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'The Sleep of Reason' 2005

A major retrospective exhibition of Dixon’s political ceramics, ‘The Sleep of Reason’ provides a (subversive) chronological survey of two decades of controversial political events. Beginning in 1995, at the zenith of Thatcherism, the exhibition charts the development of a personal narrative for figurative ceramics; the heavily modelled box-forms of the early years (culminating in ‘The Levantine Chess Set’ of 1994) giving way more recently to the softer forms and richly printed surfaces of the large ‘oil-can’ vessels (a metaphor for global power-politics).

In 2005 Manchester Art Gallery hosts a retrospective exhibition of political ceramics by Stephen Dixon. People tend to see ceramics as safe: functional, decorative and domestic. Yet pottery has a long history of political and social commentary, subversion and propaganda. The ceramics collection at Manchester Art Gallery includes objects such as 17th century royalist slipware, printed pottery satirising Napoleon and John Bull, and anti-slavery medallions produced by Josiah Wedgwood. Dixon’s work follows absolutely in this tradition, combining humour with scathing social critique.

‘The Sleep of Reason’ provides a look back over 20 years of Dixon’s work. It gives a provocative view of the changing political climate, from the fall of Margaret Thatcher in 1990 to the recent re-election of George W Bush, and provides a timely and challenging investigation of contemporary social and political values.

Liz Mitchell, exhibition curator, Manchester Art Gallery.

Exhibition; Arts Council of England and Manchester City Galleries.
Documentation; Arts Council of England and MIRIAD.
Contextual material; The GAEIA Partnership and Arts and Business New Partners.

'21 Countries' vessel, detail.'21 Countries' vessel, detail.
'21 Countries' vessel, 2003.'21 Countries' vessel, 2003.
'Their Finest Hour' 2004'Their Finest Hour' 2004