Alison Britton wrote in 1981: ‘It is hard to explain my own inability to stop making vessels. It could be somehow inherent in the training of a potter.’ In viewing the exhibition ‘An Idea Needing to Be Made’ currently showing at Melbourne’s Heide Museum of Modern Art (the title of which also quotes Britton), the words of this British ceramicist and writer are a reminder of the influence of the vessel throughout history and the role of the potter creating works of function and beauty.
The curators Glenn Barkley and Lesley Harding have brought together 12 very different artists/groups who explore such questions (as posed by Harding in the catalogue) as: ‘how can a vessel function as both something to be used and also about use; why is the past an eternal present in ceramics practice; and in what ways can an artwork be understood as a collection or a suite of objects?’
John Wardle Architects were commissioned to design the overall look of the exhibition and to invent a large plinth, as a way of presenting the objects beyond conventional museum furniture to something more experiential. The result was a collection of 45 found, altered and painted tables that fit together and fill Heide’s long exhibition gallery.
Of the 12 artists selected, work from the estate of the late Gwyn Hanssen Pigott sets the tone, as she was a maker who created her own suites of objects. Five sets of her work have been presented in an adjoining room and are a reminder of her keen eye for the differences and similarities in grouping work together.
Ten of the other artists represented are on the large plinth, and have become their own collection or suite of objects This is not necessarily a bad thing – it is what museums do – however, the artist’s individuality is of less prominence than the overall viewing of the idea. All have presented individual selections from their own practice, and include Britton, Kathy Butterly, Kirsten Coelho, Pippin Drysdale, the artists of Ernabella Arts, Simone Fraser, King Houndekpinkou, Nicolette Johnson, Kate Malone, Laurie Steer, and Kang Hyo Lee, whose much larger work is on the floor in an adjoining room.
‘An Idea Needing to Be Made’ is a conversation that will continue beyond the show’s 20 October closing. This is a good thing. The exhibition catalogue is a lasting document of great beauty, where the work can be seen in its individual splendour.
Merran Esson, Melbourne