Harumi Nakashima, “Forms that Enclose the Absurd-1213,” 2012. Hand-built porcelain with blue in-glaze. Courtesy of the artist and Yufuku Gallery, Japan. Photograph by Tatsuo Hayashi. © Harumi Nakashima
Harumi Nakashima, “Forms that Enclose the Absurd-1213,” 2012. Hand-built porcelain with blue in-glaze. Courtesy of the artist and Yufuku Gallery, Japan. Photograph by Tatsuo Hayashi. © Harumi Nakashima

PASADENA — “Reshaping Tradition: Contemporary Ceramics from East Asia” opens Friday, Sept. 11, and runs through Jan. 31, 2016 at the USC Pacific Asia Museum, 46 N. Los Robles Ave. in Pasadena.

The exhibition traces some of the most innovative and extraordinary developments that have reshaped ceramic practice, through works by seven prestigious artists: Ai Weiwei, Ah Xian, Ikjoong Kang, Bui Cong Khanh, Liu Jianhua, Harumi Nakashima and Yeesookyung.

The range and depth of the ceramic tradition in East Asia has been appreciated by many over the course of millennia. The featured artists continue to explore clay and have achieved stunningly diverse works that touch upon issues such as personal, global, political, and aesthetic through their unique perspectives.

Juxtaposed with select examples of significant ceramics tradition in East Asia from the museum’s permanent collection, the contemporary works illustrate how artists can use tradition as a springboard for countless innovations, creating works that speak to contemporary audiences.

Curated by Yeonsoo Chee, USC PAM assistant curator, the exhibition will be located in the Focus and Changing Exhibitions galleries, and will include approximately 30 objects, of which 21 will be contemporary works and 10 will be pre-modern works, with all objects being ceramic except for two 2-D works.

“USC Pacific Asia Museum has a long history of presenting artists living in Asia and the Pacific Islands to audiences in Southern California,” says Museum Director Christina Yu Yu, Ph.D., “‘Reshaping Tradition’ continues this mission by showcasing the continuity and creativity of art and culture from those regions.”

“This exhibition introduces the infinite possibilities inspired by the ceramic tradition,” states Chee, “and by looking at these contemporary works alongside earlier objects, the visitor will gain wider perspective on the great diversity of contemporary Asian ceramics.”

Born in Beijing, Ai Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary artist and activist. The “Colored Vases” series is a pivotal piece in his iconoclastic oeuvre. Ai dipped earthenware vases into buckets of industrial paint and then let them drip dry. By covering the surfaces with new paint, what is underneath — like history itself — is “no longer visible, but is still there.” Through the medium of ceramics, Ai created metaphors suggesting the overpowering of Chinese history and tradition by Western consumer culture.

Taking inspiration from this widely recognized tradition, Harumi Nakashima creates free-form ceramic sculptures that employ a design vocabulary borrowed from blue-and-white ware. Nakashima’s hand-built organic yet psychedelic ceramic sculpture, with his iconic blue-and-white dot decorations, tackles diverse issues, ranging from cross-cultural interchange to the aesthetics and functionality of ceramics.

Born in Korea, Ik-joong Kang reinterprets the moon jar of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) with his unique understanding of the vessel using a variety of materials. His installations and exhibitions employ differentiated images of a porcelain moon jar on paper or on panel, often juxtaposed with his contemporary interpretations of multiple moon jars, transforming the familiar and iconic Korean art object. His work also embodies layers of poignant associations from the artist’s own life and engages the viewers to visualize their own reveries.

Best known for her “Translated Vases” series, Yeesookyung examines Korean ceramics from both historical and contemporary perspectives. Yee intuitively works with shards of porcelain and celadon pots produced by contemporary masters. She combines these shards with epoxy then traces the seams with 24-karat gold leaf. Despite their fractured structures, the resulting forms are organic and lyrical, with a precarious sense of balance, radically departing from the original ceramic vessels.

