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Edmund de Waal

psalm (solo show)
To coincide with the 58th Venice Biennale
Canton Scuola Synagogue / Ateneo Veneto, Venice
7 May – 29 September 2019

British artist and author, Edmund de Waal will be the first contemporary artist to create a major work for the Ghetto in Venice which will be unveiled during the preview week of the Venice Biennale, opening on 7th May 2019.
The exhibition is called psalm and will be in two parts.

The first is located in the Canton Scuola, the beautiful 16th century synagogue in the Ghetto Nuovo, which is now part of the Jewish Museum. New installations of porcelain, marble and gold will reflect the literary and musical heritage of this extraordinary place. For the first time the Women’s Gallery within the synagogue will hold contemporary art. The intention is to animate spaces that are little known and little understood by visitors to the Biennale and to bring new audiences into the Ghetto.

The second part of the work will be a pavilion based at the Ateneo Veneto, the fifteenth-century building near the Fenice Opera House that has been an historic centre for cultural debate in Venice. Here, Edmund de Waal is constructing a small building within the main space that will house 2000 books by exiled writers, from Ovid to the present day.

All the books will be in translation, reflecting the idea of language as migration. Four vitrines of porcelain vessels, based on Daniel Bomberg’s famous Renaissance printing of the Talmud, will hang on the walls amongst the books. The structure itself will have an exterior coated with porcelain, laid over gold leaf, into which de Waal will inscribe the names of the lost libraries of the world. Inside there will be spaces to sit and read. It will be a place of contemplation and a place of dialogue.

Throughout the Biennale there will be a rich programme of events, performances, readings, conversations and debate. The intention is to bring the experiences of contemporary writers in exile into focus and to celebrate the works in translation. There will also be events that focus on the cultures of Jewish Venice, on the Psalms, on contemporary poetry and on publishing.

Edmund de Waal said: “This is the project I have always dreamed of doing. It is about exile - what it means to have to move to another country, to speak another language. It brings new installations based on the Psalms, the poetry of exile, into some of the most beautiful spaces of the Ghetto, the first time some of these spaces have been used for contemporary art. And my library for the Ateneo - two thousand books within a porcelain-covered pavilion - will be the most significant sculpture of my life. It will be a new library reflecting Venice’s thousand years as a place of translation, a space to sit and read and be.”

Edmund de Waal website


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Edmund de Waal

Edmund de Waal Installation (solo show)
The Frick Collection, New York
30 May - 10 November 2019

Portrait of Edmund de Waal. Photo: Ben McKee © Edmund de Waal
Portrait of Edmund de Waal. Photo: Ben McKee © Edmund de Waal

Next year, The Frick Collection will present a temporary installation of sculptures by acclaimed author and ceramist Edmund de Waal. Site-specific works made of porcelain, steel, gold, marble, and glass will be displayed in the museum's main galleries alongside works from the permanent collection.

De Waal is known for his installations of porcelain vessels housed in minimal structures, often created in response to collections and archives or the history of a specific place. Past sites have included Waddesdon Manor and the Chatsworth house — this project marks his first such installation in the United States.

The presentation, curated by Charlotte Vignon, Curator of Decorative Arts, is the latest in a series of collaborations with de Waal and The Frick Collection. He is a coauthor, with Vignon, of an upcoming volume in the Frick Diptych series, which focuses on a pair of porcelain candelabras with gilt-bronze mounts by Pierre Gouthière, the great French eighteenth-century chaser-gilder. In 2013, in conjunction with the Frick Art Reference Library’s Center for the History of Collecting, de Waal lectured about his award-winning family memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010). A fully illustrated catalogue, featuring installation views and essays by Vignon and de Waal, will be available in early summer.

The Frick Collection, New York


Edmund de Waal

breath (solo show)
Ivorypress, Madrid
20 February - 11 May 2019

Edmund de Waal, breath, Ivory Press, Madrid, 2019 © Pablo Gómez-Ogando. Courtesy Ivorypress
Edmund de Waal, breath, Ivory Press, Madrid, 2019 © Pablo Gómez-Ogando. Courtesy Ivorypress

On 20 February 2019 Ivorypress will present breath, a project created by British artist and writer Edmund de Waal for Ivorypress.

Breath is an invitation for Edmund de Waal to work across Ivorypress’s three different spaces: the publishing house, the exhibition space, and the bookshop. At the heart of this project is an artist’s book, published by Ivorypress: a project that has spanned many years, looking hard into what books are, how they feel and their presence in the world. It is an homage to Romanian-born poet Paul Celan, a book about slowing down. To accompany the artist’s book de Waal has made a series of seventeen new works, including vitrines, shelves, and diptychs conceived as open books, which take inspiration from the Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán and the writer Federico García Lorca, and also from Celan. There is porcelain, marble and gilding; there is gold leaf and platinum acknowledging the silver dishes on Zurbarán’s paintings. There are objects hidden from view and there are repetitions. Alongside these works there will be a reading room, a selection of one hundred books inviting visitors to sit down and read. The artist’s book, the exhibition, and the reading room are conceived as a joint project.

The artist’s book comprises three parts: an atlas folio book reminding us of a medieval bible, printed in an edition of six books (plus two artist’s proofs and one HC), that is held within a wooden box that unfolds into a lectern for the book to stand on. Within the box there is a drawer with a small onyx shelf in it, another lectern, which holds paper-thin, translucent porcelain tiles with handwritten fragments of Celan’s poems inscribed by de Waal.

The choice of materials plays an important role in the creation of the book. De Waal establishes a parallelism between the history of porcelain and the history of paper, two materials that have travelled the world, both beginning in China and Japan, and coming to Europe through the Silk Road. Using papers from the Far East, Germany, and the UK, the book narrates that journey as you turn the pages— a history from the East to the West. Breath is also a celebration of bookmaking: the craft of letterpress printers, papermakers, and binders using traditional methods. The artist has collected medieval manuscripts previously used for binding, and has reused them inside the spine of this book. Working with different craftsmen on the making of this book has become part of the DNA of the project.

Edmund de Waal has written a new text about Celan and has chosen a selection of his poems to include in the book. He explores the idea that books are palimpsests: as we read and reread, we re-create texts. Breath is de Waal’s rewriting for Celan; he has brushed kaolin (the prime material for porcelain) over parts of Celan’s poems so that they are whitened out, and then he has rewritten his words by hand. Porcelain is de Waal’s way of using white in the world. The book contains poems by Paul Celan, words by Edmund de Waal, and beautiful white spaces, empty pages—pages brushed with porcelain slip— all kinds of different silences within one book. In the words of the artist:

‘For the last years my studio has been full of papers, liquid porcelain, scribbled poems on walls, gold leaf and vellum fragments. And I’ve made a book for Celan. It uses four different papers, each of a different weight, and a different whiteness. They pace the book, so that you move and turn at different speeds. A book of different kinds of breath. A book that becomes a breathing in and out—as you move between the lighter and heavier papers, the text repeating itself. His poems are here in German and in English translation, sometimes printed opposite each other, sometimes overlapping. You see the shadow of one poem on another. It is letterpress so that you are aware of the pressure of the type, the bite of words, “the dance of two words”. Breath is an attempt to make a book worthy of Celan, using porcelain, paper, marble, vellum, ink, gold. And words. To feel and sound his poems again’.

Ivorypress