The 6 most captivating clay and ceramic art exhibitions around the UK

This autumn the spotlight is on all things ceramic, with a host of new shows focusing on the medium opening across the country

Ceramic art is having a bit of a moment. Last year, exhibitions at White Cube and Whitechapel Gallery kicked off The Question of Clay – a multi-institution project by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, which investigates the making of clay and the material legacies of the tactile medium. This autumn, Gates continues the project with his Serpentine Pavilion 2022, Black Chapel, and over on the Southbank, a major new exhibition exploring the possibilities of clay for contemporary art lands at the Hayward Gallery. So, what better time to discover the diverse joys of modern ceramic making? Here, we’ve rounded up the best clay and ceramic art exhibitions across the UK over the coming months.

Strange Clay: Ceramics in Contemporary Art
Hayward Gallery
26 October - 8 January

The first large-scale group exhibition in the UK exploring how contemporary artists have used clay in unexpected ways, this bumper show provides a closer look at the medium and promises to unearth the possibilities of thinking through making.

Featuring 23 leading international artists – including Leilah Babirye, Lubna Chowdhary, Edmund de Waal, Liu Jianhua, Klara Kristalova, Takuro Kuwata, Magdalene Odundo, Grayson Perry, Shahpour Pouyan, and Betty Woodman – Strange Clay will showcase the variety, plasticity and potential of ceramics. From fantastical creatures to abstract works and large-scale installations, the artworks range in scale, finish and technique, and reveal both the beauty and the brilliance of contemporary ceramics – grappling with topics as diverse as architecture, social justice, the body, the domestic, and the organic.

Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Southbank, London SE1 8XX

Serpentine Pavilion 2022: Black Chapel by Theaster Gates
Serpentine Gallery
Until 16 October

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Theaster Gates’ Black Chapel is a vast and striking site for contemplation, set within the grounds of the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens. A deep love and respect for the history of ceramics is baked into Gates’ design: the circular structure references the bottle kilns of Stoke-on-Trent, the beehive kilns of the Western United States, San Pietro and the Roman tempiettos, and traditional African structures, such as the Musgum mud huts of Cameroon and the Kasubi Tombs of Kampala, Uganda. The project also mirrors the artist’s ongoing engagement with ‘the vessel’ in his own practice, and with his many celebrated urban regeneration projects.

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As part of the Serpentine’s extensive event programme, each year the Pavilion becomes a platform for live performances and public convenings. This autumn, Black Chapel will become the stage for Park Nights, which, since 2002, has presented new works across art, music, film, theatre, dance, literature, philosophy, fashion, and technology. On Friday 30 September, Serpentine presents a newly commissioned play by artist Josiane M.H. Pozi, and on Thursday 13 October the Pavilion will play host to an evening of music and performance from Standing on the Corner, an earth-based Art Ensemble founded in 2016 by Shamel Cee Mystery, AKA Gio Escobar.

Kensington Gardens, Kensington, London W2 3XA

Clay Work
Peckham Levels
Wednesday 28 September

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Peckham Levels is a hub for ceramic creativity, with the once-disused multi-story car park hosting The Kiln Rooms – a ceramic studio providing classes for all abilities and professional support for South East London potters. Now, Levels is presenting Clay Work – a one-day group show of ceramic artists and makers, whose practice is supported by working in a communal ceramic studio.

Displaying sculpture, installations and homewares, the exhibition shows the diverse uses of clay as a material – always able to be both artistic and functional. Having come to ceramics from diverse backgrounds and starting points, the artists featured in the show all aim to demonstrate how, through working together in a studio space, they are now united in their creative practices, and shaped by the ideas, skills and techniques they have learnt and shared.

95A Rye Lane, Peckham, London SE15 4ST

James Tower: Ceramics, Sculptures & Drawings
Erskine, Hall & Coe
Until 30 September

James Tower is one of the most distinctive and well-regarded figures in post-war British ceramics. Known for the organic forms and painterly surfaces of his flattened bottles and disc-like vases, his work often explores the beauty of nature, with many of his ceramic pieces referencing foliage, water and the landscape.

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Encompassing not only his ceramics but also sculptures, bronzes and works on paper, this exhibition at Erskine, Hall & Coe aims to present the many sides of James Tower’s artistic explorations. With the earliest dating from 1952 and the latest from 1986, it is a truly wide-ranging look at a vital 20th-century artist.

15 Royal Arcade, 28 Old Bond Street, Mayfair, London W1S 4SP

Edmund de Waal: We Live Here, Forever Taking Leave
Waddesdon Manor
Until 23 October

The huge popularity of his memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes has, undeniably, cemented Edmund de Waal as one of the UK’s most illustrious names in contemporary ceramics. An internationally acclaimed artist, de Waal is best known for his large-scale installations of porcelain vessels – many of which have been made for diverse spaces worldwide including The British Museum, The Frick Collection and the V&A and are often inspired by the collections or history of a particular place.

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This exhibition at Waddesdon brings together a selection of new and striking pieces from de Waal, some of which were only completed this year. Exploring the interconnected relations between faith, history, displacement, learning and archives, the installations are evocative and powerfully thoughtful, connecting to themes that are only becoming more urgent in the contemporary moment.

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP18 0JH

The Stratford Gallery
8 - 23 October

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Mudlarking Delft Inwell with Foreshore Find Clay Pipe, Images of Thames Sherd and Morgan Map by Raewyn Harrison

For many years, artist Raewyn Harrison has been drawn to the banks of the Thames, where she has found items dating back hundreds of years – tokens that, she imagines, are like small map pins marking out the social history of London. Working closely with archaeologists from the Museum of London, Raewyn uses ancient cartographic records, architecture, photographic images and stories as well as these found objects as the inspiration for both the forms and decoration of her ceramic artworks. Visually striking and alluring, many of her works are covered with old maps of the city and historical drawings of boats gliding along the Thames.

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Mudlarking Delft Inwell with Foreshore Find Clay Pipe, Images of Thames Sherd and Morgan Map by Raewyn Harrison

This exhibition at the Stratford Gallery brings an array of Harrison’s ceramic works together, showing over 50 new pieces. As mudlarking becomes ever more popular in the city, what better inspiration than this paean to the hobby Harrison finds such joy and creative ingenuity in?

62 High Street, Broadway. Worcestershire WR12 7DT

Akiko Hirai: Dogra Magra
Contemporary Ceramics
13 October - 5 November

Producing both decorative and functional ceramics, Akiko draws inspiration from her Japanese cultural background and its aesthetic traditions. Working quickly and rhythmically and often carving her vessels, Akiko employs multiple firings and combines varied techniques to produce highly complex surfaces which are deeply satisfying in their dense textures.

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In accordance with the Japanese tradition of Shibui, Akiko allows her clay to inform the firing process and embraces every irregularity, celebrating imperfection and chance. “Most of my work comes from everyday things,” she explains. “I consider what I can sense in everyday life while I am experimenting with ceramic materials and then I see what I can do with it.”

63 Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3BF

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