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Lucie Rie: The Adventure of Pottery; Peter Doig – review – The Guardian



I walked around Lucie Rie: The Adventure of Pottery at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge twice. The first time I was concentrating hard, making notes, absorbing dates, places and styles. The second time, I raced around, as if I was in a shop: Heal’s some time after the second world war, say, or David Mellor in its earliest incarnation. Which things would I buy if I could? So many! A pair of stoneware teapots with bamboo handles from the 1950s. A collection of prototype cups, saucers and mugs for Wedgwood, made of its famous blue and white jasperware in 1963 but never produced. A footed bowl from 1971 of porcelain with a uranium acid yellow glaze. A tall “bottle” – a vase by any other name – from 1986 with a manganese glaze, horizontal stripes and wide lip that could somehow only be Rie’s work. All these things I would wrap in tissue, before rushing for the door, my booty over my shoulder.

Rie’s pottery is art now: extremely precious, lusted after by collectors and displayed in museums in glass cases (those at Kettle’s Yard are designed by David Kohn Architects). But no matter how exquisite, nor how rarefied the places in which one encounters it, there’s still no getting away from the fact that form and function are inseparable; that you can imagine (dream) not only of owning it, but of using it, trying hard not to worry about chips.

And this makes it so much more than a mere feast for the eyes. Rie’s practice, careful and ever modest, has strange effects on a person. To look at it is to want to live in a different, better way. This has to do with ritual; with the incorporation of beauty into the everyday. The final piece in this exhibition is one of the last bowls she ever made (in 1990, when she was 88). It has a glaze the colour of forced rhubarb, a manganese drip (loose, vertical lines) and narrow turquoise bands, and such is its harmony, it seems almost to vibrate. How, you wonder, can a thing be so straightforward and yet so absolutely extraordinary?

Stoneware coffee set, c.1960.

Rie (1902-95) was born in Vienna and trained at the city’s school of arts and crafts; the earliest piece on display at Kettle’s Yard, an artfully shaped earthenware pot of 1926, suggests the influence of the secession movement, its swirling oranges and blues bringing Klimt irresistibly to mind. In 1938, however, she fled Austria (Rie was Jewish), settling in London, her base a mews near Marble Arch. This in itself was radical – under the influence of Bernard Leach, the grandfather of British studio pottery, most ceramicists worked in the countryside, albeit near main roads (the better, he advised, that buyers could access them), and thereafter Rie would always forge her own path. Leach didn’t like her pots when they first met – though they eventually became firm friends – and having at first tried to please him, she soon gave up.

But there was one big influence on her work: Hans Coper, another refugee from Nazi Germany, who joined her studio as her assistant in 1946 and became her only true collaborator (he left to set up on his own in 1958). “He educated me,” she once said. “He knew much more than I did.” It was with Coper that Rie visited Avebury, the neolithic stone circle in Wiltshire, and the museum nearby, where she saw bronze age vessels that had been decorated with sgraffito, patterns etched into their surface using bird bones. Charmed, she began embellishing her own pots in similar fashion, using a steel needle.

Bowl, 1990, by Lucie Rie

Making a living was difficult at first. In a wonderful BBC Omnibus interview from 1982, also to be seen at Kettle’s Yard, an ardent fan of Rie’s called David Attenborough enquires how, starting out, she made ends meet. “With an overdraft,” she replies, with characteristic brevity (the birdlike Rie is minimalist in conversation, her Austrian accent still pronounced). During the war, she turned to making buttons for the fashion industry, experimenting in miniature form with shapes and glazes, and in the show you can see dozens of them (they’re fabulous). After the war, she returned to making modern tableware, as well as more ambitious, and more sculptural, one-off pieces.

Porcelain vase with flared lip, c.1978. Private Collection.

Recognition took its time, but finally arrived in 1967 when the Arts Council staged a retrospective of her work. Rie’s pots, for those interested in technical things, were fired only once, the glazes applied while the clay was raw, and she used an electric kiln, liking its precision. “Is it a revelation?” asks Attenborough, as she removes a piece from this kiln, about the size of a bedside table. “Not a revelation, but a surprise,” she replies, holding a small miracle in her hands.

