Behind the Scenes at the Museum: Ceramics in the Expanded Field

Lead Research Organisation: University of Westminster
Department Name: Faculty of Media Arts and Design

Abstract

This research project examines how ceramic artists can animate museum collections in new ways and the impact that this understanding will have in the broad context of visual culture. The research will examine the past decade of groundbreaking projects involving contemporary ceramic artists within museums, exploring how such practice, that incorporates curatorial discourse, can be identified and theorised. It will theorise this area of practice as part of the established context of artistic intervention in museum collections and explore how the new knowledge can be disseminated.

The project will explore and disseminate this research through the following outcomes:
1) Collaborative projects with three major museums; Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas, USA, the York Art Gallery and the Freud Museum in London, resulting in 3 major exhibitions and providing different models for working with collections.
2) A cutting edge interactive website where critical essays from international theorists will be added at regular intervals.
3) A seminar series based around each museum culminating in a major international conference.
4) The publication of a critical anthology of essays which will offer a theoretical overview of these outcomes
5) A 3-person exhibition which will bring the Investigators' findings together through the dissemination of their practice.

Since 1945 museums have had an equivocal relationship with contemporary ceramics reflecting a widespread anxiety about the status of the discipline, situated between art and craft. There have been solo shows and occasional surveys, but comparatively few exhibitions have brought historical collections into conjunction with contemporary ceramic practice. However over the last decade this relationship has begun to change and ceramic interventions are now much more likely to be found within museums than ever before.
The animation of collections can happen through a variety of ways:
1) The integration of an artist's own ceramic practice into the curatorial process creating a stimulus for new ways of making and new approaches to interpretation.
2) The artist's involvement in the choice or display of objects or their ownership of texts or images used alongside objects.
3) The emergence of unexpected synergies as contemporary work is seen alongside historical work, which allows for the development of new interpretative strategies for museums.
4) The generation of fresh approaches in museology raising questions as to the limits of ceramic history.
This research will lead to clearer understanding of where collaboration has occurred and what the outcomes have been. Through a critical over-view of these developments the 3 Investigators and the PhD student will research the significance for museums and for the discipline of ceramics both nationally and internationally.

With the decline in education and industry of a practice that is of such fundamental relevance, the need to raise the profile of this discipline has never been so urgent. At the same time ceramics is broadening out its dialogues with other fields through both experimental practice and developments in critical theory, which is establishing its potential as a discipline that can demand the same attention and respect as other areas of visual art. The relationship between ceramic artists and museum collections forms a key part of this development, but the need to establish this importance has not been fully explored. Ceramic objects form a major part of museum collections with connections to anthropology, archaeology and other disciplines that engage with the cultural and social history of humankind. This project will therefore contribute to the dialogues and agendas which surround this significant area of practice by filling a gap in cultural knowledge and helping to raise awareness not only of its importance in the contemporary art landscape but also its socail and cultural relevance for new audiences.

