By Dr. Heng Wu, AGGV Curator of Asian Art
Among the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s vast collections, one category that our audiences have always appreciated is ceramics, as demonstrated by the enthusiasm greeting the AGGV’s series of ceramic-themed exhibitions in the past. This local passion for ceramics was further fueled by an exhibition dedicated to a special group of blue-and-white ceramics. The exhibition Blue & White opened at the Gallery in January 2021 and, by popular demand, remained on view until May 2022. With objects drawn entirely from the AGGV collections, the exhibition told the story of blue-and-white porcelain from a global perspective. This exhibition showcased pieces not only from China, but also from other parts of the world, including Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Mexico, the UK, the Netherlands, and the Middle East. These cultures, which are geographically separate, all embraced the blue-and-white porcelains in their own ways, informing new blue-and-white pieces with their unique aesthetic traditions.
Blue-and-white porcelain was first manufactured in China. After its entry on the world stage in the late fourteenth century, it quickly swept the globe and became China’s signature porcelain. Local ceramicists in different parts of the world started to copy the porcelain making techniques seen in Chinese forms and patterns, making alterations and adding elements to suit their own needs and taste along the way — yielding a rich mix of new forms, new designs, and new practices. The global success subsequently stimulated appreciation of the Chinese blue-and-white aesthetic, and the imitations and innovations that unfolded across the globe promoted a converse effect — Chinese potters began absorbing elements from other cultures and adapting them to their own blue-and-white practices. What makes it more fascinating is that these innovations were not just bilateral between China and other countries, but a multilateral exchange, with each player in this global game borrowing from others while being borrowed from in turn. It is this global-local interplay that vitalizes blue-and-white porcelain and makes it a product that stands the test of time and place.
The exhibition was so well received that a catalogue was created and recently published by the AGGV with the aim to provide an alternative way to enjoy the themes throughout the exhibition. Readers will have more access to the AGGV’s blue-and-white porcelains as the catalogue also includes some objects that were on the original curatorial list but were not displayed in the exhibition due to limited gallery space. The book also features a list of works where detailed information on each object is provided, allowing the catalogue to serve as a reference book for ceramic lovers who are ready for a deep dive into the AGGV’s blue-and-white porcelain collection!
The next time that you visit the AGGV, stop by the Gallery Shop to pick up this beautiful hard cover catalogue. It makes for a great coffee table book and your guests won’t be able to resist picking it up and devouring the pages…it is truly a visual feast. You can also purchase the book online here.