Toronto, ON — One of the world’s most esteemed ceramic artists, Dame Magdalene Odundo, will make her Canadian debut this fall at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto. Magdalene Odundo: A Dialogue with Objects, opening October 19, 2023, will be the largest ever North American exhibition of Odundo’s work. Co-curated by Odundo and Dr. Sequoia Miller, Chief Curator & Deputy Director at the Gardiner Museum, the exhibition is organized by the Gardiner Museum and on view until April 21, 2024.
Since the early 1980s, the British-Kenyan artist has pursued a singular vision centered on the refined, magisterial ceramic vessel. Made entirely by hand and fired to a smooth, lustrous sheen, these works are uniquely her own while synthesizing traditions of ceramics and other media from multiple global cultures. Odundo’s sensuous vessels, with their vibrant orange and velvety black surfaces, reference the human body; their rounded bellies and elongated necks evoking a sense of energy and movement. The artist works on a single vessel for months, slowly and rhythmically, pouring years of experimentation and technical mastery into each piece. Odundo’s work can be found in the world’s preeminent collections, including the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, The British Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Victoria & Albert Museum, as well as the Gardiner Museum.
Magdalene Odundo: A Dialogue with Objects comes almost four years after the biggest ever display of the artist’s work, Magdalene Odundo: The Journey of Things, at The Hepworth Wakefield, England. Like that acclaimed British presentation, the Gardiner Museum exhibition will feature Odundo’s work with contextual objects from art and archaeology, giving insight into her global influences. As a student in England, Odundo began visiting British museums where she first encountered such works. While amassed as an assertion of colonial power and authority, Odundo engaged these collections as an artist, woman, and potter from the Global South, finding connections between them and the world she experienced growing up in Kenya.
More than 20 works spanning Odundo’s career, including new pieces directly from her studio, will be displayed alongside objects selected by the artist from the Gardiner Museum’s permanent collection, as well as objects on loan from major Toronto museums and private collections. “I always hoped I would be invited to have an exhibition in Canada, and to have it at the Gardiner Museum is very special for me, especially as one of my favourite pieces to come out of my studio is in their collection,” said Odundo. The carbonized terracotta vessel “Untitled,” which will be featured in the exhibition, was made by Odundo in 2003 and is the only work by the artist in a public collection in Canada. “I think the most exciting thing is the sheer number of pieces that are being reunited and shown together,” said Odundo.
The objects in the exhibition span geographies, time periods, and media, bringing Odundo’s work into conversation with objects as diverse as an ancient Cycladic marble figurine, a Ndebele apron from South Africa, and a painting by the late Trinidadian Canadian artist Denyse Thomasos. “The exhibition foregrounds Magdalene Odundo’s masterful, reverent vessels while cultivating conversations around the role of museums, cultural hierarchy, colonialism, and the potential for generative cultural exchange,” said Dr. Miller.
Magdalene Odundo: A Dialogue with Objects is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring essays by Dr. Sequoia Miller, Dr. Elizabeth Harney, Dr. Nehal El Hadi, and Dr. Barbara Thompson, with foreword by Sue Jefferies, former Curator of Modern & Contemporary Ceramics at the Gardiner Museum. The catalogue will be available in spring 2024.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Born in 1950, Magdalene Odundo received her initial training as a graphic artist in her native Kenya. In 1971, she moved to the United Kingdom and enrolled in the foundation course at the Cambridge School of Art. Odundo graduated in Ceramics, Photography and Printmaking from the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, England, in 1976. She completed her Post Graduate studies at the Royal College of Art in 1982. In 2019, Odundo was appointed Chancellor of the University for Creative Arts and was made a Dame in the Queen’s New Year Honours list 2020. Odundo was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Medal from the London Design Festival in September 2023.
Odundo’s work is in the collections of many museums internationally including the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Die Neue Sammlung | Design Museum, Munich; Frankfurt Museum of Applied Arts, Frankfurt; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington D.C.; Stedelijk Museum Voor Hedendaagst Kunst, Hertogenbosh, Netherlands; The British Museum, London; The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
ABOUT THE GARDINER MUSEUM
The Gardiner Museum brings together people of all ages and communities through the shared values of creativity, wonder, and community that clay and ceramic traditions inspire.
We engage audiences with exhibitions, programs, and hands-on classes, while stewarding a significant permanent collection. We interpret historical ceramics to emphasize their relevance today, and champion emerging and established Canadian artists and their role in the broader world. We innovate through clay education, as we bring together the experience of making with a deeper understanding of the art of ceramics.
We believe in making, looking, and thinking through clay.
The Gardiner Museum has a collection of over 5,000 objects from the Ancient Americas, Europe, Japan, and China, as well as contemporary works with an emphasis on leading Canadian artists. The Gardiner Museum is among the few museums in the world focused on ceramics and is one of the world’s most notable specialty museums. For more information, please visit: gardinermuseum.com