‘We in our own human imperfections are repelled by the perfect, since everything is apparent from the start and there is no suggestion of the infinite.’
Soetsu Yanagi, The Unknown Craftsman
‘The smooth is the signature of the present time. It connects the sculptures of Jeff Koons, iPhones and Brazilian waxing. Why do we today find what is smooth beautiful? Beyond its aesthetic effect, it reflects a general social imperative. It embodies today’s society of positivity. What is smooth does not injure. Nor does it offer any resistance. It is looking for Like.’
- Byung-Chul Han, Saving Beauty
‘Unglazed’ presents eight millennia of ceramic art from around the world, emphasising how diverse cultures have transformed clay into myriad forms for thousands of years. In contrast to the smooth, frictionless and glossy surfaces that typify today’s digital culture, this exhibition celebrates the ‘unglazed’ quality of ancient ceramic work. ‘Unglazed’ is attuned to the physical, human touch and creative spirit of anonymous makers. The exhibition’s title emphasises the raw, unglazed quality of the clay works on display, which show the texture of the earthy material, its unevenness, cracks and imperfections.
From the earliest piece in the show – a Neolithic fertility goddess from Anatolia c.5000-6000 BCE, to the latest, an enigmatic Costa Rican vessel in the form of a bird, c. 1100-1500 CCE, these works possess a sense of immediacy, playfulness and sometimes strangeness that transcends time. Whether a Bronze Age mask from Israel 2700-1700 BCE or a hump-backed Amlash Zebu Bull from northern Iran, c. 1200-800 BCE, an enigmatic reclining Sumerian figure from 3000-2000 BCE, or a Cypriot painted vessel in the form of breasts from c.900-700BCE, the works drawn from across Africa, Asia and The Middle East and Europe reveal the different forms and finishes clay can take and how diverse civilisations have moulded the earth itself into objects imbued with humanity and occasionally humour.
Other highlights of the show include a large Han Dynasty terracotta horse, c. 206- 220BCE, a Tang Dynasty Camel with removable rider, c.618-906BCE, and a large Indus Valley vessel covered in animal designs, c.3000-2000BCE All of the works in the show come from the vast collection of the Barakat Gallery, assembled over decades by Fayez Barakat, the fifth-generation custodian of the collection and international family business. Barakat comments on how and why he chooses the objects in his gallery:
“The things that I cherish the most have a personality that transcends their obvious appearances or function and which I call energy. Like beauty, it is to be found in the eye or the touch of the individual. Energy is partly the result of reality and partly the role of imagination, and everyone perceives it differently."