Gagosian Quarterly

September 24, 2018

Edmund de Waal–One way or other–

Edmund de Waal’s first architectural intervention in America is being held at the Schindler House: a landmark of West Coast modernism, built in 1922 in West Hollywood by Viennese émigré architect Rudolph Schindler. one way or other includes recent works that respond directly to the materials and spaces of the house, and a sound piece conceived with the composer Simon Fisher Turner. In the following text, de Waal discusses the history behind the structure and what drew him to the project.

Installation view, Edmund de Waal: –one way or other –, Schindler House, West Hollywood, CA, September 16, 2018–January 6, 2019

Installation view, Edmund de Waal: –one way or other , Schindler House, West Hollywood, CA, September 16, 2018–January 6, 2019

Edmund de Waal

A potter since childhood and an acclaimed writer, Edmund de Waal is best known as an artist for his large-scale installations of porcelain vessels, which are informed by his passion for architecture, space, and sound.

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The Schindler House is an idea about beginnings. It stands as an attempt to create a place for both cooperative living and cooperative practice, to reset the conditions in which a modern family could live and experiment. At the heart of Schindler’s vision are spaces whose liminality is startling: the movement between rooms, the function of rooms is rethought: the edges of the thresholds are the edges of ideas. Partitions can be shifted—or indeed removed. “I like it,” wrote Schindler. “We shall not have to be grown-ups in there—it reaches only to our shoulders—and will play with us.” This possibility of a house as a testing ground, a playground, manifests in the synergies between materials: concrete, wood, copper. It is present in his use of different room heights to surprise you. Famously Schindler revised fenestration whilst a house was being constructed, visiting jobs every day to get to know the quality of light. Imagine employing Schindler.

–one way or other–

Edmund de Waal, Lettres de Londres: Sur l’Optique de Mr Newton, 2016, 7 porcelain vessels and 7 silver pieces in 7 aluminum and plexiglass vitrines, overall dimensions variable

Schindler’s house was provocative. It contained four studios of equal size for Schindler, the composer Pauline Schindler, the ceramicist Marian Chace, and Marian’s husband, the painter Clyde Chace. It became a site for contemporary dance, for music and debate. Richard Neutra wrote his book on American architecture Wie baut Amerika? while living here. John Cage and Edward Weston both lived here. Visitors, tenants, disciples, lovers came and stayed and went.

I’ve loved this place for a very long time. I had a photograph of it in an early studio of mine. Its provocation seemed to lie in the idea of experimental working as I worked dogmatically with clay, its nonchalance about the exigencies of heating (I was in the foothills of damp Welsh mountains), and its openness to the world. I was sure—wrongly—that Schindler must have lived in Japan. Its grip has tightened. The last decades of traveling to Vienna have made me think of what it might mean to be an émigré and build a house, to question what you bring with you when you start again so definitively. “I feel completely alien here. I should prefer to go back to Vienna,” Schindler wrote to Neutra. This is a kind of provocation too.

–one way or other–

Edmund de Waal, #835, 2015, 18 porcelain vessels in 2 steel and plexiglass vitrines,
19 ⅞ × 45 ⅞ × 13 ¾ inches (50 × 116 × 35 cm)

My own practice has circled around modernism. My first ever architectural intervention, in 1999, was held at High Cross House in Devon, England, built by the American architect William Lescaze in 1932—a house that attempts to bring severity and clarity into the damp Devon countryside. I placed a long line of porcelain vessels on the flat roof to collect rainwater and hid installations within the sliding cupboards. I haven’t really stopped since.

For –one way or other– I’ve created a series of dispersed installations placed in conversation with particular elements of the building—floor, concrete wall, wooden clerestory. A group of twelve vitrines, the size of lancet windows, hang against the concrete wall of Pauline’s studio. Each vitrine contains a strip of gilded porcelain, a single white vessel, and a single piece of alabaster. The gilding is there so that a faint and fugitive aura comes and goes. Other vitrines reflect the fiercely schematic floor plan of the house—its Raumplan, volumes transformed into steel cases of black vessels. And another group, positioned in the bay window of Marian Chase’s studio, contains vessels and leaning pieces of silver. Schindler’s practice always returns me to the action of leaning, that certain casualness. The early photograph of the walls of the house being erected is still compelling after almost one hundred years. I hope the materials that I am using here are at ease with themselves.

On reflection, if there was a single action I wanted for this house it would be leaning.

–one way or other–

Edmund de Waal, one way or other, 2018, 12 porcelain vessels, 12 gilded porcelain tiles, and 13 alabaster blocks in 12 aluminum vitrines, each vitrine: 13 ⅞ × 3 ⅜ × 4 ⅛ inches (35.2 × 8.5 × 10.5 cm)

And there is a sound piece, an installation created by the composer Simon Fisher Turner, a musician who has collaborated extensively with other artists, dancers, and filmmakers—most extensively as composer for Derek Jarman’s films. We spent some days capturing sounds from the places in Vienna where Schindler studied, the sounds of doors shutting and footsteps along the corridors of the Imperial Technical Institute, the Bauschule (where he attended Adolf Loos’s lectures and where he made friends with Neutra). There are faint echoes of the Opera House, of the cloakrooms in the Secession building, of trams passing. And sounds of my studio. Cage’s 4'33" is present too. It is a beautiful palimpsest of presences and absences of Vienna.

