This winter, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery visitors will be treated to an enchanting exhibition of contemporary ceramics and glass created by 20 Chinese artists.
The free exhibition runs until Sunday 1 March, showcasing a breadth of works by both young and established artists, most of whom have not been shown in the UK before.
Many of the artists have a connection with the city of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province, where porcelain has been made for over ten centuries. The city housed the imperial kilns which produced thousands of the finest porcelain wares for Chinese emperors and their households. More than half of the works in ‘Ahead of the Curve: new china from China’ were made in Jingdezhen , renowned for its high quality raw materials and the skills of local craftspeople.
Vivienne Bennett, Interim Head of Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives, said:
“I am delighted to see this ambitious project come to fruition. The exhibition is a great example of what collaborative working can achieve. We hope to build on those contacts in China and the UK to develop other innovative projects in the future to showcase new work for new audiences.”
Highlight works include ‘Clones – Position’, an unsettling stack of porcelain cloned babies by Xu Hongbo and ‘Dreamers’ by Shao Changzong, an engaging group of figures who communicate only through their eyes. The work of some artists show influences from outside the Chinese tradition such as Wu Hao’s ‘Drunk Pot’ which recalls Japanese design with its orange and gilt décor.
Other works use traditional Chinese techniques to comment on changes in contemporary society such as ‘Birds’ Twitter and Fragrance of Flowers’, Wan Liya’s porcelain versions of toilet cleaner bottles and other industrial products covered in delicate imperial-style floral designs and poetry.
The glass art in the exhibition offers a taste of the new Chinese glass scene that has only recently emerged following the establishment of the first studio glass departments in Chinese universities in 2000. Works include Guan Donghai’s imposing ‘Gate Series’ inspired by the entrances to walled Chinese cities of the Han Dynasty (221 BC – AD 220) and ethereal wing sculptures ‘Angel is Waiting’ by Shelly Xue.
The exhibition is accompanied by an ambitious programme of curator-led tours and study sessions, and a programme of workshops and tours for schools, colleges and community groups including events for Chinese New Year on 21 and 22 February.
As well as exploring the themes and techniques in the exhibition, the programme will encourage visitors to take a fresh look at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery’s world-class collection of historic Chinese ceramics and glass, allowing them to compare and contrast the ancient and modern.
The exhibition text will be presented in Chinese as well as English and will be accompanied by a full-colour catalogue in both languages (£10.95). A range of exclusive ceramic merchandise has been sourced directly from Jingdezhen for the exhibition and is available in the giftshop including hand-painted tea sets and porcelain jewellery.
To bring this innovative exhibition to the UK, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery worked with The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery; The Wilson; Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum, curator Helen Brown; and Two Cities Gallery in Shanghai.