Johannes Nagel’s Ceramics Rethink the Role of the Vessel

  • Installation view of “I Hardly Ever Thought of Flowers,” FUMI Gallery, London. Courtesy FUMI Gallery and the artist.

“Most objects are somehow vessels. What else are they?” asks Johannes Nagel. This question forms the foundation of the German ceramist’s practice, which explores the vessel as an archetypal form where design and culture coalesce. As containers for our habits and rituals, vessels enable a shared meaning to emerge around them, which, in Nagel’s words, “goes above and beyond what is merely necessary to life and relates towards what is sublime and greater.” Nagel’s raw forms take their reference point and subvert it in an effort to uncover a contemporary expression for the role of vessels today.  

This week Nagel presents a series of new works for his first solo show at London’s Gallery FUMI, titled “I Hardly Ever Thought of Flowers.” Referencing his constant redefinition of the vessel––not just in terms of form but also symbolic function––the show highlights Nagel’s dynamic and improvisational approach. He describes his practice as “at times constructive composing, at times wilful destruction, sometimes vases, sometimes fragments or alienated objects.” The final, finished works are meant to evidence the process of their making. “It is not the perfection of the ultimate expression that is intended but to verbalize a concept of the evolution of things,” Nagel explains. 

The artist’s hand is present throughout the works, which are often made using a rudimentary sand-cast technique––an instinctive process that leaves much up to chance. “I feel for the hollow space with my hand in constant movement, the control over the final silhouette is completely lacking.” This technique allows Nagle to create large-scale forms that take on a singular presence in the room. As such, his disciplined pursuit of the vessel as sculptural expression can be likened to the study of the human figure throughout the history of fine art. 

The “Isolator/New Jazz” series––whose conical forms are reminiscent of traditional wheel-thrown pottery––are stacks of plate-like forms which are freely manipulated and transformed. Like jazz improvisation, the pieces establish their own system of rhythm and dissonance and are emblematic of Nagel’s spontaneous, inventive approach to ceramics. 

—Alexandra Alexa


“I Hardly Ever Thought of Flowers” is on view at FUMI Gallery, London, United Kingdom, May 1–June 30, 2015.

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