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Elective Affinities: Edmund de Waal at The Frick Collection

So, my very first visit to the Frick, I can remember, it was
a winter’s afternoon. And I remember being completely
baffled by the Frick. Strange, beautiful spaces,
and then I remember finding that beautiful,
beautiful picture by Chardin, where there’s the carafe of water, and there’s the half-drunk
glass in front of it, and there’s the plums, and it being absolutely
mesmeric and thinking it was one of the most beautiful
and extraordinary things I’d ever seen in my life. And then coming back and back and back in that way that you do with the Frick. Here I am making pots out of porcelain. Porcelain threads its
way through the Frick. It is an extraordinary and
somewhat unrecognized element. So, forty years of doing this, and I’m still hugely
excited to open a kiln. This is the unglazed porcelain vessels for that piece under the
Ingres on the Gouthière table. Okay, it’s still pretty hot. (porcelain clinks) This is where I pick
up different materials and put them together. So, this is where I’ve been working on these ideas for the Frick. And, really, the heart
of it is, in this case, in this particular project,
is of course steel. Bringing steel in different forms into conjunction, to powerful
conversation with porcelain. So here, black steel, different kinds of patinated steel, COR-TEN steel, milled steel
of incredible thinness. Powder-coated white folded steel. Some of these you’ll see
in the installations, gilded on the inside. And then, alongside, these wonderful sounds
of these different things alongside these different materials. Of course gold, gold on steel, which have been staggeringly, beautifully gilded. Gold beautifully on porcelain. This is almost translucently
thin pieces of porcelain, and then of course vessels glazed in all the spectrum of whites, celadon blues, celadon greens. Unglazed porcelain, fired to
very, very high temperatures, which brings this beautiful, almost stony quality to them. I adore this. And so, you kind of endlessly, well, I endlessly rearrange things looking for the perfect
vessels to put together, and as you do so, you hear them. There’s a lot of interest for me in sounds of these different materials. Porcelain does sound incredibly beautiful. As does steel. So, it’s about balance. It’s about leaning one piece of steel against another, and letting it be. Perfect equilibrium. So, I listen to music all the time, and standing in front of
that extraordinary picture by Goya of The Forge, with the feeling of the man
about to strike that hammer down onto the red-hot metal gave me the aural focus
for this exhibition, which is of a pulse, a rhythm. There’s an extraordinary moment when you have finished the work, and you place the vitrine on top, and there’s this moment of… Suddenly everything changes,
it’s absolutely wonderful. Always surprises and delights me. And that isn’t quite right yet. So, part of my practice is working with complex,
historic collections, and I’ve done that across
Europe now for twenty years. This is my first moment
of bringing my work into conversation with
collections in America. And of course these are
European collections in America, so the identity of this exhibition, for me, is hugely
interesting and challenging. It’s this mediation of
different kinds of art being put together by of course this oligarchical American
collector, industrialist. So, what I’m doing, and this
is why it’s so interesting and challenging for me, is to think about who Frick is becoming as he puts together a
Fragonard room on Fifth Avenue. What he’s trying to do when
he’s creating this reverie of an English country house
with Gainsboroughs on the walls. Who is he wanting to be? What kind of ventriloquism
is at work in the Frick? And so, my work, these installations that I’ve inserted through the collection at every point, are pauses and moments of
reflection about identity, about the collector, about the place, about the art. This is obviously an amazing day. One of the biggest
installations I’ve done. This is ‘from darkness to darkness.’ It’s two vitrines that you saw in London, and here they are finally here. They’re my double portraits. You know, this is obviously the space for these great, epic double portraits, and I’ve been thinking
and dreaming about this. The light, this top light
down onto the steel, talks incredibly to the light on all the Renaissance
bronzes in the room, and if you stand here, you’ve got my installation and of course you’ve got The Forge all the way down there, you know, with this incredible image. The power of that metal
being forged over there, and the steel blocks here. It’s rather a beautiful sound, actually. These shards of gold, which will sit by itself on
a little alabaster block. And my installation has
finally settled here in the Fragonard Room, on this incredible Riesener cabinet with this head of Apollo,
the bay leaves, the gilding, the way the installation actually
disappears into the room, which is what it should do. It should be here and
yet completely fugitive. I think my hope with this body of work is that people will understand that this is a long, lifetime
love affair with a collection. That it’s an attempt to be in
real conversation with art, with spaces, with how light
changes within a building, with how you move through spaces. And what I’m trying to
do is to slow you down even more within the Frick, because I think my only
aspiration as I get older is to slow people down. If that works, I’m happy.

Reader Comments

  1. Viewing de Waal's work is like being under water and trying to breath…….your senses are COMPLETELY overwhelmed.

  2. How is De Waal's work even relevant to anything in Frick collection??? I'm sick and tired of contemporary so-called art being forged to be appreciated as real art. He mass-produced some porcelain cups and steel bars and put them presumptuously in front of the magnificent Paolo Veronese – Wisdom And Strength oil painting? This is the real "The Emperor is Naked" moment!

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