Planned Impact

This research project aims to create a substantial impact beyond the immediate academic ceramics community to benefit
1) specialist visitors to museums such as ceramists, artists, designers, architects, critics, writers and historians
2) museum and applied arts curators and staff
3) policy makers and arts administrators from e.g. the Crafts Council and the Arts Council
4) curators of ceramics and applied art
5) those working in the development of collections
6) museum directors and architects working on museum design.
7) the general public.
The research outcomes that are disseminated through publications such as catalogues and books will provide a commercial benefit to museums and bookshops through retail sales.
Three national seminars and an international conference will bring together people from diverse parts of the sector and provide opportunities for arts practitioners, policymakers and curators to meet, critique and theorise the concept and practice of working with museums.By examining the benefits and constraints of interventions these seminars bring focus to an area of museological practice that has not yet been theorised and contribute to both current policy debates and current practice.
The exhibitions that arise from this research will bring the collections to life for the general public, a huge benefit to the development of museum audiences and potential future projects.
The website, seminar programme, international conference and publications will disseminate the research beyond the academy on an international level.
Impact will vary depending on the individual or sector involved and the timescale of benefits may be short term, for example in terms of visitors to an exhibition, or long term in the case of policy changes.
The Investigators will continue to develop their own skills as researchers, writers and artists which will be of huge benefit in their broad engagement with the public beyond academia.
The Investigators are involved in individual projects with 3 international museums and are at various levels of engagement within them.
In the Nelson Atkins Museum, USA, Clare Twomey will respond to the pottery collection and make an installation-based artwork.
In York Art Gallery Edmund de Waal will make a new body of work with relationship to the ceramic collection and to the architectural space.
In the Freud Museum in London Christie Brown will make a body of work focussing on Freud's dreamwork theory and his collection of figurines.
The wider non-academic audience will be reached through a range of outcomes outlined above.
The website will play a key role in publicising these outcomes and the team will liaise with the museums to maximise publicity.
Collaboration within the project:
The roles and responsibilities within the 3 museums will be clearly defined by regular contact with the Investigators and the development of these established connections.
Plans to make a final exhibition that brings the diverse work all three Investigators together will be developed as a key output which will reveal challenging responses and comparisons and demonstrate the connections between each Investigator's findings.
The website essays, seminar programme and final 3-day international conference will form the core of a book examining the concept of ceramic intervention, edited by Edmund de Waal with contributions from practitioners, curators and critics which will reach a wide international audience.
The Investigators have extensive experience of working with museums such as the V&A, MIMA and the Petrie Museum and delivering major seminars and conferences in this context. They also liaise regularly with other international networks including Think Tank: An European Initiative on the Applied Arts, The World Crafts Council, National Council for Education in the Ceramic Arts , U

Publications

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Breen L (2013) Ceramic Discourse and the Museum in National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts

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Breen, L (2013) Myth Making in Ceramic Review

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Breen, L (2014) Re-defining Ceramics Through Exhibitionary Practice (1970-2011) in Journal of Art Historiography, no. 11

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Brown, C. (2013) Working and Dreaming

 
Title A Matter of Life and Death; an exhibition of contemporary ceramics in relation to archaic grave goods. 
Description Julian Stair curated an installation of his own work and historical objects drawn from York Museum Trust's extensive archaeological collection that were made to contain the human body in death. Sited in St Mary's, a deconsecrated medieval church, this exhibition revealed how different cultures have approached this profound rite of passage. From Neolithic and Bronze age funerary urns to an English casket made to contain a human heart, Stair's response animated the historical collections and demonstrated how artifacts associated with the subject of death can also be a celebration of life. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact This exhibition demonstrated to the audience the universal connections between archaic rites of passage and contemporary approaches to death and burial rituals. Archaic objects were displayed alongside the contemporary pots on open display to emphasis this continuity. 
URL http://www.ceramics-in-the-expanded-field.com
 
Title Ceramics in the Expanded Field: an exhibition to accompany the 3 day international conference. 
Description This short exhibition of ceramic artworks created by the PI and the 2 Co-Is was mounted to accompany the international conference of the same name. The conference and exhibition formed a joint output which was the culmination of the 3-year project. 3 separate bodies of ceramic work, which included large scale objects, multiple installations, drawing and performance, reflected the relationship of contemporary ceramic art practice to museology through responses to curatorial practice, museum collections and historic thematics. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact The exhibition was attended by a large audience which included the conference attendees, as well as a wide range of other artists, academics, curators and writers in the field and members of the general public, as it was displayed in an experimental public artspace in London. The exhibition was well received by many of the audience and was reviewed in magazines such as The Journal of Modern Craft (UK) , C-File (USA) and Ceramics Monthly (USA). 
URL http://www.ceramics-in-the-expanded-field.com
 
