Porcelain: Breaking Tradition

Laurent Craste, Pierre Durette, Nicholas Galanin, Sarah Garzoni, David R. Harper, Martin Klimas, Alex McLeod, François Morelli, Clint Neufeld, Marie Côté & Olivier Girouard, Greg Payce, Amélie Proulx, Anne Ramsden, Stephen Schofield, Brendan Tang, Colleen Wolstenholme

Works in the exhibition

A Traveling Exhibition Organized by Art Mûr Gallery, Montreal

Text by Anaïs Castro

Already in the first few decades of the 20th century, avant-garde artists started to question the divide between crafts and so-called fine arts. They began to recuperate a wide range of techniques and mediums that drastically changed the disciplines of painting and sculpture. Picasso’s use of paper gave way to collages, while Duchamp’s repurposing of daily objects into readymades revolutionized how we understood sculpture.

The artists included in this exhibition manipulate ceramics – a medium traditionally associated with craft— with great intelligence. By joining it to current technologies and relevant concepts and ideas, they succeed in positioning it within contemporary art paradigms. While today some art schools across North America are getting rid of their ceramics programs, Porcelain: Breaking Tradition aims to shed light on this medium’s inexhaustible potential.

Testifying to a long history associated with early examples of international trade between Asia and Europe, clay offers to contemporary artists a wide range of connotations associated with its cultural significance. Some find in its properties a myriad of inventive and creative ways to address a wide variety of other subjects: from native people’s struggles to society’s overconsumption, and even gender stereotypes. Many artists draw on the traditions of porcelain to address the conflicted relationship between craftsmanship and a world increasingly modulated by technology. Brendan Tang’s work, amongst others, observes the historical human need to imagine and bring fantastic ideas into reality and new media used to achieve this.

By joining ceramic sculptures to photography, video and even sound installations, Porcelain: Breaking Tradition offers an exploration of ceramics as medium, but also of the increased sophistication of its symbolic value. Whether in Martin Klimas’ tumultuous images that capture elusive moments made visible through the use of photography, in Amélie Proulx’s kinetic sculptures or in Laurent Craste’s tragicomic vases, many artists included address the transient state of things for which ceramics is the ideal metaphor. Before being fired, clay is soft and if kept moist, it can be modeled indefinitely. When fired, clay comes to be irreversibly stable and permanent, but in its new state as ceramics, it also becomes vulnerable and fragile.

Through its content and various shapes, materials, and images, this exhibition vividly demonstrates the contradictory and complementary forces that shape our perception of what porcelain is, and what it can be. The selection of artists and artwork is far from being all-compassing, but it nevertheless offers a non-exhaustive demonstration of the versatility of a medium used for millennia.