Martina Droth delivered The Majolica International Society Lecture on Tuesday, April 14, at 6 pm. Her talk is entitled “Elephant in the Room? Majolica in the Context of Sculpture.”

What is sculpture? It’s not a simple question, because sculpture is a loaded word. Not only because it sounds like a category (when in reality there are many) but also because it invokes a hierarchy—between the “fine” and “decorative” arts, between the aesthetic and the functional, between art and craft, and between craft and industry. In developing the exhibition Sculpture Victorious: Art in an Age of Invention, 1837–1901(now on view at Tate Britain) the question of what we count as sculpture—and why, or why not—continually presented itself. Not everyone would count a seven foot majolica elephant, made by Minton for the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle, as a piece of sculpture. But for us it became an emblem for the project. It shows that, as a profession, sculpture fluidly ranged across materials and processes; that sculpture and industry could exist in a productive (rather than destructive) relationship; and that sculpture’s function as a victorious symbol of empire was expressed through the inseparable continuum of iconography and materiality. This talk sets out the rationale of the exhibition—its object choices, its themes—and argues that in order to gain an historical sense of how sculpture functioned at a given time, we need to open up our purview to a larger body of material evidence.

Martina Droth is Associate Director of Research and Curator of Sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art. Her work focuses on sculpture, broadly conceived, in particular studio practice, materials, and modes of display. Prior to joining the Center, she was at the Henry Moore Institute (Leeds, UK). She is co-curator of Sculpture Victorious: Art in an Age of Invention, 1837–1901(Yale Center for British Art, 2014, Tate Britain, 2015), and co-editor of the accompanying book published by Yale University Press. Recent curatorial projects include Caro: Close Up (Yale Center for British Art, 2012), and Taking Shape: Finding Sculpture in the Decorative Arts (Henry Moore Institute, 2008, Getty Museum, 2009). Future projects include an exhibition of modern and contemporary ceramics, and an examination of the relationship between Henry Moore and Bill Brandt.