Title DreamWork, an exhibition of artefacts in response to the Freud Museum 
Description This exhibition by Christie Brown explored the relationship of ceramic installation to a house museum and the collection of archaic artefacts belonging to Sigmund Freud in the context of his dream work theory and his use of the archaeology metaphor. The exhibition comprised five ceramic and mixed media artworks which were displayed in the Freud Museum's Exhibition Room and at various points around the house including Freud's study and Anna Freud's Room. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact Through audience questionnaires and feedback responses it was evident that this exhibition contributed to a broader understanding of Freud's ideas through the figurative sculptures that were directly drawn from Freud's figurine collection. 
URL http://www.ceramics-in-the-expanded-field.com
 
Title Plymouth Porcelain: A New Collection 
Description Through the making and installing of this permanent work for the Plymouth Museum the work has drawn on the museum collections and the community and has encouraged new audiences in authorship of the art work's identity; what it means to look into our homes, to understand time and value amongst objects. The work is made up of 33 hanging boxes in the main museum atrium. Inside these hanging display boxes are new porcelain objects cast from the objects of the residents of Plymouth. They all have the residents' names on them as a representation of the authorship element of the work's content. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2011 
Impact Residents of Plymouth engaged with the museum as authors of an artwork. Twomey invited residents of the city to loan their ceramic objects for re-casting. The artist selected 33 of these to re-cast in a pure white porcelain, each piece individually back-stamped and displayed as a new heritage. The work creates a contemporary perspective on usage and taste and the desire to use, own and love objects in our home. It connects our own relationship to porcelain to the historical collection. Its main impact is the gathering of a new community of makers and authors in the residence of Plymouth who visit this museum. 
URL http://www.ceramics-in-the-expanded-field.com/researchers/clare-twomey
 
Description This project has developed the international dialogues and debates surrounding the relationship between ceramic artists and museum collections and curatorial practices. Through practice based research and exhibitions, collections and histories have been brought to life and dialogues have been entered into concerning curatorial practices. Through the website and the specially commissioned essay series, a range of different viewpoints within the field of contemporary ceramics have been explored and disseminated in the public domain. The theoretical overview has been explored through the project's doctoral research. A selection of the conference papers has been published in an anthology entitled Contemporary Clay and Museum Culture in 2016 which forms the culmination of the project and contributes to the publications in the field and beyond. Through this rich mix of outputs the research team are confident that this project has made a serious impact in the arena of museum culture and in the broader relationship with contemporary visual culture.
Exploitation Route The findings are being taken forward in the form of new commissions with museums for art works that explore the research questions. The findings are being used to assist in further publications and journals. The findings are also being used to develop new research projects which allow the team to develop further research area and agendas. Other researchers using the ouputs to assist in the publications of books and papers.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.ceramics-the-expanded-field.com
 
Description The findings have been used to promote change in cultural institutes - the research has been explored with and by curators to give concrete understanding of the cultural impact of the research questions and implemented research outcomes. Creating opportunity for dialogue - the symposia that were held during the three year project allowed for active dialogue to feed into the final findings; these are the book, the conference and the exhibitions. Reflection opportunities in essay pages - the essays have created a well-used portal that is being used for academic development and reference. International understanding through conference - this has been reported on in a rnage of journals. Exhibition opportunities - they have impacted on public perception of the field of practice, allowing a new entry point for engagement and knowledge transfer in the live museum environment. The finding have also been used to create an anthology with Routledge publishing.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

 
Title International research essay portal 
Description The research database created by the research project is held and published on the research website. The essays page holds 14 essays as open access documents on the subject of ceramics in the expanded field. This collection of academic, artistic, curatorial and museum research essays has created a database of contemporary thinking and knowledge on the subject. The essays include international perspectives as well as gender balance and academic and practitioner perspectives. All the essays can be downloaded and used for academic purposes though the creative commons. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2012 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The essays page is now a central reference point for students and academics. The role of the essay page on the website will remain a maintained portal for reference at the close of the project. 
URL http://www.ceramics-in-the-expanded-field.com/essays
 
