The Reshaped: Ceramics Through Time auction on 21 May at Christie’s London celebrates the versatility of ceramics as a medium from ancient times through to the 21st century. ‘By juxtaposing works that were produced in very different contexts and eras, we hope to spark new visual conversations and showcase the cross-fertilisation of ideas through time,’ explains Dominic Simpson, Head of the European Ceramics department at Christie’s London.
This innovative approach sees objects from antiquity and the Italian Renaissance sit alongside works from Japan and China, as well as those from 17th- and 18th-century Europe, for the first time. ‘It has been so interesting discovering some of the unexpected similarities, influences and connections between many of the objects in this sale,’ says the specialist. ‘We hope our vision will encourage collectors to look at these objects afresh.’
One such connection can be drawn between an 18-armed figure of the bodhisattva Guanyin, dating to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), and Enrique Perezalba Red’s Weeping Deity (2016), a glazed semi-porcelain figure of Mickey Mouse, with head tilted back and hands covering the face.
‘With its milky-white colour, beautifully carved drapery and decorative detailing on the base, this figure owes a very heavy debt to blanc-de-chine pieces — specifically, Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion,’ says the specialist of Perezalba’s piece. The artist, however, deflects the typical serenity of Guanyin by depicting Mickey in a posture typically associated in Western cultures with shame or embarrassment. The artist is playing with ideas and images outside of their original context.
Parallels that span more than 250 years can also be drawn between a Chelsea porcelain teapot, dating to circa 1750, and a Bouke de Vries Deconstructed teapot with butterflies from 2017. De Vries’s contemporary ‘exploding’ teapot is actually formed from Chinese porcelain dated to the Qianlong period (1711-1799), whereas the Chelsea teapot is composed of European porcelain painted in London in the Chinese Export style.
According to the specialist, the multiple cultural layers of both works encapsulate the ways in which designs can be reshaped through time.
There are also striking similarities between an early 19th-century English earthenware slipware dish and Michelle Erickson’s Potter’s Field (circa 2011). In this installation Erickson employs her knowledge of early Staffordshire reverse slipware techniques to produce six skeletal earthenware dishes. For this work, explains the specialist, she used the 18th-century open trailing method to delineate bones in black and white as two sides of the same figure.
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‘There are a great deal more connections in the sale,’ says Simpson. ‘Putting pieces opposite each other has demonstrated these connections in such a powerful and enlightening way. We really hope it will inspire collectors to see these works with different eyes.’