New show by influential British ceramic artists opens at Hove Museum & Art Gallery

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For immediate release

Hove Museum & Art Gallery will reopen with a fascinating new collection of work produced by one of Britain’s most influential ceramic artists.

Mantelpiece Observations, opening Monday 26 July, presents a new commission by Richard Slee, known as the ‘Grand Wizard of studio ceramics’. The exhibition consists of a series of objects and installations inspired by Mass Observation’s 1937 Mantelpiece Reports.

The Mass Observation Project is part of the University of Sussex and the archive is stored at The Keep in Brighton. In the 1930s it was a pioneering social research organisation which aimed to document everyday life in Britain. Its first initiative, the Mantelpiece Directive, invited its national panel of volunteers to share what was on their mantelpieces. The resulting reports demonstrate how the seemingly insignificant objects in our homes are in fact full of meaning and led the organisation to conclude that we are what we live with.

One of the continuities of Slee’s otherwise diverse output is an interest in the everyday, the domestic and the kind of objects that might be seen displayed on the typical mantelpiece, as evident in his well-known series of oversized Toby figures from the early 1990s. For this exhibition, Slee has returned to the form, making his first Toby figures in twenty-five years, inspired by a detailed description in one of the 1937 reports. Other works include a Janus-faced ceramic spaniel taking inspiration from a Staffordshire dog figurine as described by a housewife from Burnley.

Slee has also selected 18 photographs by pioneering photographer Humphrey Spender to hang alongside his ceramic pieces. Spender was the lead photographer on MO’s study of northern working-class life in the late 1930s. His photographs of industrial Bolton and its millworkers at play in Blackpool are hugely evocative of the 1930s, and therefore add a sense of period context to Slee’s new ceramics.

Richard Slee said: “Working from the MO Mantelpiece Reports and Humphrey Spender’s photographic archive of 1937/8 has set a focus that has been liberating and stimulating, suggesting new creative solutions. Works have emerged from the individual written reports prompted by such things as the typing mistake in ‘Block woolly cat’, a detailed description of a Toby jug, or the minimal description of ‘a pair of ordinary vases.’ These mantelpiece objects and arrangements are an altar to the interior, a landing strip for the everyday, a haven of domestic symbolism.”

Matthew Watson, curator of Mantelpiece Observations, said: “The pairing of Richard Slee with Mass Observation’s Mantelpiece Reports is perfect, like it was waiting to happen. The mantelpiece installations Richard has created for the exhibition perfectly capture the bizarre juxtapositions of ordinary and exotic objects in the original 1937 reports. The exhibition has a retrospective feel to it, a summing up of past themes and concerns, but it also takes Richard’s work in a new direction. The use of archival material as a source of inspiration is a novel departure for him and the exhibition brings out the surrealist side of his work.”

CEO of the Royal Pavilion & Museums Trust Hedley Swain said: “I’m so glad we can reopen Hove Museum & Art Gallery with such a great, accessible and fun exhibition. It fits in well with Hove Museum’s theme of craft and creativity. It’s great that the show has a strong Sussex link through the fascinating and important Mass Observation Project.”

It has been supported using public funding by Arts Council England.


About Richard Slee

Richard Slee (b. Cumbria, UK, 1946) studied at Carlisle College of Art & Design (1964–65) and studied ceramics at the Central School of Art & Design (1965–70). He graduated with an MA at the Royal College of Art (1988). Slee lives and works in London and is Professor Emeritus of the University of the Arts, London.

Selected group and solo shows include Studio Voltaire (UK), Tate St. Ives (UK), Tramway (Scotland), Hales Gallery (UK), Danish Museum of Art and Design (Denmark), National Museum (Sweden), Victoria & Albert Museum (UK), World Ceramic Center, Icheon, (Korea) and Museum of Modern Ceramic Art, Gifu, (Japan). His work was included in postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970–1990 (2011–12), Victoria & Albert (London). Slee’s work is represented in numerous collections world-wide, including British Council (UK), Museum of Arts and Design, New York, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Victoria & Albert Museum (London). He is represented by Hales Gallery, London and New York.

About Mass Observation

The Archive preserves the papers of the original Mass Observation movement and current Mass Observation Project and makes them publicly available, as part of the University of Sussex’s Special Collections at the The Keep.

The Archive is a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (registered charity number: 1179673) in the care of the University of Sussex. Lord Asa Briggs who, as Vice-Chancellor of the University in 1970, was responsible for bringing the collection to Sussex and opening it up as a public resource for historical research.

The Archive captures records of everyday life. Safeguarding these records for inspired learning and research is at the heart of its work. The archive continues to make them available for future generations.

About Hove Museum & Art Gallery

Step into a world of toys, cinema, local history, and fine art. Hove Museum & Art Gallery, part of Royal Pavilion & Museums Trust, is a family friendly museum with one of the finest craft collections in the UK.

Free admission

19 New Church Road, Hove BN3 4AB Tel 03000 290900

Open Mon, Thurs, Fri & Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 1 – 4pm

Closed Tues & Wed (open on Bank Holiday Mondays)

Reopens on Monday 26 July 2021.

(Subject to government guidance.)

Contact information for press and media

For further information, images or interviews please contact Caroline Sutton on or 07802 542 867.

For urgent enquiries in my absence please contact or 03000 290906.