The Mighty Met, better known as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has completely re-jigged the balcony on the second floor surrounding the Great Hall and it is all devoted to ceramics. This is the first time for 30 + years that this has been done and I guess, at that time-scale, it will be a while before they look at it again. So you don’t have to hurry.
The balcony display covers the evolution of Chinese Ceramics – more than 300 works from the several thousand in their collection and focusses upon technological and historical development from 6th to 18thC. Interspersed with this are more than 100 comparative other works so that the seminal role Chinese ceramics played on Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, the Islamic world, Europe and the Americas from 8th to 21stCenturies is on show.
It covers the development of high-fired stoneware, the discovery of porcelain and the increasing importance of drinking tea. The expansion of transoceanic trade and simultaneous rise in demand for ceramics helped spur the development of the Chinese ceramic industry. Harder, denser, and more durable than ceramics produced elsewhere, more elegant, and more hygienic, Chinese ceramics were valued as trade items throughout East and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and eastern Africa, and contributed to the development of new types of ceramics in those regions. After 14thC Jingdezhen became dominant for production and with it the growth of blue and white – cobalt on porcelain under a transparent glaze. This development of “blue-and-white” has been branded the most important and influential event in world ceramic history. Certainly there has been and is much interest from contemporary ceramists.
While there are a few in the Metropolitan show including Lucie Rie, Shoji Hamada, George Ohr, Rudy Autio, Toshiko Takuezu, Wayne Higby – of which only Higby still lives – this is, after all, The Met so we cannot expect up-to-the-minute stuff. For that we have to head up the road, to Boston….
At the Museum of Fine Arts is, The exhibition, New Blue and White, curated by Emily Zilber who visited our shores last year. Alas, she found no blue and white contemporary take on the tradition here but has included work from an international selection of artists, creating works that speak to contemporary ideas. They tackle diverse issues, ranging from the public (the political landscape, cross-cultural interchange), to the personal (family, memory, the act of collecting), to the aesthetic (abstraction, pattern, the role of decoration).
“New Blue and White” explores the ways in which contemporary makers, working in ceramics as well as other media ranging from fiber to furniture to glass, have explored this rich body of material culture. There are forty artists with almost 70 works. Artists in ceramics include, Paul Scott and Robert Dawson from UK (of course) and Harumi Nakashima – Japan, also of course. Steven Bowers – Australia. Felicity Aylieff, Caroline Cheng, Claire Curneen and Ann Agee are all represented plus lesser known artists such as Pouran Jinchi from Iran and the Dutch design collective, Moooi.
Running to July 14th you can see some of the works plus hear the curator talk at www.mfa.org/exhibitions/new-blue-and-white
Then, to pursue this further, go to http://wamc.org/post/new-blue-and-white and click on LISTEN button for a conversation on regional radio with host Joe Donahue and guest, Leslie Ferrin, owner of Ferrin Gallery in nearby Pittsfield, who discuss the New Blue and White exhibition and particularly the artists represented by her gallery – 10 of the 40 in the exhibition.
Ferrin Gallery is, as they say, ontoit and does not miss a chance to promote their artists, indeed, is vigorously pro-active. The website http://ferringallery.com/dynamic/exhibit_overview.asp?ExhibitID=526 a page devoted to her gallery artists, in the Blue and White show, and their available works, via the gallery, that relate to the exhibition.
Then while on the east coast, head back down the road again – past NYC , through Philadelphia and south to Washington DC where is America’s official repository for applied/decorative arts – The Renwick. Completed in 1874, and just a stone’s throw from the White House, The Renwick Gallery is a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Its collections, exhibition program and publications highlight the best craft objects and decorative arts from the 19th century to the present and is generally considered one of America’s very best.
This one does require hurrying though, because they are closing the gallery in early 2014 for several years for a major refurbishment. Meanwhile their current and main exhibition is Forty under Forty: Craft Futures. This examines the expanding role of the handmade in contemporary culture through the next generation of artists. It gathers forty makers born since 1972. Apparent are rapidly evolving notions of craft, ranging from traditional media, such as ceramics and jewellery, to fields as diverse as industrial design, sculpture and installation through to fashion and even performance.
There is a fine catalogue if you have interest in the very current where the author realised all works illustrated were completed after 9/11 (among other factors that define this generation). The forty artists came of age during a decade of uncertainty, defined by perpetual conflict, a spiraling economy and mounting concerns about the environment. The new breed.
Co-published with Yale University Press it now costs US$35 (was $50) from the Smithsonian online bookstore but is probably cheaper still from Abe Books or The Book Depository, who post free everywhere.