From 10 October 2020 to 5 September 2021, the national Princessehof Ceramics Museum in Leeuwarden hosts the major exhibition Human After All: Ceramic Reflections in Contemporary Art. Internationally established artists and up-and-coming talent from both the East and West show their impressive sculptures and installations. From the absurdist films of artist duo Djurberg and Berg (1978, Sweden) to the tree of life of Kris Lemsalu (1985, Estonia). All works touch on the complexity of human nature: La Condition Humaine, man with all his limitations, insecurities and self-confidence, beauty or cruelty. All works touch on the complex human nature; La Condition Humaine, man with his limitations, insecure or self-conscious, beautiful or cruel.
The selected works by William Cobbing (1974, United Kingdom), artist duo Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg (1978, Sweden), Leiko Ikemura (1951, Japan), Klara Kristalova (1967, Czech Republic), Kris Lemsalu (1985, Estonia), Sharon van Overmeiren (1985, Belgium), Liliana Porter (1941, Argentina), Geng Xue (1983, China) and Mariken Wessels (1963, the Netherlands) are on display in the Netherlands for the first time. Two of Wessels’ four sculptures have been exhibited before, during Art Rotterdam.
La condition humaine
The exhibition, curated by Tanya Rumpff, evokes primary, almost animal-like traits. The characters in the video work of Djurberg and Berg, for example, either exercise power or are submissive. The work of William Cobbing shows people trying to get closer to each other, but the clay in between them blocks all contact. At first sight, Liliana Porter’s installation is endearing. But if you take a closer look at the havoc wreaked by the cute miniature people, you will discover a deeper layer of creation and destruction. In the tree of life of the young, emerging artist Kris Lemsalu, smaller characters grow out of the hands of the main character, symbolizing the course of life. Just like Lemsalu, Sharon van Overmeiren draws inspiration from folk cultures. We seem to recognize something in her sculptures, but they are difficult to define.
The artists reflect on different aspects of this theme, human shortcomings, using a discipline that is particularly human: ceramics. Just like in ancient pottery, the fingerprints of contemporary artists working with ceramics also become literally imprinted on the objects. Renowned artist Leiko Ikemura from Japan, for example, is one of the first artists who only made sculptures with clay. For her, the material, clay, is part of her philosophy. With her human figures, a recent painting, two drawings and a film she reflects on her own femininity. Dutch artist Mariken Wessels shows with her sculptures, photographs and video work the beauty of the corpulent body in motion.
Alongside ceramics, video and photography are used in a surprising way. The videos of Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg are an intriguing mix of clay figures, music and animation. In this exhibition they show a new video about greed and other emotions. Work by this renowned artist duo is included in the collections of the Prada Foundation in Milan and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The animated videos of Geng Xue, whose work was previously on display in Princessehof’s 2017 exhibition In Motion, also receive international acclaim. The human figures in her work are marked by trauma, struggles or temptations, but also show desire and hope. Her work The Name of Gold, which was a great success at the Venice Biennale (2019), is featured in this exhibition.
And last but not least, Klara Kristalova fills the final room with three islands of moss, ferns and other plants. Life-size animal and human figures guard the islands. Together with internationally renowned florist Thierry Boutemy and a company specializing in interior landscaping, Kristalova has created an impressive design with living plants. Her choice of plants was inspired by the flora in the forest Kristalova’s studio is located in.
Human After All: Ceramic Reflections in Contemporary Art is the second in a series of large international contemporary art exhibitions in the Princessehof. From 2 December 2017 to 6 May 2018, In Motion: Ceramic Reflections in Contemporary Art showed, in a variety of installations, the role of ceramics in the contemporary art world. A highlight were the baths of Boursier-Mougenot, filled with intense blue water in which white porcelain bowls floated. Water flowed softly, creating a fascinating composition and enchanting sounds.