Artistic Director Spotlight: Christian Bernard Singer, The Clay & Glass Gallery

The Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery has been a long-standing site for contemporary arts, with critically-acclaimed exhibitions that challenge ideas and perceptions of art, craft and design today. As Canada’s only museum that specializes in ceramics and glass, it’s a national treasure trove of art in our own backyard! We caught up with Curator Christian Bernard Singer to get some insight into the Gallery’s upcoming events.

Q: The Clay & Glass Gallery is currently running its Spring Exhibition. What can we expect to see?

A: It’s one big show of nine artists that’s in two spaces. There are three shows: the design show, new function, and non-function. We have nine designers that look at the idea of design and what design is.  So in some cases the work is functional, and in other cases the work is non-functional and more conceptual. And while the show is about design, there are surprising twists and turns, but lots of colour, lots of fun, lots of beauty, and lots of ideas. But in all cases, it is eye candy. If you were going to reduce me to one phrase, I would say that it’s eye candy with meaning.

Q: Tell us a little more about the thought process involved in picking what is showcased in the Spring Exhibition?

A: The biggest thing that I am looking for when I look for work is the element of surprise, as well as the element of conceptual depth. There’s a word that I love to use – ‘intentionalism’. Intentionalism to me is removing anything that can confuse, and thereby you have a work that is at its brightest pitch.  A lot of different people can then experience that work and bring their own experience to the viewing of it. It becomes about the viewer and how they feel rather than whether they got it wrong or not in terms of understanding that work.  Because ultimately work is inspired by an artist’s idea, and is informed by their technical mastery of their material, their experience in making art, the way they look at the world and their own experience as humans on the planet.  But that’s what got them to make the work, and a really good work should be able to transcend that.

Q: You are an accomplished artist and come from a family with an artistic background. How do you think it influences the choices you make as a curator?

A: It’s huge. The fact is that I’m a very hands-on curator. This is an unusual thing – most curators develop an exhibition thesis with or without an artist in mind and then they develop the show based on that idea. I see the museum environment as an opportunity for artists to push themselves so far beyond what they could possibly have expected. To create works that are much larger than they could have imagined.  I coach them throughout that process.  And I do that by bringing my own experience as an artist, my experience at university level teaching, my various curating experiences…especially when you’re working with an artist who is maybe emerging or mid-career. The mid-career and senior artists often don’t have a chance to have an honest conversation with another professional about their work and I’m happy to do that – I kind of actually insist on it.

Q: Why do you think senior artists don’t get as much feedback?

A: Because your friends may not tell you the truth anymore (laughs).  It’s not that I know everything – but it’s a fresh eye perspective.  And it’s a calling to them to go beyond. Even the simplicity of the way an exhibition is installed can be completely refreshing to the artist.  To see the way that their work has been installed and they didn’t expect could ever be installed in that way.

For instance I’ve done retrospective exhibitions, and I tend to shy away from looking at a retrospective exhibition from a chronological point of view, which I find is totally boring and predictable.  I would rather look at it from a perspective of what mythological ideas they are interested in,  and how do I combine various works so that they almost seem to have a conversation together that you just happen to come upon.  Surprising little things like that just bring the work and make it alive for people.  That’s always what I’m looking for.

Let’s face it – for most of this stuff, it’s static stuff. Even an installation, it’s just sitting there.  How do you turn that into theatre? It should be a theatrical experience when you go see an installation, but it’s often not.

Q: What is your vision for the The Clay & Glass Gallery in the coming years?

A: When the gallery was first built, most of the work that was shown here was work on plinths – a lot of functional work.  And since then, the creative explosion that has happened in both of the medium of ceramic and glass have joined the wider art world and have opened up this place to be a real showcase for new ideas in contemporary art.  My vision for this place is to foster that. To continue to explore, to bring in works that challenge our perceptions of what art is.  Challenge our perception of who we are and what we’re doing here, as well as doing it in a way that celebrates beauty and the material gorgeousness of ceramic and glass. It becomes eye candy with meaning – and I really think that that is something that will draw people in.