Trained as an oil painter, Bui Cong Khanh incorporates visual images addressing history and contemporary society in Vietnam and the impact that global capital is having upon it onto his ceramic works. His blue-and-white porcelain vases, which reference both traditional and contemporary culture, combine the dichotomy of the fast changing society of his country. Khanh’s vases address what he calls “the character of the present,” the sounds and sights of daily life. In his work, traditional forms interplay with symbols of quotidian life, encased in classic Vietnamese ornamentation. The artist will be present for Conversations@PAM on Nov. 21 with prominent art historians and curators in the field.

China-born Ah Xian sought his political asylum in Australia following the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989. Reflecting his complex life experience, the artist explores the relationship between artistic tradition and cultural context by combining the two most common media, sculpture and painting. He borrows the sculptural form of the bust, a long-standing portraiture tradition in the West and decorates the surface using designs derived from the Chinese porcelain tradition. His series is both art historical and personal as it delves into the issue of his cultural identity as a Chinese artist working in Australia.

Trained in the Fine Arts Department of Jingdezhen Pottery and Porcelain College,

Liu Jianhua examines the thematic overlap of contemporary art with traditional Chinese aesthetics in his ceramic installations. He avoids cultural and sociological interpretations of the Chinese ceramic tradition and focuses on delivering a new visual experience — what he refers to as “quiet aesthetics.” The artist will be present for the exhibition installation and opening.

Hidaka Tetsuo (1791-1871), “Orchids and Rocks,” Japan, Edo period (1603-1868); 1852. Hanging scroll: Ink on silk. Anonymous loan.
Hidaka Tetsuo (1791-1871), “Orchids and Rocks,” Japan, Edo period (1603-1868); 1852. Hanging scroll: Ink on silk. Anonymous loan.

Japanese Artists, Chinese-Inspired Landscapes

“The View from a Scholar’s Studio: Japanese Literati Paintings from Tiezudingzhai Collection” is now on view at the museum’s Frank and Toshie Mosher Gallery of Japanese Art. Part 1 ends Sunday, Sept. 13, followed by Part 2 from Wednesday, Sept. 23, to Jan. 17, 2016 and Part 3 from Jan. 27 to May 15, 2016.

Literati culture (the ideal of the scholar-gentleman) provides a thread connecting East Asia. Developed in China by the 11th century as a kind of “alternative” way of life and expression, arguably this is a culture of shared individualism. Visually, it is manifest through expressive brushwork in painting and poetry. As spaces of creation across time, picture-and-poem scrolls connect with — and comment on — past and present.

In Japan, where Chinese culture was often “misunderstood” or willfully adapted, the work of China-oriented intellectuals had diverse implications. The literatus (bunjin) possessed rarified knowledge and thereby sophistication. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, literati painting (bunjinga) might implicitly critique the government, whose authority rested on orthodox ideas of Chinese art. For establishment artists, it demonstrated the government’s cultural breadth.

From the founding of the Meiji era in 1868 through World War II, the expansion of the Empire of Japan meant the contraction of imperial China. Thus, literati painting could demonstrate Japan’s hegemony over continental culture, or a common East Asian civilization. With its emphasis on self-expression and physical gesture, literati painting also functioned as a kind of “Oriental modern.”

Scholar-gentlemen often acquired old and new paintings. They copied paintings and also studied painting history, even debating the role of Chinese-oriented painting in shaping national identity. As collectors, literati ensured the circulation of objects and created art markets. They also fostered public display of art, first in casual viewings by like-minded men, then, from the late 19th century, in formal museum exhibitions.

This exhibition participates in the literati cultures of collection, study and display. It presents Japanese paintings from the private Tiezudingzhai Collection, complemented by works from the USC PAM collection. In three rotations, it explores how Japanese artists engaged with Chinese-inspired landscape and bird-and-flower subjects over 200 years. The exhibition is curated by Dr. Kendall H. Brown, professor of Asian art history at CSU Long Beach.


Admission is $10 general, $7 for students with valid ID and seniors (60+), free for children 12 and under and all museum members, USC faculty, staff and students with current ID. Free for all visitors on the second Sunday of the month.

Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

For more information, call (626) 449-2742 or visit www.pacificasiamuseum.org.

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