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Playing with Fire: Edmund de Waal and Axel Salto to open at The Hepworth Wakefield in 2025

19 Jul 2023

We are excited to be working in partnership with CLAY Museum of Ceramic Art, Denmark and Kunstsilo, Norway to bring Playing with Fire: Edmund de Waal and Axel Salto to the UK.

Artist and author Edmund de Waal will curate the first major exhibition of acclaimed Danish ceramicist Axel Salto (1889 – 1961), considered one of the greatest masters of 20th-century ceramic art. The exhibition will open in Denmark in October 2023, at the Kunstsilo in September 2024, and at The Hepworth Wakefield in November 2025.

Born in Copenhagen in 1889, Axel Salto was a radical polymathic figure who crossed boundaries from one discipline to another, producing an extraordinary body of ceramic work alongside paintings, wood-cuts, drawings, book illustration, and textiles.

After studying at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where he became intrigued by modernism and a progressive aesthetic, Salto travelled to Paris, where he met Picasso and Matisse. An accomplished poet and author, he founded the influential Danish art journal Klingen (The Blade), an important forum for critical thinking in Denmark.

Salto is internationally renowned for his highly individual and expressive stoneware inspired by organic forms, characterised by budding, sprouting, and fluted surface textures that appear to ripple and burst with life.

This exhibition will bring together a significant number of Salto’s ceramic works from the collection of CLAY Museum of Ceramic Art, Denmark, and The Tangen Collection at Kunstsilo, the world’s largest collection of Nordic modernist art. Salto’s ceramics will be shown alongside lesser-known and unseen works on paper, illustrations, writings and textiles, with a major new installation by de Waal, reflecting on Salto’s enduring influence.

Edmund de Waal said:

“Axel Salto is one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. He created a unique body of ceramic work that continues to fascinate me. His sculptures seem to be on the point of change: glazes are caught in flux. Vases swell as if to burst. He cared about the ways that patterns change course, shift energies, how an animal becomes a person, a man metamorphoses into a stag. Ovid ran powerfully through his life. That moment of change, transformation, is the moment when poetry occurs.”

Simon Wallis, Director of The Hepworth Wakefield, said:

“We are delighted to be working with Edmund de Waal, Clay and Kunstsilo to bring this exciting exhibition to the UK in 2025. The combination of our collection of 20th-century art, together with our inspiring garden make The Hepworth Wakefield the ideal setting for this first major exhibition of an important artist who was so inspired by plants and nature in the creation of his extraordinary ceramics, striking wood cuts and textile designs.”

The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated book, published by Forlaget Press exploring the dialogue between de Waal and Salto. The book will contain a wide range of excerpts from Salto’s extensive writings, an interview with de Waal, as well as a new essay in which de Waal investigates the concept of metamorphosis and the fusing of clay and words.

Playing with Fire is the result of a collaboration between Edmund de Waal, CLAY Museum of Ceramic Art Denmark, and Kunstsilo, Norway and is made possible by a generous donation from The AKO Foundation, a London-based philanthropic foundation. Exhibition design by Hutchison Kivotos Architects.

Edmund de Waal
b.1964, Nottingham

Edmund de Waal is an internationally acclaimed artist and writer, best known for his large-scale installations of porcelain vessels, often created in response to collections and archives or the history of a particular place. His interventions have been made for diverse spaces and museums worldwide, including the Musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris; The British Museum, London; The Frick Collection, New York; Canton Scuola Synagogue, Venice; Schindler House, Los Angeles; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna and V&A, London. De Waal is also renowned for his bestselling family memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010), and The White Road (2015). His most recent book, Letters to Camondo, a series of haunting letters written during lockdown was published in April 2021. He was awarded the Windham-Campbell Prize for non-fiction by Yale University in 2015. In 2021 he was awarded a CBE for his services to art.

Edmund de Waal surrounded by Axel Salto’s work at CLAY Museum of Ceramic Art Denmark. Photo by Peter Leth-Larsen © Axel Salto/VISDA

Axel Salto
b. 1889, Copenhagen. d. 1961, Copenhagen

Axel Salto graduated in 1914 from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts as a painter. Multitalented as he was, he also worked as designer, editor and writer. In 1917-20 he founded the avant-garde journal Klingen (The Blade). His career as a ceramicist began in the 1920s when he designed porcelain vases and bowls for the Danish manufacturer B&G (Bing & Grøndahl). From 1929 he was linked to the stoneware studio at The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactury.

Salto had numerous solo-exhibitions in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and France. He was awarded the “Grand Prix” at the World Expo in Paris in 1937 and at the Milan Triennale in 1951. In 1961 he received a gold medal at the international ceramics exhibition at Musée des Beaux-Arts in Ostend, Belgium. In the 50’s his ceramics and textiles played an important role in promoting Danish design and crafts, known as Danish Modern, in North America.

Axel Salto looking at the sculpture The Core of Power in the kiln, 1956. CLAY - Royal Copenhagen Collection. Photo by Aage Strüwing © Axel Salto/VISDA