From Chicago art to Chinese ceramics, Krannert Art Museum tells stories through its collections

An exhibition at Krannert Art Museum featuring art from Chicago includes a collage and watercolor painting, “Street Smarts II,” by University of Illinois alumnus Allen Stringfellow. The museum’s fall exhibitions also highlight blue and white ceramics from its collection, including Chinese porcelain from the Ming Dynasty. Courtesy Krannert Art Museum

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Two collections-based exhibitions at Krannert Art Museum show the depth and breadth of holdings of blue and white ceramics and of Chicago art at the University of Illinois. The objects on display tell a range of stories – from the diverse art scene of 20th-century Chicago to the enduring global fascination with Chinese ceramics.

Blue and White Ceramics: An Enduring Global Obsession” centers on Chinese blue and white porcelain, as well as ceramic-making traditions from around the world, including Dutch Delftware, Turkish Iznik tiles and mass-produced English transfer-printed ceramics, all of which took inspiration from Chinese wares. The objects on view range from Ming Dynasty porcelain to contemporary transferware and earthenware, highlighting more than six centuries of ceramicists’ responses to Chinese methods, decorative patterns and forms.

A 17th-century earthenware charger by Cornelis Albrechtz Keyser is one of the blue and white ceramics pieces in Krannert Art Museum’s collection on view in the exhibition “Blue and White Ceramics: An Enduring Global Obsession.”
Courtesy Krannert Art Museum

The exhibition tells stories of global exchange, artistic emulation and shared aesthetics, and gives the public an opportunity to see some exceptionally beautiful objects from the KAM collection.

“Chinese blue and white porcelain was a particularly fine product that is collected, admired and imitated around the world. It’s never gone out of fashion,” said Maureen Warren, the curator of European and American art. “Until the early 18th century, the knowledge to produce porcelain was a closely guarded secret.”

Chinese porcelain is produced by firing a refined type of clay at high temperatures until it is vitreous, or glass-like. The result is a ceramic that is both strong and thin, to the point of being semitranslucent. It can withstand boiling water without cracking, making it ideal for preparing tea. As tea became more affordable, it further increased the demand for porcelain in Europe.

“Europeans had seen nothing like Chinese hard porcelain,” Warren said, adding there was a wide technological gap between the methods the Chinese used to produce porcelain and those the Europeans used to produce other types of ceramics.

“This explains why the nobility wanted it,” she said. “Once they encountered Chinese ceramics through trade, porcelain very quickly became a marker of prestige and status. The wealthiest people wanted to display it in their homes.”

A Royal Lily pattern coffee cup and saucer is part of Krannert Art Museum’s blue and white ceramics collection. The cup and saucer were made in the late 18th century by Royal Worcester, one of the oldest companies producing porcelain in England.
Courtesy Krannert Art Museum

In the quest to create similar porcelain products, Europeans produced fine ceramicware that melded with their own artistic traditions, such as Delftware in the Netherlands, Warren said. When the supply of Chinese porcelain declined in the late Ming Dynasty, Dutch potters in the early 17th century imitated Chinese patterns and forms to meet the ever-increasing demand for blue and white ceramics.

Another successful tradition that owes much to Chinese porcelain is English transferware, which are mass-produced, decal-printed ceramics that were purchased by middle-class customers in Europe, the United States and Southeast Asia, Warren said. The exhibition features a range of transferware with images of exotic or imagined landscapes. Also on view are a variety of vessels for serving and storing coffee, tea and tobacco, which were imported luxuries for consumers in the 17th and 18th centuries. The exhibition also includes contemporary ceramics, such as the porcelain “mineral bottles” in the shape of disposable plastic water bottles by Huang Yan, which are transfer-printed with floral designs inspired by hand-painted wares of the Ming Dynasty.

Between the Buildings: Art From Chicago” looks at works from two groups of artists from the so-called Chicago School, while also considering the stories of other significant artists working in the city during that time.

“The Sphinx,” a 1954 painting by Leon Golub, is an example of the work of the Monster Roster artists of Chicago. Their work often portrayed in muted colors images from classical mythology or ancient art.
Courtesy Krannert Art Museum

The Chicago School, comprised of the Monster Roster and the Imagists, was a narrative crafted by art critics who wanted to portray the figural work coming out of Chicago as being as important as New York abstract expressionism. The Monster Roster was made up of several artists in the 1950s who had served during World War II and subsequently attended art school on the GI Bill. Their expressive and psychological work often referred to classical mythology and ancient art, said Krannert Art Museum assistant curator Kathryn Koca Polite.

The Imagists exhibited together at the Hyde Park Art Center in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their highly personal works were greatly affected by images of popular culture. “They also shared incredible technical skill, specifically drawing – an attention to line,” Koca Polite said.

Twentieth-century Chicago art also included a variety of artists, styles and subject matter that don’t fit neatly into either of the categories of the Chicago School, she said.

“You can’t understand Chicago art during this time just through the Monster Roster or just through the Imagists. There’s so much more,” Koca Polite said. “The exhibition questions these conventional categories of art in Chicago and reveals a much more complicated narrative.”

“Between the Buildings” includes works engaging with U.S. history, including images dealing with issues of race, identity and the anti-war movement of the 1960s. A print by Charles White – highlighted in a retrospective that just closed at the Art Institute of Chicago – uses the style of pre-Civil War posters marketing slaves to question whether the unjust treatment of African-Americans has ended.

Editor’s note: More information about the exhibitions can be found online or by contacting Julia Nucci Kelly at jkell@illinois.edu.

Source: Illinois NEWS BUREAU

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From Chicago art to Chinese ceramics, Krannert Art Museum tells stories through its collections
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From Chicago art to Chinese ceramics, Krannert Art Museum tells stories through its collections
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Two collections-based exhibitions at Krannert Art Museum show the depth and breadth of holdings of blue and white ceramics and of Chicago art at the University of Illinois. The objects on display tell a range of stories – from the diverse art scene of 20th-century Chicago to the enduring global fascination with Chinese ceramics.