This is a ravishing exhibition – it arrives at Kettle’s Yard from Mima in Middlesbrough, and will go on to the Holburne Museum, Bath. Arranged chronologically, the show’s atmosphere of tranquillity – even of contemplation – is never spoiled by the curators telling us more than we need to know. The focus, always, is on the work, which is just as well because there is so much to see. The biggest survey of the potter for two decades, 25% of the more than 100 items in it come from private collections, something that makes it completely unmissable in my eyes.

And what variety. You may think of Rie’s typical style as somewhat porridgey, but here are bowls that look as if they’re made of bronze, wood, papier-mache and pumice. Some of her late vases are feats of engineering; by rights, they should topple clean over. There is even some jewellery – and now I think of it, perhaps to my swag bag I would add the necklace, bracelet and earrings she made c1945 of earthenware with a gold lustre glaze. On the heavy side to wear, I imagine, but what a talking point at parties.

At the Courtauld Gallery, a small show of recent work by Peter Doig (b.1959), the Scottish-born artist now living in London again after years in Trinidad. Such an exhibition should be a tonic in these late winter days: here is so much colour. But be warned. His vast canvases are not sun lamps for the soul.

The mood, overwhelmingly, is one of alienation; for all their colour, most have a swampy weirdness that makes me think of the writer Jean Rhys (Wide Sargasso Sea) as much as of Claude Monet. Alice at Boscoe’s (2014-23), in which the artist’s daughter lies in a hammock overhung with heavy fronds, is striking for the way the plants seem more alive than the child. In Night Bathers (2011-19), a woman reclines by moonlight on a sandy beach, her skin purplish-blue like that of a dolphin (or a corpse). Such a mingling of the animate and the ghostly is an enduring motif of Doig’s, and it remains peculiar and unnerving.

Alpinist, 2022 by Peter Doig.

From Trinidad to Zermatt, Alpinist (2019-22) struck me as a masterpiece with the force of an avalanche; it should be owned by a great museum, not (as it is) by a private collector. But this skier, who wears a harlequin’s costume as well as goggles and a rucksack, is another zombie figure, inhabiting a space between heaven and hell, this one just a little colder. The Matterhorn rises behind him, like some great icy wave. His loneliness is absolute: as singular – and as terrifying – as his macabre orange face.

Star ratings (out of five)
Lucie Rie
Peter Doig

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Rubbish fashion: street art costumes of Kinshasa – in pictures – The Guardian



Falonne Mambu posing in her electric wires costume in Limete district, Kinshasa. As a performing artist, she raises issues about social development in her own country. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is potentially the biggest electricity provider in sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, decay and corruption have crippled the national Inga dam, which only works to the minimum of its capacity. Nowadays, only 19% of Congolese people have access to electricity.

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Montreal artist won’t change puppet that community groups say looks like blackface



MONTREAL — A theatre performance for children featuring a puppet that has been described as racist is continuing in the Montreal area.

Several Black community organizations have criticized the puppet as being reminiscent of blackface minstrel shows — racist performances during which white people portrayed exaggerated stereotypes of Black people for laughs.

But the show’s creator — Franck Sylvestre, who is Black — has no plans to change the puppet, which he said is a caricature of his own features. Sylvestre said in an interview he can’t accept the idea that he’s not allowed to create a caricature of someone who is Black because racists created caricatures of Black people in the past.

“That’s unheard of for an artist,” he said.


The play, called L’incroyable secret de barbe noire — French for The Incredible Secret of Blackbeard — first drew controversy in February.

A performance at a municipal theatre in the Montreal suburb of Beaconsfield, Que., was cancelled after complaints by Black community organizations. The neighbouring community of Pointe-Claire, meanwhile, removed the play from its official Black History Month programming but allowed the performance to go ahead.

Sylvestre, who wrote the one-man show in 2009 aimed at kids aged five to nine years old, said he had never received a complaint about his show before February.

A series of performances of the play, which combines theatre, storytelling, masks and puppetry, begins Sunday in Laval, Que., he said, before he takes it to France for 30 performances.

