Morten Løbner Espersen at the Kunstemuseum den Haag
06 November 2021 - 15 May 2022
Comprising layer upon layer of fired glaze, the surfaces of Morten Løbner Espersen’s (b. 1965, Aalborg) internationally renowned ceramic objects are a riotous array of colours and textures. The Copenhagen-based ceramicist loves clay, and displays total mastery of the medium, but his passion for glazes comes from the impossibility of exercising full control over them. Every firing produces unexpected results, from surprising new insights to sudden disappointments. This autumn, his richly glazed objects will be on show at Kunstmuseum Den Haag, in his first museum presentation outside Denmark.
Although Espersen was trained by French glazing expert Pierre Lemaître, who worked for the Sèvres porcelain factory, he actually prefers to defy the laws of glazing. His body of work, currently spanning thirty years, is characterised by a tension between the form of the object and the glaze which covers it. This tension is more intense than ever in his perfectly spherical Moon Jars – a classic theme in Korean ceramics. The inside of these vases is almost invisible, diverting all our attention to the surface. Dripping and creeping over the surface, thin glazes create a kind of moon landscape with hills, bubbles, holes and trenches. As if a volcano had erupted, leaving behind psychedelic lava forms. Espersen has made several large pieces over a metre tall specially for this exhibition. He has aptly named them Magma.
Since 2006 Espersen has also been applying his glazes to cylindrical forms. This is a shape which, in contrast to the Moon Jars, has relatively few predecessors in the history of ceramics. Not only does it feel more natural to many potters to introduce curves to a vase or pot, it is also relatively difficult to retain sufficient strength in a straight-sided vessel. For Espersen, the anonymous shape, which does not distract and acts as a blank canvas, is ideal. These days he only makes cylinders in one size, and only in monochrome colours, creating series in which the focus is entirely on the underlying nuances of colour and texture.
Unlike the Cylinders and Moon Jars, which have no clear front or back, Espersen’s Horror Vacuis look different on every side. While in his other work the thick drips of glaze cover the surface of his ceramics, here they completely engulf the classic vase form. The muscular coils are so sculptural, moreover, that Espersen’s intense glazing is almost secondary, operating more on an associative level. A piece in several shades of green appears to be overgrown by moss and tree roots, while a greasy, glossy, flesh-pink version looks like it has come fresh from the mincer.
There is something sublime – in the classic sense of the word – about examining these ceramic surfaces up close, veering between horror and delight, repulsion and pleasure. Yet the key to Espersen’s work lies in his ability to give the objects a certain calmness and serenity. Chance, chaos and destruction are kept in check by order, regularity and control.