Meredith Martin: “Porcelain Rooms from Amalia von Solms to Arlene Shechet”

Meredith Martin: “Porcelain Rooms from Amalia von Solms to Arlene Shechet”


(audience chatting) – Hello. Thank you all for being here tonight. I am Charlotte Vignon, the
curator of Decorative Arts here at The Frick Collection. And I am very, very excited
to introduce a speaker with particularly relevant
to this exhibition now on view in our particular gallery, Porcelain, No Simple Matter, Arlene Shechet and the Arnhold Collection Meredith holds a special
place in this story behind this show in more than one way. In fact, porcelain really
is not a simple matter. And while I was wondering
how I could exhibit, once again at The Frick Collection, the renowned collection
of Meissen Porcelain assembled by Henry Arnhold, I
turned to Meredith for advice. It was thanks to her
that the idea of mixing historic porcelain and contemporary works was first brought forward, and it was her who suggested
the name of Arlene Shechet, and then put me in touch with her. So I would like to think of Meredith a little bit as the god
mother of this show, and I thank you for that. Meredith has also been a long time friend and a brilliant scholar. Today, she will delight us with a lecture on porcelain rooms, which examine the concept of
this porcelain room from its inception in European 17th century, society to it’s modern day interactions, and in a way the exhibition right now at the Frick is a very good example. Meredith is presently associate
professor of art history at New York University and
the Institute of Fine Arts, after having taught for several
years at Wesley College. A specialist of 18th century art, she has published widely on architecture, material culture, landscape
design, from this period. In particular, she is the
author of Dairy Queens, The Politics of Pastoral Architecture from Catherine de’ Medici
to Marie-Antoinette, which is published by
Harvard University Press. That was published in 2011. And this acclaimed book was
based on her PhD dissertation, also from Harvard University. Meredith is currently working on several, very exciting project related to the story of the study of embassies, and diplomatic and artistic
relations between France, and I would like to say
the rest of the world, but I think it’s more France and Asia. Please join me in giving a warm
welcome to Meredith Martin. (audience clapping) – Thank you Charlotte. Thank you so much to The
Frick for inviting me, I’m delighted to be here on the occasion of this extraordinary exhibition. Porcelain, No Simple Matter, organized by Charlotte
Vignon and Arlene Shechet. These are two of the most
brilliant women I know, both of whom have an excellent
eye and a very strong will, and that was a theme that
I think you’ll see emerging in tonight’s lecture. I also want to thank Henry Arnhold for allowing and even encouraging
his wonderful collection of Meissen Porcelain to be displayed in such an innovative and risk-taking way. I think he’s really enabled, along with Charlotte and Arlene, he’s really enabled audiences
to see porcelain differently, not as that stuff your
grandmother collects to paraphrase something
that Arlene said in a recent interview, but something
that is and was quite modern and even sexy, and that’s also
a theme that we’ll explore. This is something of a
landmark event for The Frick, in that it’s the first time I think that the museum has devoted an exhibition to the work of a
contemporary living artist. Now my own work is focused
more on the 18th century, but I do have a specific interest in the display of contemporary
art in historic settings, as well as in contemporary artists who use historical sources,
source material, in their work. And this is how I first came to encounter Arlene’s body of work, which she produced through a
lengthy and very productive residency at the Meissen
Porcelain manufactory in Dresden in 2012 and 2013. And as I’ve discussed elsewhere, I think that body of work, some of which is on view
in the Portico Gallery, really explores in a playful, but also in a quite profound way, with 18th century ideas and precedents. And I wanna expand on that notion tonight, but I also wanna look specifically at how Arlene’s installation at the Frick engages with a particular
type of historic interior, known as the Porcelain Room. So first of all, what is a porcelain room? These were rooms that were predominately, though not exclusively
developed in Europe, beginning in the 17th century, and really proliferated
during the 18th century. They’re defined as
rooms that use porcelain as a kind of integrated
decorative element, both east Asian porcelain,
from China and Japan that’s exported into Europe
increasingly during this time, and also porcelain and
other types of ceramics that are produced in European
manufactories such as Meissen. And sometimes this porcelain is combined with other decorative
elements, often mirrors, as well as chinoiserie decoration, lacquer paneling, and so on. You’re looking at the left here, on probably one of the most
famous porcelain rooms, which is at Charlottenburg, the Palace of Charlottenburg in Berlin, and it’s been fairly heavily
restored after World War II. But you can see the elements that I’ve just described in this image. And I’m juxtaposing it
