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Transgressions: A Ceramics Exhibit

On the Border Between Artistic Bravery and Bravado


APR 10, 2023 | ISSUE 7

"Fuga" by Rosa Cortiella
"Under the Daisies" by Sophie Aguilera Lester
"Banquet of Death" by Xavier Toubes

This past summer in Barcelona, the city’s Design Museum presented Transgressions, a contemporary ceramics exhibition celebrating the exemplary transformations happening in the world of clay. Ceramics is the art of the four elements: earth, water, fire, and air. Artists working in this medium challenge themselves by exploring and altering any of these elements to reach new effects and share unique perspectives never before seen in ceramic art.

From Tradition to Innovation

There have always been progressive artists working with clay, but the current global trend of ceramicists pushing this traditional craft into the experimental realms of modern art is unprecedented. Barcelona’s Design Museum is keeping up with the movement by updating their existing ceramics collection of over a thousand artworks from 230 different artists, including Llorens, Artigas, Picasso, and Miró. The Transgressions exhibit added contemporary works from artists like Madola, María Oriza Perez, Xavier Toubes, Ángel Garraza, Nuria Torres, Sophie Aguilera Lester, Corrie Bain, Yukiko Kitahara, and Roger Coll. The curators sought out “creators who are not confining themselves to repeating processes and formulas, they’re contributing to new knowledge and experiences.”

Center for Barcelona’s Institute of Culture

The Barcelona Design Museum is the result of merging several previously existing local museums. Located in the Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes, the modern building acts as both a museum and a laboratory with a focus on four branches of design: space, product, information, and fashion. The building’s expansive architecture brims with daylight and reflections from the fountains outside. At the front door were selections from a recent exhibition on biomimicry in fashion—surprising guests with outfits that included upcycled materials and drones. Transgressions was located downstairs, in a large, open exhibition space with artworks ranging in scope—from pieces that fit in the palm of your hand to Rosa Cortiella’s large-scale sculptures that spread halfway across the room and wandered up the walls.

Material Transgressions

The first exhibit space encountered was titled “Material Transgression”, displaying works by artists experimenting with forms, textures, and dimensions. With a background in architecture, Roger Coll’s sculptures were “constructed” not modeled or carved. Coll explained, “In my works, I use segments that I put together to create the final shape. The same way you use bricks to build a wall I guess.” María Oriza's Espacio Espiral highlighted the sculptor’s ability to manipulate space and physical limits through optical effects. Her use of form as an agent projecting an illusion — one that was not necessarily implicit in real space — invited the viewer to interact with her sculpture in unexpected ways. Likewise, the dripping glaze on a vessel by Albert Montserrat and the rough textures on Carles Vives Mateau’s Llocs de Syracuse sculptures practically called out to be touched by viewers.

At the "Transgressions" Exhibit

Conceptual Transgressions

If experimenting was the name of the game in the first exhibit space, the pieces highlighting “Conceptual Transgressions” asked visitors to expand their imagination even more. Symbolism, rather than materiality, was the main attraction—pointing out issues such as gender roles or immigration, reexamining concepts through satire or humour. Measuring over a metre long, vibrant colours caught one’s eye in Sophie Aguilera Lester’s Under the Daisies, where the remnants of a woman peeked out from under a patch of flowers, begging the viewer to ask, “What happened here?” Meanwhile, on other sculptures — such as Get Out by Jordi Marcet i Rosa Vila-Abadal and Ruth Cepedano’s Low Tide Echoes — no colour was needed at all. The forms spoke for themselves.

"Ressons de baixamar” by Ruth Cepedano