Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gardiner Ceramics Museum - Go East, The Vase Project, Invited Invasion

There were several extremely interesting sounding exhibits at the Gardiner Ceramics Museum, so it was time to get another free Museum pass from the Toronto Public Libraries. We got to the Gardiner just in time for the free daily tour which concentrated on the current featured attraction.  These were two shows set side by side on the third floor, both related to Chinese pottery.

The first exhibit was called "Go East" and highlighted Canadian ceramicists who visited China and illustrated how their work was influenced by the art they saw there.  Paul Mathieu bought white porcelain vases in China and commissioned typical Chinese images of flowers, birds and landscape to be painted on them, using the traditional cobalt blue pigments.  He then had subversive and controversial photographs of the Tiananmen Square massacre superimposed on top, resulting in extremely striking conversation pieces.  Mathieu was surprised that the Chinese artists did not react to his request.  It is possible that through the control of information in China, they did not recognize the significance of these photos.

Originally from China but living part time in Canada, Jiansheng Li took a drawing of a crane and abstracted it by separating the head and neck from the body and the legs.  My favourite artist was Sin-Ying Ho who mixes East and West, old and new in her art.  One vase has an ancient Chinese dragon interlaced with pop culture images of Marilyn Monroe, Chairman Mao and the Mona Lisa.  Another of her work uses a Roman decorated earth technique to subtly inject modern North American corporate symbols such as McDonalds and CocaCola over a traditionally decorated blue and white vase.

The second exhibit was titled "The Vase Project" and was described as a pottery "chain letter".  The curator bought 101 similarly shaped white vases in the city of Jingdezhen. She took the first one to a Chinese artist and asked that it be painted with some landscape scene that should include a smoke stack, representing the factories and industry of that city.  She then took the first painted vase to the next artist and asked for a new painting using the first one as inspiration.  Then a third artist was presented with the second vase and so forth until all 101 vases were painted.

 The participants were purposely selected to range in age, gender, painting style, and even occupation.  While some were full time artists, other were factory workers who painted.  The results were diverse and stunning when they were all displayed together in one room.  On the wall, photos were posted of the artists holding their vase.  Not all the artists could be located to have their pictures taken, as some were seasonal workers and had moved on.  This highlighted the role of the "anonymous artist" in the Jingdezhen ceramics trade.  We were really taken with vase #90 which almost looked like a Manhattan skyline, and vase #85 which had smoke coming out of a train instead of a factory and then the train morphed into the Great Wall of China.

One final exhibit that we really enjoyed was called "Invited Invasion".  Artist Joanne Tod made modern interpretations of ceramics styles found throughout the first and second floor of the Gardiner Museum.  A plate with a painting of Brangelina, re-imaged as Adam and Eve figures, mimicked more traditional historic images.  A black and white drawing on a plate and teapot showing a modern day social interaction contrasted to a similar scene from centuries ago.  Dramatically painted tiles depict current day murders such as the Shafia family drownings in comparison to historic crime scenes.  It became a bit of a treasure hunt to find Tod's art nestled in between the regular collection.  In many cases, her work was so similar to the style she was emulating that you had to look twice to spot it.

After a fun day at the museum, we wanted a quick snack and decided to try out the new Museum Tavern across from the ROM.  What a great spot this turned out to be! The indoor decor features a cool antique cash register, but the real treat is sitting on the second floor outdoor patio on a nice autumn day.  The view of the ROM crystal, Philosopher's Walk and Korner Hall is just stunning.

There was a wide selection of snack foods including lobster rolls, tuna cones with avocado, cucumber, and spicy mayo, elk sliders, white fish tostadas, stuffed chicken wings and more.  We went for the lobster rolls and an order of french fries with homemade mayo.  Rich also ordered an "afternoon delight mimosa" that contained orange juice, pernod and anise.  The food was very good but not exactly cheap.  Most of the snacks were in the $12-18 range and the drinks were all $12.  We basically spent all the money we saved from the free museum admission.  But it was a lovely experience anyways.

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