here, with the detail, from Arlene’s installation at the Frick, and I really like this juxtaposition, because I think it suggests the way that Arlene’s work reflects
on, but does not imitate, a porcelain room, in a way that I think is quite revealing, both for the past and for the present. Of course the Frick is the ideal place to carry out this kind of
reflection on the past, because it is, itself,
a 20th century building that looks back to 18th
century precedents. Specifically you can see
here, the way that the facade pays a nod to the Petit Trianon, which was the Pleasure Pavilion constructed in the Gardens of Versailles around the middle of the 18th century for King Louie XV and his
mistress, Madame de Pompadour. And they’re several objects,
also in the Fricks collection, that relate to this renowned
French royal mistress, as well as her successor Madame du Barry, most notably The Progress
of Love series by Fragonard, which was originally made for du Barru. Neither Madame de Pompadour,
nor Madame du Barry, had a porcelain room in the
way that I’ve defined it, but they were both avid
consumers of porcelain. Madame de Pompadour in particular, and she was also an early
and very important promoter of the Sevres Royal Porcelain manufactory. She displayed porcelain
in all of her residences, and at one point she even undertook to create an entire garden
made of porcelain flowers, like the ones that you see given to Madame du Barry, on the right. And this was for one
of her many residences, the Chateau de Bellevue. And you know if you believe the story, it was done to charm and to
delight her lover, the king, who came to visit her there in the winter and was enchanted to see this garden with these brightly colored
flowers planted everywhere. And it was only when he
built down to smell them, because of course they were scented, that he realized that they
were made of porcelain. And this possibly apocryphal story is the first thing that I thought of when I saw the wonderful examples of the Meissen porcelain animals displayed on the lawn in the Frick, outside of Arlene’s installation. And it really reminded me of the fact that there’s a kind of
long standing tradition of displaying porcelain outdoors for the surprise and the delight
of people who encounter it. But what I’m talking about
tonight is not porcelain gardens, but porcelain rooms. And I just wanna introduce
a few points as I begin. The first is to say, that although this is predominately
a European phenomenon, it was not exclusive to Europe. And in fact, one of the earliest and kind of most fabulous
examples of a porcelain room was built in a shrine at Ardabil, Iran in the early 17th century by the ruler of Persia
at the time, Shah Abbas. This was a shrine that he
dedicated to his ancestors and in this room, which
doubled as a library, he displayed hundreds of examples of mostly Ming blue and
white export porcelain, like this example that
was in his collection in these specially kind of
cut out areas in the walls of this interior, so that
they could be set off against the decoration around it. And this was a room
that was really limited to a very kind of restricted audience, people who are very close
to the Shah’s circle, but he would also host dinner
parties for foreign visitors, including European visitors,
who would comment on the fact that he would serve blue
and white porcelain, the food would be served on
blue and white porcelain plates. So he was really emphasizing his collecting and display of this material, and this was a time when Persia was a very cosmopolitan place. And I think that Shah
Abbas wanted to celebrate this cosmopolitanism, as well as this global trading connections that he had established. And through collecting
and displaying porcelain, this was one of the ways
that he achieved this. Now a second point that I wanna make, while introducing this
fabulous room to you, for those of you who haven’t seen it, is that although this
existed outside of Europe, it was not a room type that
existed in China and Japan. This kind of aesthetic
of stacking, or massing, all of these porcelain plates, accumulating as many as you can, it was not really part of
the east Asian aesthetic. And to that extent, I
think what it represents is more a kind of European,
or a foreigner’s, fantasy of oriental opulence and access, more than any kind of accurate reflection of a mode that porcelain was
displayed in China and Japan. But in saying that, I also want to clarify that it’s not oriental access
in a kind of pejorative sense, but rather something
that should be admired, something that European
elites and rulers themselves wanted to emulate. A third point, is that although women were really prominent
patrons of porcelain rooms, as my title and my
introductory remarks suggest, there were lots of men
who also built them. Shah Abass is one example, and another is the patron
of this particular interior, his name was Jose Luis de Lencastre. This is the pyramidal, or
triangular shaped, ceiling, of the Porcelain Room at
Santos Palace in Lisbon, which was a residence
that the Lencastre family acquired in the early 17th century, but which was substantially remodeled by Jose Luis beginning in the 1660s, when this room was added. And I’m sorry I don’t have
an image of the entire room, some of the porcelain
was displayed last year in an exhibition at the Museum
of Ancient Art in Lisbon. And there’s a video on that website, that if you wanna get a
