East Asian Pottery: Past to Present

The Queensland Art Gallery’s collection of East Asian pottery is small, but shows the development of the form from its crude beginnings into the post-modern realm of conceptual art.

The oldest pieces in the collection, Japanese and Chinese pottery and earthenware from 3500-2000BC, show the beginnings of pottery as a functional, sturdy craft, crudely decorated and used for storage and cookery.

These ancient pieces, while displaying a rugged beauty, are sharply contrasted with later pieces from Korea where aesthetics have begun to dictate the form to a higher degree.

While these ceramic pieces from the Silla, Goryea and Joseon dynasties are more delicate and intricately carved, they are still essentially practical, but as the collection enters the 21st century we see the form being used to express ideas, ask questions and examine problems.

The historical and cultural importance of Chinese porcelain is demonstrated by several pieces in the exhibition, beginning with Liu Jian Hua’s 2002 piece, Obsessive Memories.

Consisting of a pair of empty dresses reclining on a modern couch, this piece questions the traditional value of porcelain by portraying it as outwardly beautiful but essentially hollow and valueless.

Similarly, Sara Tse’s Trans/form no.9.1, a pair of flimsy, disposable socks cast in porcelain, sees a medium with a proud cultural tradition usually associated with permanency, beauty and high culture brought down to the level of the mundane and everyday.

Finally, Ni Hai Feng’s extensive 2005 work Of the Departure and the Arrival examines the history of porcelain export, and particularly the cultural and economic interaction between China and Netherlands that came from its trade.

The artist brought everyday objects including kettles, handbags and phones from Holland back to China to cast them in porcelain and then painted them in the Dutch style of Delftware, which was itself originally co-opted from Chinese aesthetic traditions.

With this focus on the interaction between the past and the present it is fitting that the most modern piece is also, paradoxically, one of the oldest.

In the 2006 Painted Vases, Ai Wei Wei has taken vases from the neolithic period and crudely painted over them with brightly coloured synthetic polymer paint.

While some may consider this a serious act of historical vandalism, the artist points out that the work is “powerful only because someone thinks it’s powerful, and invests value in the object.”

It’s an idea that seems to inform much of the modern works on display, which all examine the history of the form and its influence on culture, economics, and everyday life.

The East Asian pottery exhibits are on permanent display in the Queensland Art Gallery’s Asian Room.

Leave A Comment

News by Email