For the Thun family, ceramics have been part of family life since 1950, when Count Otmar Thun and his wife, Countess Lene, founded a small ceramic studio nestled in the Alps at Castle Klebenstein in Bolzano, South Tyrol.
In 1978 the studio was passed on to their 23-year-old son, Peter who turned Thun Ceramics into an international enterprise with sites in Germany and China as well as international flagships.
Now coming full circle, this summer saw Peter's son Simon and nephew Leopold – the son of designer Matteo Thun – team up with the Cass Sculpture Park's curatorial director Claire Shea to inaugurate the Thun Ceramic Residency in Bolzano. Three artists – Americans Cassie Griffin and Matthew Lutz-Kinoy and Londoner Jesse Wine – were invited to come and produce work at the Alpine studio over the course of the summer.
'I moved to London and soon discovered how popular ceramics were becoming again in contemporary art,' recalls London-based Leopold of his light-bulb moment. 'This fueled my interest to discover more and more emerging artists working with this medium in London but struggling to fulfill their ambitions due to space, money and firing limitations. At the same time my uncle's ceramic production recently moved from Bolzano to China. This meant that he was left with a lot of empty space and unused kilns in one of the most stunning places in Europe. When adding the two it became apparent what we had to do.'
On 18 September this year, the fruits of their labour were unveiled for the first time in Countess Lene's old apartment. Having been closed for the past ten years – she passed away in 2004 – the apartment, called The White House, remains as she left it, filled with personal objects and collections. Shards of pottery, stones, stove tiles and pinecones, as well as various works by her son Matteo, fill the shelves and surfaces; now in among them sit works by Griffin, Lutz-Kinoy and Wine, opening a dialogue between the old and the new.
While Wine's figures and objects, including a ceramic reproduction of the White House are a direct response to the residency, Griffin has created a series of deconstructed collapsed vessels that follow on from her existing, more functional vessel series. Scattered throughout the garden, living room, guest room and bathroom, Lutz-Kinoy has produced a series of birdbaths, basins and gargoyles that reference decorative architectural features.
'It was wonderful to see to which degrees the artists experimented within their practice, creating works that were unlike anything they had done before,' says Leopold. 'At the same time, the exhibition at the end of the residency gave them a goal to work towards and the possibility to enter into a more profound dialogue with the unique cultural and art historical setting of South Tyrol. Each year the artists are also asked to leave one work behind. Ideally this residency would hence run for another 100 summers, becoming an archive of all the amazing artists who will pass by here in the years to come.'