Not for us, the Grainer Collection

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel rumblings

Richard Slee - Spook (Photograph by Lee Ewing)

Richard Slee - Spook (Photograph by Lee Ewing)

Last month an exhibition closed at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina in America. So what, you might say, exhibitions close all the time. But this exhibition was an unusual one in that it was one of modern British ceramics

The ceramics come from the 700 piece collection owned by Diane and Marc Grainer. Since working here and developing an interest in modern British ceramics they have amassed quite a collection over the last 20 years. I went to the opening of the exhibition back in October and, since then, I have been waiting for an announcement to say it was coming to some part of the UK. But nothing. Maybe Charlotte is the second best place to see it since there are British connections. After all, the city is named after Queen Charlotte wife of George III the Farmer King. And the county in which the city is based is Mecklenburg, the place that Queen Charlotte came from.

The collection opened the new location for the Mint Uptown. A new, five story building housed it in what has become a museum and cultural part of the city known as the Levine Center for the Arts. A 24 hour party launched the new site with hamburger and pizza food carts outside and wine and music inside. Tee shirts and shorts jostled with dinner jackets. In the wee small hours, and on a Saturday entry, was free with the museum being busy throughout the weekend. The Mint is one of those regional museums that Americans have throughout their country which house collections most of us over this side of the pond have never come across. And the Grainer collection is one of them. Loaned for the event, most now probably sit back in the Grainer’s home. Like any other collectors, their home has been taken over by their passion (I have to confess that I know the Grainers) and, like most couples who collect, they disagree on what to acquire. One of the highlights, for me, of the exhibition was a video interview with the pair where you can see each of them wondering why the other bought a certain piece. The likes and dislikes of the two are clearly visible and, at one stage, Diane Grainer wonders why Marc has bought yet another pot! It makes the collectors seem more human – if that’s not an insult –and like the rest of us who collect things because we like what we hoard.

Grayson Perry - The Guardians (Photograph by Lee Ewing)

Grayson Perry - The Guardians (Photograph by Lee Ewing)

But the collection is more than about pots although two Grayson Perry large pieces called “The Guardians” welcomed you to the show. Bought before Perry was widely known, I dread to think what it would cost to buy them now. But that is the joy of the collection. Pieces were bought when these artists were largely unknown other than within a small arts circle. Prices are a fraction of what what contemporary paintings might fetch. Yet British ceramics have are well known throughout the world. The Grainers bought because they liked what they saw not because they were buying an investment. Take a little piece called “Spook” by Richard Slee. On the face of it you might see a vase but the two eyes and the curled tail at the bottom of the pot turns it into something that children seeing it were fascinated by.

Now the Grainers have donated some of their collection to this museum. As the Mint writes in its introduction to the exhibition, “…the Grainers have ensured that the Mint…will become a major center for Contemporary British Studio Ceramics.” Shame then that no British institution was like minded enough to want to bring it here.

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