By Gustavo Buenrostro
The technique, the symbolism and the trade of Chinese ceramics was talked about at the Vincent Price Museum’s lecture hall, Thursday night.
“The World of Chinese ceramics: An Introduction” lecture was hosted by Los Angeles County Museum of Art curator Stephen Little, who is the department head of Chinese and Korean art. He said that there are three aspects that he looks for when looking at ceramics.
The function and techniques, the symbolism and the Chinese trade of the ceramics. “Above all it is to incite people’s curiosity. It is a very rich subject that you can convey in a lecture. But, having it with an exhibition like this exposes students to something from a culture that in many ways is very alien and very different from our own culture in terms of worldview,” Little said.
Many of the ceramics have intricate designs, and most of those designs have a deeper meaning behind them. This was one of the talking points in the lecture. Little says the symbols are key to understanding Chinese culture.
This includes cosmology, religion, history and so forth. He focused on the symbol of the dragon, which had multiple meanings. A jar with dragons in the clouds from the Yuan Dynasty had a dragon circling the jar above clouds.
Little said that dragons represent importance and wealth. He also said, usually the only person in China to wear anything with dragons was the emperor. The dragons also represented balance, the yin and yang.
Little spoke of earthenware, stoneware and porcelain as the materials the Chinese would use to create the ceramics. Each ceramic usually has a glaze to it.
The Chinese would be able to control the color of the glaze by controlling the atmosphere it was created it in. The secret to controlling the environment for the ceramics was the kiln. The ceramics in the exhibit were created from 2,500 B.C. to the 19th century and range from vases, mugs, plates, pots and sculptures.
“They were all gifts, mostly from private collectors in Los Angeles. A couple of them were bought but we don’t have a lot of money to buy things, so our museum is mostly made up of gifts and of bequest of dying people, they leave them to us [LACMA] in their will,” Little said. Little also spoke about the Chinese trade of the ceramics. He said that ceramics made of porcelain had great value outside of China.
The Dutch saw Chinese ceramics as a sign of wealth in the 1800s. VPAM and LACMA will continue to work together throughout the run of the exhibition. There will be workshops at the end of each month focusing on one aspect of ceramics.
On March 25, from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., the workshop will focus on the symbolism of the ceramics. People who attend the workshops will learn about and create ceramics. The workshops will be free and open to the public.
This is the first partnership between LACMA and VPAM. “The relationship started with Pilar the director (of VPAM). She worked for LACMA and when she came here, it was an ideal opportunity to make the collection accessible to the East side of downtown.” LACMA community engagement manager Marvella Muro said.
Muro said they are working with the Maravilla housing project to get people to visit VPAM and the Maravilla community center and organize bus trips to LACMA. “The goal is to make people aware of Vincent Price, within this community and make LACMA’s collection more accessible to reach a wider audience,” Muro said.