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Left: Ah Xian, China China- Bust 35, 1999. (porcelain)
Center: Caroline Cheng, Prosperity, 2010. (burlap fabric, porcelain)
Right: Annabeth Rosen, Wave, 2012. (glazed ceramic, steel frame, baling wire)
Surrounding: Richard Saja, Behold: ELECTRICITY!, 2012. (cotton floss on printed cotton toile)
On display through July 14th, 2013, the MFA exhibit, New Blue and White, brings together contemporary artists from around the globe under a common theme. Each artist re-imagines a medium that has become ubiquitous within several disparate global cultures; the traditional use of cobalt and white pigments on porcelain. These inspirations come from Middle Eastern ceramics, Chinese Ming vases, Dutch delftware, or Blue Willow china from Britain and are a reminder that a global aesthetic zeitgeist is not a modern invention. In recent history the internet may have amplified our global connectivity, but as long as there has been a commodity aspect to art, there have been those who have profited from its global dissemination. As described in a recent Boston Globe article:
“More than 1,000 years ago, cobalt traveled from the Middle East to Asia, where it was used to make pigment applied to white clay. Eventually, Europeans visiting the East brought the pottery home, and Westerners began to replicate the process and make it their own. From there, they disseminated it to parts of the world they had colonized.”
The historically wide spread of this medium has created a ripple effect through cultures, and it serves as a deeply rooted origin of inspiration for contemporary artists throughout the world. In New Blue and White, these artists juxtapose this pervasive traditional form with modern craft. While some of the artists represented chose to carry these traditional colors over into entirely new forms (as the Rodarte sisters did with a dress in the exhibit), most instead remain within the ceramic tradition but inject it with an urgent post-modernity.
This exhibit is a reminder that no form of expression exists within a vacuum. Each new direction builds on steps taken previously and our art creates a map of our shared history. The meaning created by tapping into these monolithic and pervasive aesthetic memories is a powerful tool, the implications of which will be explored in upcoming posts.