It's anybody's guess when mankind discovered that clay can be fired to make nice hard things, whether utensils, storage vessels or surfaces for writing on. Pottery goes back millennia. Which tribe of humans made it first? Some say the earliest-known ceramics are female figurines with pendulous breasts, possibly religious in nature, which archaeologists found at Dolni Vestonice in the Czech Republic and date to about 25,000 to 30,000 years ago. Others point to fragments of pottery vessels from China, which seem to be 20,000 years old.
In this era of modern industry, however, water and wine are stored in glass or plastic, and tableware may still have clay in it but it's made in giant factories. Yet that atavistic craving to play with mud has remained as much a part of us as our tailbones.
But what's a latter-day potter to do when nobody actually needs his wares? Make art, that's what. The seventh Israeli ceramics biennale at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv is a good place to see the result.
Note that while many modern potters settle for making mismatched cups and plates, some of which are featured in the exhibit -- ceramic art is another world entirely. The result may be less sturdy than bronzed busts, and in fact some of the sculptures are extraordinarily fragile. But each is entirely unique, by the nature of handwork, and can still command a hefty price.
Dozens of modern ceramicists are displaying their works at this year's biennale, the theme of which is "Cultural Memory." The works span a vast range from cups to delicate statutes that it's hard to believe are made of clay. This temporary exhibit, curated by Anat Gatenio, ends on November 10, 2013.
Eretz Israel Museum, 2 Haim Levanon St., Tel Aviv
Hours: Sunday-Wednesday 10 A.M.-4 P.M.; Thursday 10 A.M.-8 P.M.; Friday and Saturday 10 A.M.-2 P.M.
Fees: Adult NIS 42, with a discount to NIS 38 for ID-bearing Tel Aviv residents; Students and soldiers get in for NIS 28 and children under 18 are free. The museum begs to note that children under 13 must be accompanied by an adult.
Tel.: (03) 641-5244