Decant Day, 12 October 2016: Our Clare Twomey commission comes down

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

The decant of the Museum and Art Gallery’s former public spaces is moving at pace and some of our most iconic works are now being packed up ready for safe storage.

One of the first is ‘Plymouth Porcelain: A New Collection’ by Clare Twomey which has been decanted over the last couple of weeks.

We worked with Clare on this commission in 2011-12. She is a British artist who primarily works with clay in large-scale installations, sculpture and site-specific works. Over the past 10 years she has exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate, Crafts Council, Museum of Modern Art Kyoto Japan, the Eden Project and the Royal Academy of Arts. Working on the project with her was a fantastic opportunity for us to collaborate with a really well-established artist and the staff involved learnt a lot.

The work broke new ground when it was made as it was the first time Clare had created a permanent piece for a Museum. Prior to this many of her major installations had been designed to disappear, break or perish in the course of their exhibition period.

Clare Twomey Collage
Clockwise from top: Trophy by Clare Twomey at the V&A Museum, 2006: one of the objects selected for our commission and its new porcelain version in Clare’s studio, 2011; ‘Plymouth Porcelain: A New Collection for Plymouth’ by Clare Twomey installed in our Atrium Gallery, 2012; Clare looking at an object brought in to one of our casting days, 2011.

Since February 2012, visitors have been able to view ‘Plymouth Porcelain: A New Collection’ above the doors of our China Connection gallery. The artwork has 33 suspended cases each of which contain a white porcelain object cast from objects suggested by the people of Plymouth – including a coffee pot that my granddad brought home from Singapore in the 1950s where he’d been serving with the RAF!

The work was inspired by our Plymouth Porcelain collection – the largest public collection of its kind from the first factory that ever produced hard-paste porcelain in England.

William Cookworthy of Kingsbridge, Devon discovered China clay in Cornwall in 1748 and obtained a patent for the manufacture of porcelain twenty years later. His Plymouth factory started in 1768 and ran for two years, producing a wide range of domestic and decorative items. We believe it stood where the site of the current ‘China House’ pub is on Sutton Harbour.

Packing collage for Clare Twomey's commission (1)

Packing collage for Clare Twomey's commission (2)
Taking down Clare Twomey’s work involved two members of our front of house team, our art curator, two volunteers and our scissor lift!

Decanting such an important artwork is no quick or easy feat and the process involved three members of staff plus Rosemary and Chris – two of our brilliant volunteers.

The suspended boxes were carefully taken down one at a time – access to them was provided by our trusty scissor lift. The porcelain object was safely removed from the box. Both items were then carried to a packing area where they could be wrapped and documented ready to be transported to our offsite store.

Here’s a short piece of timelapse footage showing part of the decant:

In total it took the team four hours to take down the boxes and move them and the porcelain items to the packing area.

It’s since taken a further four days to do all the packing and documentation.

Volunteer collage for decanting Clare Twomey's commission (1)

Volunteer collage for decanting Clare Twomey's commission (2)
Once all the boxes were down, all the porcelain objects were taken out and carefully packed and documented. The boxes were safely wrapped too.

All 33 boxes have been packed in protective bubble wrap and pallet wrapped. The individual ceramic items have also been safely wrapped and packed into 3 large containers.

Part of the commission safely packed and ready to be moved to our offsite store.
Part of the commission safely packed and ready to be moved to our offsite store.

It will be strange not to see this beautiful work on display for a while, but there are lots of other ways in which we’ll be highlighting our important Plymouth Porcelain collection to people while the development of the History Centre is taking place. More information about these will be published really soon in the news and what’s on sections of our website and in future Decant Day blog posts.

We’ll leave you with this short clip of the final box being taken down:

‘Plymouth Porcelain: A New Collection’ was made possible thanks to New Expressions 2, which was supported by MLA Renaissance South West and the National Lottery through Grants for the Arts to enable regional museums to commission new work and join forces with contemporary artists.

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