I lifted this directly from the New York Times. Those of you who heard Garth Clark and Mark del Vecchio when they came to New Zealand a few years ago may recall their mentioning the tussle they had in getting reviews of ceramics shows in their New York gallery mentioned in the NYT in the first place and then shifting those shows ‘from the cookie recipe section to arts’.  Sadly, this review was again to be found under Home and Garden – maybe in part because the exhibiting museum is on the other coast and far away. But still, here is ceramics in the NYT.



Last week, a media frenzy erupted when a small white ceramic bowl carved with a pattern of lotus blossoms sold for more than $2.2 million at auction in New York. That price, which included the buyer’s premium, was 10 times what the auction house, Sotheby’s, expected the bowl to fetch, and more than 700,000 times what the sellers had paid for it.

The consignors, whom Sotheby’s identified only as a family from New York State, had bought the bowl for a few dollars at a yard sale in 2007. It was displayed in their living room until they consulted Asian art experts and discovered that it was a thousand-year-old artifact from the Northern Song dynasty in China, an exquisite specimen of pale, thin-walled Ding pottery.

If it’s curious that this Chinese bowl escaped notice for so long, it’s an equal wonder that it finally came to light. For all of the object’s obvious beauty, nothing signaled its age or rarity to the untutored eye.

Bowls haven’t changed in any important way since the Song dynasty. In fact, they haven’t changed much since the Neolithic era, between 4,000 and 10,000 years ago, when people first began making receptacles by hollowing out wood and stone or molding and baking clay.

Before the bowl, cupped hands and folded leaves brought water to the lips. The new containers offered a place to hold the materials of community and ritual: food for sharing, incense for burning, water for irrigation, wine for sacrament, alms for the poor.

And yet, “we don’t talk about the bowl because it’s completely this everyday thing,” said Namita Gupta Wiggers, director and chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Ore. “We take it for granted. We know it too well.”

That so vital an article is routinely overlooked led Ms. Wiggers to organize an exhibition devoted to it. “Object Focus: The Bowl” opened earlier this month, displaying nearly 200 bowls, from a Tibetan singing bowl to a chrome ice bucket. The show, which is subtitled “Reflect + Respond,” will run through Aug. 3. A second part, “Engage + Use,” which involves artists’ performances, a bowl-lending library, a symposium and a collaboration with chefs, cookbook authors and bakers in Portland, will be held from May 16 through Sept. 21.

Speaking by phone from Portland, Ms. Wiggers said she was moved to think differently about the bowl after reading “The Language of Things,” a book by Deyan Sudjic, who directs the Design Museum in London. Mr. Sudjic wrote about the ways designers have transformed ordinary household objects into coded luxuries meant to raise the owner’s status and self-esteem. Such objects, as Ms. Wiggers interpreted it, include the table, lamp and chair. Consumers, she said, covet not just tables, but Noguchi tables; not just chairs, but Eames chairs; not just lamps, but Ingo Maurer lamps.

The bowl does not perform the same star turn in the object world, Ms. Wiggers believes, and she attributes its background role to its close connection with craft. Many magnificent bowls have been made by ceramic and glass artists working outside of mass-market commerce, detached from the publicity machinery that promotes recognition and value. She would like us to seek not just bowls, but Marguerite Wildenhain bowls and Lucie Rie bowls, to name just two esteemed artisans. At the same time, she would like us to respect the anonymous vernacular bowl that descends from generations of well-wrought tradition.

Another reason the bowl has been overlooked, Ms. Wiggers posits, is because it’s an accessory. Which is to say, it’s a supporting player in the narrative of other objects and their users. What else is to be expected from something defined largely by the void at its center and its ability to contain a near-infinite variety of things?

“When I talk to people about the bowl, it is always about something else,” Ms. Wiggers said. “It’s a metaphorical conversation about ritual, like in the tea ceremony, or about the fabrication process. It’s very hard to just talk about the bowl itself. We talk around the bowl.”


There is also a slideshow in the NYT of some 18 of the exhibits from the show., to see the near 50-submissions that have been posted thus far! Please encourage friends and colleagues to submit their bowl stories to:

More information about the Bowls programmes can be found here:



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3 responses to “Bowls

  1. Thanks for this wonderful article. I have always been drawn to bowls and containers and have a large pottery collection of humble but beautiful functional pieces. Recently it occurred to me that they all symbolise the sacred chalice, the heart of the divine feminine and that my response to them is deeper than I realised. Unconditional love, acceptance, holding, nurturing, receptivity, containment, passive and strong and beautiful – I love bowls!

  2. Amazing story of the bowl. Makes you want to rush and see whats lurking in the back of your cupboards.Always dreaming!

  3. Moyra

    Yes, a bowl can be so mundane yet hold so much metaphorically or any other way of speaking. When you think about it – all you need is a mid-sized, wide-mouthed bowl and that will do for everything you need to pass your lips.

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