The CAS acquires a Janus-faced stoneware vessel by Renee So for Bristol Museum & Art Gallery through its Omega Fund

28 September 2021 By

The Contemporary Art Society has supported the acquisition of a stoneware vessel by Renee So, who has a forthcoming solo presentation at Frieze London with Kate MacGarry in October 2021.

So’s ceramics and textiles draw upon different sources, ranging from 17th century stoneware, ancient vessels from Assyria, Egypt and Colombia and modernist textiles designed by the Bauhaus. Her trans-historical, global points of reference and her playful merging of ancient and modern forms is a contemporary take on the interest that 20th century artists had in ancient material culture.

Janus Vessel Man is a stoneware vessel which takes the form of a two-sided, three footed figure. Created using hand-building techniques, it is inspired by Janus heads, Bellarmine (Bartmann) beer jugs, Chinese Neolithic tripod pots and the historical representation of bearded men. Janus was the God of transitions, portrayed with two faces – one facing the past and one facing the future.

“The intention of this work was to make a two in one figure, something which could be viewed from front or back. I worked without a sketch, making it up as I went along…so it is freer and slightly different in spirit to the other Bellarmine vessel men, which are based on drawings.”

In Janus Vessel Man, the trajectory of material culture is also implied: Bellarmines for example were exported globally, often as tourist souvenirs and were first brought to Britain in 1500. Discovered all over the world in sites of archaeological interest, they now tell a particular history of European travel, trade and colonial passage. So’s work will sit alongside global-inspired Modernist art in Bristol Museum & Art Gallery’s collection while reflecting on it and looking forward. This includes work by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Jacob Epstein and the abstract artist Aubrey Williams, who incorporated motifs from Mayan art and Warau tribal art from his native Guyana into his painting. Equally, So’s work connects with aspects of BMAG’s collections beyond art, including applied art, British archaeology, Egyptology and world cultures, and blurs the boundaries between them.

Renee So (b.1974, Hong Kong) lives and works in London. Recent solo-exhibitions include De La Warr Pavilion, Sussex; Henry Moore Institute, Leeds (both 2019); and Kate MacGarry (2016). Group shows include Goldsmiths CCA, London (2020); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2018); Leeds Art Gallery; and Nottingham Castle Museum (both 2016).

Presented by the Contemporary Art Society through the Omega Fund with the support of the Friends of Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, 2020/21