China’s White Gold

China’s White Gold:
Contemporary Porcelain from Jingdezhen

To mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, The Fitzwilliam Museum is showcasing the first major exhibition in this country of more than 80 works created in Jingdezhen, China, by over 50 contemporary ceramicists. Comprising technically brilliant works ranging from the traditional to the avant-garde, the exhibition explores Jingdezhen’s legacy, and looks at what it means for artists working there today.

I found this exhibition to be a bit of a curate’s egg. The most interesting  and effective pieces were those which acknowledged the enormously important historical tradititions of Chinese porcelain, but managed to create something contemporary which explores current social, political and economic issues in China today.

I was less convinced by Felicity Aylieff’s monumental pots. A residency at  Jingdezhen enabled her to develop the idea of making traditional Chinese vases several metres high. They are technically accomplished but, other than being very large, what do they actually say? I really hate to say it, but, seeing them towering over the other (Chinese) potters’ work, it almost felt like cultural colonialism…

A picture of a tall vase with red and blue paint on a white background painted on it

Other works in the exhibition which I felt were less successful were the facsimiles of ancient Chinese porcelain. Placed side by side with their noble ancestors only served to show how how much has now been lost in terms of skill and technique.

It was a mildly diverting show for anyone interested in ceramics but it had an air of an international trade fair – I imagine the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute (described by the Fitswilliam as a ‘partner’) put down a hefty amount of finance and were therefore able to dictate terms. The amount of wall text was a little overwhelming and dwelt too heavily on the history and processes of making porcelain. I think that an exhibition which purports to be looking to the future of contemporary ceramics in China should have placed more emphasis on new and innovative work. It would have been good to have learned more about the potters’ own practice, but the artist statements provided were patchy in quality and gave scant information.

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