AHEAD OF THE CURVE: new china from China
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
Contemporary Chinese art is relatively unfamiliar and this is one of the first opportunities to see fresh current work in Bristol. This show, touring from The Wilson in Cheltenham via Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and on to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent is a selection of work by 20 ceramic artists working in ceramics and glass. They are both established figures and recent graduates and cover a range of fields from fairly conventional pottery to conceptual and experimental forms. There is a strong thread running through much of the work rooted in the history of ceramics in China in which collaboration and team-working are important. This is reflected in pieces such as these by Wan Liya whose casts of commonplace plastic containers are delicately decorated in famille-rose floral designs outsourced to professional decorators. The glassmakers on the other hand have abandoned the vessel and convention in favour of cast and kiln-formed sculptural pieces. Guan Donghai’s dense and heavy City Gates combine references to early Chinese ceramics and cultural identity whilst carrying motifs and calligraphy taken from metal street furniture. Playing on the adaptability of meaning the character that signifies telecoms becomes honesty; meter becomes confession.
Amongst the ceramics, the work that I found most interesting was that of Wu Hao. Of all the pieces here, these were the least Chinese in feel. The tightness and precision of much of the other work has been abandoned in favour of a more Japanese/American looseness and sense of fun. They reminded me particularly of Goro Suzuki’s subversive take on traditional Japanese teawares. In that sense much of the work here whilst having a distinct Chinese voice reflects a strong awareness of international studio/sculptural ceramics since the 1970s. A particular interest in working with industrial processes and with industrial potters is something that has become increasingly explored and perhaps the Chinese are most able to take it on. Non-Chinese artists such as Takeshi Yasuda and Felicity Aylieff have been amongst many working with potteries in Jingdezhen in recent years.