Edmund De Waal: The poems of our climate

20 September – 8 December 2018
Gagosian Gallery, San Francisco


Gagosian is pleased to present new works by Edmund de Waal.

In his visual art and his literary works de Waal uses objects—of his own creation as well as found artifacts—as vehicles for narrative, emotion, and history. His installations of porcelain vessels contained in minimalist structures reveal the ways in which simple forms act as repositories of human experience.

De Waal’s lifelong fascination with porcelain, or “white gold,” is deeply entwined with his poetic imagination. Arranged in groups and varying in size and color, his porcelain vessels recall the serial repetitions, lines, and spaces of Donald Judd or Walter De Maria. Yet, drawing on his in-depth study of and engagement with porcelain traditions, de Waal’s works bear the intricate traces of his labor and the objects’ creation, their arrangements variously evoking musical rhythms or the sense of intimate order of a porcelain cabinet.

Edmund de Waal, the poems of our climate, 2018 (detail)

On view for the first time, the new works in the poems of our climate bring poetry and porcelain vessels together in both physical and conceptual proximity. The cylindrical forms are arranged at intervals, forming topographies that resemble lines on a page or music in a score. Made in black or white, some vitrines recall Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square (1915), in which the pictorial representation of reality was abandoned for pure abstract form. De Waal’s dimensional vitrines, however, become subject to ambient illumination as shadows and reflections are thrown by the objects within them.

De Waal’s installations have long incorporated lines and fragments of poetry in their titles, signaling affinities, inspirations, and connections to the literary form. “The poems of our climate” is taken from a 1942 poem by Wallace Stevens, in which language is reduced to basic functions, creating an atmospheric stillness within the poem. On minute shards and tiles of porcelain, de Waal inscribed lines of the poetry that has echoed through his life and guided the creation of his pots and vessels. By emphasizing the tile’s literal capacity as script-bearing object, he links the tactile nature of porcelain to the concrete, symbolic nature of poetry, a written medium that works in auditory and associative ways. De Waal’s metaphysical translations capture the fleeting images of poetry and the immutability of text, giving a fragmentary, tangible form to the shape of a poem on a page, the movement between two lines, the hesitancies, caesuras, or intervals.


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