Opened in 1909, the galleries were, as lead curator Reino Liefkes readily admits, hardly the most popular part of the Museum. Tucked away up on the sixth floor and rarely visited, the galleries were of interest mainly to “hardline ceramics specialists” rather than the general public. The completely redisplayed collection hopes to change that.
Walking in from the Cromwell Road main entrance, visitors are invited to look up, where a site-specific artwork by the potter Edmiund de Waal, called Signs and Wonders is visible in the central dome. The artwork presides over a new contemporary ceramics gallery (main picture above), which includes well-presented work by artists including Richard Slee and Lucie Rie.
One thing you notice, walking through the galleries — there are six in total — is the excellent use of light. Located on the Museum’s top floor, architects Stanton Williams were able to open previously hidden vistas and unblock windows that had been covered for most of the preceding 100 years, meaning the galleries are flooded with natural light. This works particularly well in the architectural gallery, where the deep colours of Persian and Iberian tilework gleam like they once did in their place of origin.
The Making Ceramics gallery aims to demystify the world of ceramics, and has a workshop area running the length of the space, with pottery wheels and a kiln in which visitors can try their hand making their own pots, with assistance by artists-in-residence. There are also galleries dedicated to 20th-century studio pottery, with work by Picasso among others, and 20th-century factory ceramics, while the world ceramics gallery has a timeline that stretches from the present day all the way back to the earliest artefacts in the Museum’s collection, which date from 2500 BC.
This is only stage one of the redisplay; when stage two opens next year, it will house a total of 29,000 objects, making this, as Liefkes says, the most comprehensive collection in the world. The galleries open on September 18th, and on 19th-20th September theV&A are hosting a special Ceramic Weekend, with a series events to celebrate the launch.
Photos by the author.