Pretoria: Van Schaik, page 145.: A pot is elevated to the realm of art if the potter makes it primarily for that reason, and it will then be judged as art, and not as a well-designed household utensil.”[1]

And so here is the South African story about this category of art called ceramics. Contemporary according to Strauss&Co. South African ceramics emerged in the 1960s and 70s, distinguishing itself as a separate category from what is known as historical ceramics (such as VOC plates and other wares traded between East and West), and heritage vessels (such as the many ceramic pots found at archaeological sites, including at Mapungubwe).

In addition to work from the studios of individual artists known primarily as ceramists, such as Esias Bosch and Andrew Walford, it also includes the work of artists known primarily as painters, sculptors or printmakers, such as Deborah Bell, Robert Hodgins and Hannatjie van der Wat, among many others, who produce ceramics occasionally or regularly, as part of their overall art practice.

The category also encompasses the production of commercial ware from smaller artisanal potteries and studios such as Cullinan Refractories/Olifantsfontein Potteries (which produced Linnware) and Grahamstown Pottery (which produced Drostdy Ware), as well more mass-produced, designer utilitarian ware, such as that manufactured by Continental China and National Ceramic Industries in the 1960s. A contemporary take on this form of production is the William Kentridge mirrored coffee cups produced by Illy in 2008.

The work of artists working in contemporary ceramic media ranges from new interpretations of traditional forms (for example in the work of Nesta Nala, Ian Garrett and Juliet Armstrong), and the reinvention of classical forms and shapes in highly innovative sculptural ceramic pieces (such as by Corné Joubert, Ruan Hoffmann and Molelekoa Simon Masilo).Source Credit:

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