Published: January 20, 2004
The teapot has been called the most perfect of inventions. The emotional associations of the vessel are as potent as a strong brew. Friendly to use, warm to the touch, plump and comforting, the teapot forever dispenses cheer in our lives.
A teapot strategically placed in theatrical or movie scenes or as illustrations in magazines and advertisements, acts as an icon for home and hearth. For 500 years, the teapot has served as the spouted, steaming engine of hospitality.
“The Artful Teapot: Twentieth Century Expressions from the Kamm Collection,” on display February 1-May 30, at the Mint Museum of Craft and Design, explores the teapot as an inventive vehicle for artistic expression.
“The Artful Teapot” is an exhaustive romp of sometimes bewildering forms, ranging from the elegant Chinese Yixing teapot (where this wonderful, functional object was first invented) to the infinite possibilities of form, surface and glaze employed by the artists of the Twentieth Century in transforming the teapot into an inventive canvas for commentary on topics as diverse as politics, sex, dreams, religion, history, architecture, satire and angst-laden relationships.
The majority of the 250 teapots by more than 100 artists on display in “The Artful Teapot” are created by living artists, including leading craft luminaries as Richard Notkin, Betty Woodman, Adrian Saxe, Ralph Bacerra, Peter Shire, David Gilhooly and Michael Lucero. Many fine artists were commissioned by California collectors Sonny and Gloria Kamm to create many of the teapots. Others were selected from series designed by artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring and Cindy Sherman. Architects and designers are also represented by the likes of talent such as Christopher Dresser, Walter Gropius and Michael Graves. The anonymous folk potter and the outsider artists also have a place at this most eclectic table.
No surprise then, that teapots made from tin cans, ivory, rock salt, beads, coconuts and ostrich eggs compete for the viewer’s perceptual attention as strongly as teapots that solicit an aesthetic appreciation for the workmanship with traditional teapot materials such as ceramic, glass and metal.
“One of the great challenges for an artist is to make a great teapot,” stated guest curator Garth Clark. “It’s a matter of proportion, balance and function. You’ve got to be able to produce a main body balanced against two linear elements, the spout and handle. It sounds easy, but it’s actually quite a difficult thing to do, even more so it you’re going to do something distinctive and unique.”
“The Artful Teapot” carries on a dialogue with its own past and present and even does so through diverse cultural voices by artists Ettore Sottsass, Piet Stockmans, Ah Leon and Arman. The exhibition also features archival drawings, photographs, prints and a video that documents
“Timeless Teapots: Selections from the Mint Museum of Art Collection,” will be on display February 28-July 17 at the Mint Museum of Art on Randolph Road. The exhibition provides an historic and cultural background to the western practice of tea that began in Europe in the late Seventeenth Century. Featured will be 300 years of teapots from leading European potteries such as Meissen, Staffordshire and Wedgwood and leading American and North Carolina potteries and potters.
Barring the Nineteenth Century addition – the built-in sieve to hold back tea leaves, the basic teapot form has withstood the onslaughts of many designers intent on improving it, resisting five centuries of reinvention.
The Mint Museum of Craft + Design is located at 220 North Tryon Street. For information, www.mintmuseum.org or 704-337-2000.
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