Description Ceramics in the Expanded Field 3 day international Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This 3 day international conference was structured around the 5 in-house seminars which were held by the research team every semester to identify key aspects of research in the field. The 4 researchers presented papers on the outcomes of their research. Other speakers included international writers, curators and ceramic practitioners who were invited as keynotes or selected from a strong call for papers. The conference sparked much debate during the 3 days and has been reviewed in the Journal of Modern Crafts (UK) and US online forum C-File as well as US magazine Ceramics Monthly. The conference was supported by an exhibition of ceramics by the 3 practice-based researchers which demonstrated their research outcomes through installation and performance.

The conference had direct impact that contributed to the dialogues and agendas which surround this significant area of practice by exploring a gap in cultural knowledge. This three day conference at the University of Westminster has drawn attention to the significance of contemporary ceramic practice within museum culture, thereby developing a wider audience for both areas, as has been reported in international press coverage of the conference.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.ceramics-in-the-expanded-field.co.uk
 
Description One-day Symposium (London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A one-day symposium held in association with Julian Stair's exhibition Julian Stair: Quietus, the Vessel, Death and the Human Body. This interdisciplinary panel discussed themes arising from the exhibition including rituals surrounding death, historical cremation and burial practices, and how contemporary art can be an agent for celebrating life. This open symposium was held at Somerset House. Speakers included Stair, Mary Evans archaeologist at the National Museum of Wales, Tomasso Corvi-Mora gallerist and Douglas Davies, Professor of Theology from the University of Durham.

The symposium had direct impact that contributed to the dialogues and agendas which surround this significant area of practice by exploring a gap in cultural knowledge. This working group developed ideas that were exposed later in the three day conference at the University of Westminster. This has drawn attention to the significance of contemporary ceramic practice within museum culture, thereby developing a wider audience for both areas.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.ceramics-in-the-expanded-field.co.uk
 
Description One-day Symposium (London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This one-day symposium was timed to accompany the exhibition DreamWork by artist and researcher Christie Brown. It considered the relationship between ceramic art practice and museum collections within the broader context of contemporary visual culture. The symposium addressed key areas of inspiration for artists within this context, by focussing on the dialogue between the concept, the collection and the specific nature of the site. Speakers included Brown, Professor Esther Leslie from Birkbeck University, Andrew Renton from the National Museum of Wales and Dr Glen Adamson, Director of the Museum of Art and Design in New York (formally Head of Research at the V&A museum.)

The symposium had direct impact that contributed to the dialogues and agendas which surround this significant area of practice by exploring a gap in cultural knowledge. This working group developed ideas that were exposed later in the three day conference at the University of Westminster. This has drawn attention to the significance of contemporary ceramic practice within museum culture thereby developing a wider audience for both areas.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.ceramics-in-the-expanded-field.co.uk
 
Description One-day Symposium (London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The research team invited a group of writers, artists and curators within the field of museology and ceramics to attend a one-day symposium held at the Victoria and Albert Museum. This was held in conjunction with Clare Twomey's residency at the V&A museum and to introduce her exhibition Plymouth Porcelain, the first of the project's practice-led outputs. The team introduced the Ceramics in the Expanded Field project and then invited 3 key speakers from the field to present their approaches, including Alun Graves curator of Ceramics and Glass, freelance curator James Putnam and Professsor Jorunn Veiteberg from the Bergen Academy, Norway.

The symposium had direct impact that contributed to the dialogues and agendas which surround this significant area of practice by exploring a gap in cultural knowledge. This working group developed ideas that were exposed later in the three day conference at the University of Westminster. This has drawn attention to the significance of contemporary ceramic practice within museum culture, thereby developing a wider audience for both areas, as has been reported in international press coverage.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.ceramics-in-the-expanded-field.co.uk