In Schindler’s study, Anton Webern’s Drei kleine Stücke, played by the cellist Matthew Barley, can be heard intermittently. Walking in Vienna, I knew I needed Webern’s hard and beautiful exploration of structure, written in 1914 and published ten years later, to echo with this hard and beautiful space. Barley’s new recording of this piece and his remarkable Cello Improvisation, which follows it, feel another exacting part of this conversation.

–one way or other–

Edmund de Waal, leaning late, 2018, porcelain slip inscribed with handwritten text on a gold, wood, and aluminum table, 33 ½ × 86 ⅝ × 27 ⅝ inches (85 × 220 × 70 cm)

And I’ve made a table. It’s both a text and an object for Schindler. There are moments of gold. The surface is washed with porcelain slip, drawn over, written through, scratched into. It is a testing of memory. Not all of it is legible, but then not everything needs to be immediately given and understood. I’ve called it leaning latewords borrowed from a favorite poem by Wallace Stevens, “The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm,” in which reader, text and house become one. It is a perfect image for this very particular place. 

Text and artwork © Edmund de Waal; photos: Joshua White/

Edmund de Waal, stone for two hands and water, 2021, Hornton stone, bamboo, and water, 27 ⅜ × 56 ¾ × 23 ⅝ inches (69.5 × 144 × 60 cm), installation view, Henry Moore Studios & Gardens, Perry Green, England

The Thinking Hand

Edmund de Waal speaks with Richard Calvocoressi about touch in relation to art and our understanding of the world, and discusses the new stone sculptures he created for the exhibition This Living Hand: Edmund de Waal Presents Henry Moore, at the Henry Moore Studios & Gardens. Their conversation took place at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, in the context of the exhibition The Human Touch.

Edmund de Waal and Theaster Gates

Artist to Artist: Edmund de Waal and Theaster Gates

Join the artists for an extended conversation about their most recent exhibitions, their forebears in the world of ceramics, and the key role that history plays in their practices.

Installation view, Edmund de Waal: some winter pots, Gagosian, Davies Street

Edmund de Waal: some winter pots

Join the artist in his ceramics studio as he describes the impetus behind his exhibition in London and the importance of touch in the creation of these new works.

Edmund de Waal working in his studio.

Edmund de Waal: cold mountain clay

At his studio in London, Edmund de Waal speaks about his new body of work, created in the silence and solitude of lockdown. Composed of layers of porcelain slip inscribed with lines of verse by the poet Hanshan, these works are presented in cold mountain clay, de Waal’s first exhibition in Hong Kong.

Edmund de Waal, London, 2019

Edmund de Waal: psalm

Edmund de Waal speaks with Alison McDonald about the components of psalm, his two-part project in Venice. He details the influences behind the exhibition and reveals some of his hopes for the project.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1928. Photo: Lou Andreas-Salomé

Rainer Maria Rilke: Duino Elegies

Bobbie Sheng explores the symbiotic relationship between the poet and visual artists of his time and tracks the enduring influence of his poetry on artists working today.

Anselm Kiefer, Volkszählung (Census), 1991, steel, lead, glass, peas, and photographs, 163 ⅜ × 224 ½ × 315 inches (4.1 × 5.7 × 8 m)/

Cast of Characters

James Lawrence explores how contemporary artists have grappled with the subject of the library.

Sally Mann and Edmund de Waal at the Frick Collection, New York, November 8, 2019.

In Conversation
Edmund de Waal and Sally Mann

Sally Mann joins Edmund de Waal onstage at the Frick Collection in New York to converse about art, writing, and the importance of place in their respective bodies of work. 

Edmund de Waal and Jan Dalley, FT Weekend Festival, London, September 7, 2019

In Conversation
Edmund de Waal and Jan Dalley

At the FT Weekend Festival 2019 in London, Edmund de Waal sat down for a conversation with Financial Times arts editor Jan Dalley. They spoke about the relationship between words and sculpture in his practice, and about two recent projects: the two-part exhibition psalm, in Venice, and Elective Affinities, at the Frick Collection, New York.

Edmund de Waal: psalm

Edmund de Waal: psalm

The artist speaks about his two-part exhibition psalm, presented in Venice. He describes its connection to the history of the city and to notions of exile, and the profound cultural wealth that comes from migration.

Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2019

Now available
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2019

The Summer 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a detail from Afrylic by Ellen Gallagher on its cover.

Edmund de Waal and Simon Fisher Turner: Tapping the World

In Conversation
Edmund de Waal and Simon Fisher Turner: Tapping the World

Edmund de Waal speaks with the composer Simon Fisher Turner about their collaboration on the exhibition –one way or other– at the Schindler House in West Hollywood, California.