ad info


Asiaweek TIMEASIA.com CNN.com
 > magazine
 home
 intelligence
 web features
 magazine archive
 technology
 newsmap
 customer service
 subscribe
 TIMEASIA.COM
 CNN.COM
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia
  australasia
 BUSINESS
 SPORTS
 SHOWBIZ
 ASIA WEATHER
 ASIA TRAVEL

Other News
TIME.com
TIME Europe
FORTUNE.com
FORTUNE China
MONEY.com
Asiaweek Services
Contact Asiaweek
About Asiaweek
Media Kit
Get up to 3 months of Asiaweek free when you subscribe online!


DECEMBER 1 , 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 47 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK


David G. McIntyre - Black Star for Asiaweek.
Chen Guanghui's chairs are decidedly non-functional.

Classic Change
Tradition bows to the avant-garde in an exhibition of cutting-edge Chinese pottery
By MARIA CHENG

The problem with tradition is that it is by definition dated. And restrictive. "I couldn't express what I was really thinking and feeling," explains Chen Guanghui, a Shanghai-based ceramic artist. Chen, 30, set aside his strict classical training, based on techniques developed as far back as the Tang dynasty, and moved into the realm of the avant-garde. He now creates large, clunky and very non-functional chairs that he believes meld the greatness of ancient Chinese ruins with the modernity of the information age.

Chen and four like-minded Chinese artists, all seeking a new ceramic perspective, are part of "Looking Back/ Forward," a two-week exhibition at Hong Kong's Pottery Workshop. Curator Caroline Cheng says mainlanders started experimenting with techniques from the West only two decades ago. "The attitude in China tends to be, 'we have 5,000 years of history here, so why do we need to look outside?'" Cheng says. In fact, so contemptuous were Chinese ceramists of work modified for European tastes in the 17th century that they rarely bothered to sign their pieces.

While respectful of traditional forms, Cheng also believes that China's ceramics scene could stand some outside influence. "The technological innovations from the West — like glazing and firing advances — could really change how Chinese artists even think of art," she says. "Western studio pottery makes a lot more possible." She chose the five artists, all of whom deliberately blur the line between East and West, because they have all begun to transcend those traditional limits to create exciting new forms of a classic medium. In creating pieces far removed from their training, they also have scorned the customary piecework of Chinese pottery. Not for them a series of master craftsmen presiding over each of the various stages of the craft: molding, firing, glazing. Chen and his colleagues just do it. All of it.

Zhou Wu professes a great admiration for ancient forms — hardly surprising given that the Zhejiang native grew up in the heart of China's renowned celadon region of Longquan. But Zhou, a lecturer and director of the Ceramic Art Center at the China National Academy of Arts, bridles at traditional demands for constant perfection. The slight crookedness and smudges on his vessels, he insists, are not mistakes. "These marks are like a record of the art process," the 36-year-old says. "If something always has smooth, trim lines, it usually has no energy." Zhou's almost corrugated pots exude a quiet vibrancy without abandoning the more established forms of functional pottery.

Chen Guanghui has moved beyond even those limits. Yet the Beijing-born lecturer in ceramics at Shanghai University still invests his chairs with decorative swirls of Chinese calligraphy, affirming his Chinese heritage. "Chairs are often a symbol of power in Chinese society," he says. "I didn't intend to produce something specifically Chinese. But I can't get away from being Chinese." Adds curator Cheng: "Chen's work is definitely an exception in modern Chinese pottery. His chairs are very modern, but they still have a kind of Ming dynasty feel."

Lu Bin's "fossilized" objects are also have a modern but ancient feel to them. An independent studio artist based in Shenzhen, the Nanjing-born Lu, 39, creates wry representations of tools for daily life — from name blocks to fish. His free-form fossil pieces hark back to pre-historic times, and only the odd Chinese character gives away their origin. Still, after Lu completes one of his fish studies, for which he uses a clay casing, he usually eats the model. "I'm not sure it's safe," says a surprised Cheng. "But he insists on it."

The other artists in the show, Bai Lei and Huang Chun Mao, also insist on marching to their own drummer. Bai, 37, once restored antique pots in Suzhou's archaeological collection. Now the Suzhou University lecturer creates abstract stoneware based on modern feelings. Huang, 28, from Jiangxi, concentrates on large figurative works shaped like clothing. "In my artistic language I am always looking backward, hoping to break new ground," he says. It's a language fast gaining currency.

Back to the top

Write to Asiaweek at mail@web.asiaweek.com

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek.com Home

AsiaNow


Quick Scroll: More stories from Asiaweek, TIME and CNN

   LATEST HEADLINES:

WASHINGTON
U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

MANILA
Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

ALLAHABAD
Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

COLOMBO
Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

TOKYO
Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

BANGKOK
Thai party announces first coalition partner



TIME:

COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state



ASIAWEEK:

COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness


Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN
 Search
  ASIAWEEK'S LATEST
Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?


  THIS EDITION

COVER STORY
DoCoMo: Japan's leading mobile phone company is taking its popular i-mode technology global

Bandwidth: Boom With new undersea cables criss-crossing the region, ain't seen nothing yet in Asia

China: A turf war among major telecom players is looming in the world's second-largest mobile market

THE NATIONS
TAIWAN: Political intrigue is behind a sex scandal that's adding to the pressure on President Chen

JAPAN: Rebel wannabe Kato Koichi self-destructed, but his war to oust PM Mori shook the LDP

SINGAPORE: The government is once again urging Singaporeans to procreate. But success breeds selfishness

BUSINESS
Training: Is a low-skilled workforce costing Thailand precious foreign direct investment?

Investing: As Asian democracy evolves, money managers in the region learn new lessons

ARTS & SCIENCE

Medicine: Fed up with medical blunders, Japanese patients fight for greater accountability from doctors and hospitals

Ceramics: Tradition takes a back seat as China's cutting edge potters strut their stuff in Hong Kong


Editorial: A growing digital divide is threatening the region's prosperity. Bridging it requires some basic investments

Letters & Comment: Not just the elite oppose Estrada

Looking Back: The prisoner of Sentosa

STATISTICS
The Bottom Line: Asiaweek's ranking of world economies

Back to the top   © 2000 Asiaweek. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.