The Gilbert Collection are thrilled to announce the unveiling of an important new commission: Place to Place by Adi Toch, which responds to a 4,250-year-old gold ewer which the Gilbert Trust for the Arts has recently returned to Turkey.
In 2018, the Gilbert Collection embarked on a major research into the collection, which was built by Arthur and Rosalinde Gilbert from the 1960s onwards. This research revealed that, unbeknownst to Arthur Gilbert, the gold ewer carried a problematic provenance. It came from a dealer who was secretly involved in the trade of illicit antiquities. The Gilbert Trust, which manages the collection, shared this research with the Turkish Ministry of Culture whose experts established that the ewer had been illegally excavated and exported from the country. In light of this revelation, the Gilbert Trustees took the decision to donate the ewer to the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations in Ankara, where it went on display in October 2021.
This act left a gap in the collection, and a fortuitus opportunity presented itself one afternoon at an artist’s workshop in Hackney. Antonia Boström, Gilbert Trustee and the V&A’s Director of Collections, was attending a talk at Adi Toch’s workshop, when Adi pulled Antonia aside to enquire the whereabouts of the Gilbert gold ewer. Adi had long been bringing her students to handle the ewer, to decipher the life of the object, and to better understand the ancient techniques still used to this day by metalsmiths. Little did Adi know that she had waded into what was a highly delicate and confidential project, and that the ewer was in the process of being returned to Turkey. The seed was sown, and Antonia introduced Adi to the Gilbert curators and we began a new conversation, one of making and not of loss.
Adi was soon commissioned to create a piece in response to the return of the ewer, to reflect upon movement, on restitution and to add her own artistic creativity to the conversation. Through conceptual images, to prototypes we were often consulted, but ultimately it was Adi who cemented the idea of a funnel.
The funnel in Adi’s own words:
“Reflecting on the Gold Ewer I see its broken spout as a metaphor for loss of direction, emblematic of the ewer’s return to its homeland. In dialogue with this narrative I envisioned the commissioned piece as a work which embraces the absence of the ewer in the collection whilst highlighting the fascinating story behind its departure. A funnel concentrates and provides a new direction. It also implies that something is missing as it is typically an accompanying object to a jar or other container. It connects between objects or spaces. From outside to inside. It offers a passage between the vast space of a room to an enclosed narrow space of a vessel such as a bottle. However, there is an openness and acceptance in the form and function that resonates with the story of donating the ewer. A funnel is a generous object. The title Place to Place relates to a transitional state in time as well as between spaces and countries.”
To add a further echo of the ewer within the walls of South Kensington, Adi had the exact alloy of the ewer recreated to form the material of Place to Place: 21.7 carat gold. Adi had her gold, from which she spun and hammered the funnel into life, creating an enlarged opening down to a thicker highly polished spout. Reflecting the anthropomorphic neck and beak features of the ewer, this time in the utilitarian form of a funnel. The highly reflective and polished interior invites the visitors to peer in, where they are greeted by their own reflection, literally forcing them to reflect on themselves and their journey.
It rests effortlessly on what appears to be a head rest, it is in fact a carved piece of chalcedony, a creamy white translucent rock found in Turkey, not too dissimilar to one which may well have been dug through to excavate the ewer. This story of journey, of beginnings and travels is highlighted in Adi’s title; Place to Place. Objects are continuously moving, different owners, different cities, different lives, and it is our role as a museum to share those stories with you.
We hope that this piece is the start of a conversation and not the end, a discussion of movement and generosity, sparking reflection and thought in the years to come.
Place to Place is on display in Gallery 72 of the Gilbert Collection from December 1st 2021.