Editor’s Miscellany: Porcelain Potential

March 14, 2013

By Kyle Hoepner

Not long ago I attended the opening reception for a new show at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, New Blue and White. If that title has you envisioning endless vitrines loaded with chaste knockoffs of Chinese export ware, I’m happy to say that’s far from what you’ll find when you visit.

Harumi Nakashima: Work 0808 (2008). Collection of Samuel and Gabrielle Lurie, New York. Photo by Geoff Spear, courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Pair of women’s shoes (2011), designed by Rodarte and produced by Nicholas Kirkwood. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Boym Partners: Still Life Table (2006), a found painting pasted onto a wooden table frame. Photo from boym.com

There is one work in evidence putting a new spin (literally) on your mother’s (and grandmother’s, and great-grandmother’s) ubiquitous Blue Willow, but the experience overall is a much more fun and searching exploration of cultural and historical resonances than jaded design mavens might have thought likely. Emily Zilber, the museum’s curator of contemporary decorative arts, has concocted a spirited assembly of some seventy objects by more than forty artists that wears its learning, and its politics, lightly.

Robert Dawson: Spin (2010). © Robert Dawson Aesthetic Sabotage. Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Blow Away (2009), designed for Moooi by Stockholm’s Front Design. Photo from moooi.com

Gésine Hackenberg: Delft Blue ‘Plooischotel’ Necklace (2012). © Gésine Hackenberg. Courtesy of Sienna Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Serious butts against silly, boundaries of style and medium dissolve in thought-provoking ways, and occasional handy cards provide references to apposite historical examples located in other galleries at the museum for comparison.

Felicity Aylieff: Five Storeys—Chinese Ladders II (2009). Courtesy of Adrian Sassoon, London, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Caroline Cheng: Prosperity (2010). Thousands of handmade porcelain butterflies sewn onto burlap. Collection of the artist; courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Pouran Jinchi: Prayer Stones 2 (2012). Courtesy of the artist and Art Projects International, New York, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Perhaps one of the most affecting pieces is And Then It Was Still II, by Philadelphia-based artist Giselle Hicks—gorgeous, wonderfully tactile, and somehow (to me, at least) extremely melancholy in the manner of a Victorian memento mori.

Giselle Hicks: And Then It Was Still II (2012). Photo from gisellehicks.com

If such sights inspire avarice, the commercial design world has in recent years produced other playful—and easily available—riffs on the same venerable traditions. I noted two in a post on this very blog back in the spring of 2011: Richard Ginori 1735’s “Blue Sponge” ware and the “Perfect Imperfect” collection from Pia Pasalk of Cologne-based Content & Container (to which she has since added “Blue Flow” and “Dots”).

“Blue Sponge” plates from Richard Ginori 1735. Photo from patternpulp.com

Content & Container’s “Perfect Imperfect” collection. Photo courtesy of Content & Container

Content & Container’s “Blue Flow” and “Dots.” Photo courtesy of Content & Container

Shopping locally (at Lekker in Boston’s South End) you’ll find “Blue Fluted Mega” porcelain dinnerware, Karen KjældgÃ¥rd-Larsen’s circa-2000 reinterpretation of Royal Copenhagen’s original 1775 “Blue Fluted” pattern.

“Blue Fluted Mega,” from Royal Copenhagen. Photo courtesy of Royal Copenhagen.

But for sheer brio and imagination, a trip to the MFA is the way to go. New Blue and White is on view in the Henry and Lois Foster Gallery from February 20 through July 14, 2013.

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