Sylvestre said the play tells the story of a young man who travels from Montreal to Martinique — the Caribbean island where Sylvestre’s parents are from — at the request of his dying grandfather, who is haunted by his discovery of a mysterious wooden chest with a connection to the pirate Blackbeard.

Max Stanley Bazin, president of the Black Coalition of Quebec, describes the puppet’s appearance as “very, very, very ugly” and said he worries that seeing a Black person presented in such a way could cause emotional damage to young audiences.

“It will have an impact on them, it will have an impact on the mind of the young people who see this puppet, and that’s what we should think about,” he said in an interview.

People are more likely to speak out about racism now than they were in 2009, Bazin said, adding that he thinks Sylvestre should listen to community members and replace the puppet with a less controversial creation.

“If there are people in society who have said this isn’t right, you have to react,” he said.

Philip Howard, a professor in the department of integrated studies in education at McGill University, said he’s not sure the puppet is an example of blackface — but he said that’s beside the point.

“There is still very much the matter of representation and the potential use of monstrous and grotesque representations of Black people as a source of entertainment and even humour,” said Howard, who has studied contemporary blackface.

Howard said the intentions of the artist are less important than the impact of the performance on an audience.

“Here we have, in this particular instance, a whole community of folks that are responding and saying, ‘Wait a minute, we don’t love this, we don’t think this is OK and we’re particularly disturbed about it during Black History Month,’” he said.

Dismissing the opinions of Black people who have a problem with the performance demonstrates anti-Black racism, he said.

Sylvestre said he thinks much of the criticism comes from people who haven’t seen the play.

“It’s the job of the community to see what purpose these caricatures serve; are they, like blackface, denigrating Black people, or, as in my case, are they being elevated?” he said. “This character, he’s a strong character for me personally, and when I made it, I was inspired by myself.”

He said the puppet, named Max, is “like a great sage,” whose interventions lead to the play’s happy ending.

“Max, he was the voice of reason, he was the one who advised us, who mocked me when I made a bad decision, who was above me,” he said.

Prof. Cheryl Thompson, who teaches performance at Toronto Metropolitan University, said she didn’t like the puppet when she viewed a trailer for the play.

“I was extremely shocked,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

While blackface minstrel shows are primarily associated with the United States, Thompson’s research has shown that blackface performances took place in Canada, with shows in Montreal as recently as the 1950s.

Even though blackface originated with white performers, Black actors in the 1800s would also don the exaggerated makeup and participate in the racist performances for white audiences.

“It actually didn’t matter if it was a white actor in blackface or a Black actor in blackface, it was the caricature that audiences thought was funny,” she said.

Thompson said there’s room for theatre performances to be provocative. But performers, she said, need to engage with audiences and be willing to discuss artistic choices — especially when artists are performing for audiences whose histories might be different than their own.

“Why wouldn’t this person at least try to hear the voices of people who maybe have a different experience to him?” she said.

She said she wouldn’t take a child to see the show, especially during Black History Month.

“I just don’t see the uplifting messaging,” Thompson said. “I don’t see the messaging of ‘you matter,’ I just don’t see that celebration of life. I just see something that is steeped in a history of racial caricature and mimicry.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2023.


Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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Vancouver to remove unsanctioned spider art creeping-out transit riders



City staff are looking into how to remove a large metallic spider from under a high-traffic bridge on Commercial Drive in Vancouver.

The artwork, which startled some arachnophobic SkyTrain riders when it was installed earlier this month, was created by pop artist Junko Playtime.

In an email to Postmedia News on Friday, city staff say they were made aware of the unsanctioned spider artwork located in a corridor for SkyTrain and CN/BNSF Rail.

The installation wasn’t done in consultation with the city or the rail corridor partners, city staff said. They’re trying to figure out the best way to remove the artwork so there is no damage to the bridge structure or rail lines.


Staff said the artist will have the ability to claim the work through the city’s impoundment process.

According to Playtime’s Instagram page, the eight-foot-diameter spider was installed at night recently on the north bank below the bridge between North Grandview Highway and Broadway.

Playtime, from Montreal, has gained a reputation over the past two years for installing very large and far-out insect like futuristic sculptures from scrap metal and household items.

The artist called this latest spider creation “Phobia 2023. Time to face our fears.”

— With files from David Carrigg


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