better view of the room you can see. It’s quite small, it’s only
about four meters square, but very tall, about 12
and a half meters high. And it was placed in the Palace after a kind of suite of rooms, you would go through a discreet doorway and enter into this little tiny room then you can just imagine
what it must’ve felt like to sort of look up and (gasping) see this incredible ceiling. And that effect, that effect of surprise and kind of delight,
that’s really fundamental to 18 century aesthetics and also kind of
fundamental to the concept of the Porcelain Room, which was often housed
behind a kind of modest, unadorned doorway, or facade,
or other type of setting. Now this room, the porcelain,
I can show you detail here, which gives you a better sense of how the porcelain itself was installed through these kinds of
like gilded wood brackets, that are interspersed between
the plates themselves. And these plates have been
taken down a few times for restoration, and as I said they were
exhibited in a museum last year. And they themselves have
been extensively studied, but the room as a whole, as far as I know, hasn’t really been explored in depth, in terms of it’s significance. And so I just wanna make a
couple of very brief comments, that hopefully will
prompt further research. Some of these plates date back to the time of King Manuel the first,
who was the king of Portugal when the Portuguese first started to round the Cape of Good Hope in 1498, and eventually make
their way into east Asia, and to really become the
sort of first European power to begin bringing back
Chinese and Japanese porcelain to Europe in significant quantities. You know this happened in the 15th century and then also in the 16th century. King Manuel lived at
Santos Palace at the time that this was going on, and his chief rival was actually
the great great-grandfather of the patron of this room, his name was Jorge de Lencastre. And he was the illegitimate
son of Manuel’s predecessor. And Jorge was, Jorge like I’m on a first
name basis with him, Jorge de Lencastre was the leader of this rival faction that really promoted international trade, and especially Asian trade, not so much for religious or
kind of messianic reasons, as Manuel himself did, but for pragmatic commercial ones. And he also owned an island in Madeira, which was a really important
kind of trading hub for the Portuguese in this period. So I think it’s possible that the family really wanted to kind of celebrate and to emphasize their
long standing connection to the porcelain trade in Portugal, maybe something that they had promoted, and even above the royal
family at this time, and something that they
continue to promote into the 17th century. One more point that I wanted
to make about this room is that if you go back here
you can see there’s a kind of, well you can’t really see
it so much from this image, but there’s a little sort of
pendantive that’s hanging down, that looks kind of like a stalactite, and there’s an 18th century,
a blue and white jar that’s kind of embedded
within the structure. And this is this kind of gilded wood, some of which has flaked off, but it really looks like a sort of grotto, like a garden grotto or a
cave, or something like that. And it reminds me this, also a kind of long standing association between porcelain rooms
and garden grottos. There are a few examples
where porcelain rooms are constructed in grottos, and there was also apparently a tradition at this time in Portugal, when you’d have a royal
dinner guest come to your home and you would serve him
or her on porcelain. After the banquet was over,
you would smash the plates as a gesture of respect, and then use it to create
grottos in your residence. And I think this is one
wonderful way in which Arlene’s installation really
plays with this notion of the relationship, the kind
of transparent relationship, or intimate relationship,
between porcelain rooms, gardens, nature, and so on. And I will talk a little bit
more about that in a moment. Now I’m gonna focus, as I said,
on European porcelain rooms, but just to give one more
example from outside of Europe, this is a kind of wonderful
19th century photograph that shows the interior of a
18th century merchant mansion in Kenya on the Swahili Coast. And my good friend and
colleague, Frida Mayer, has written a book about
cultures of consumption on the Swahili Coast and
the early modern period. And she talks about the way in which the display of porcelain, for
these 18th century merchants, you know it was really meant to celebrate their own global trading
connections, cosmopolitanism, and sort of the ways in which
this had brought prosperity to this coastal area. Now the porcelain plates themselves, the ones that you see in the photograph, might have been added later, but certainly they were displaying
sort of vast accumulating and displaying porcelain
throughout this time period. And there’s an interesting
kind of formal relationship with the Santos Palace,
although the porcelain here has been actually nailed to the wall, not set aside in brackets, so I’m sure some plates must have broken during that installation. In Europe, it wasn’t really, interestingly the Santos Palace
example is kind of a one off in a sense that the porcelain room really originated and
developed not in Portugal, but in the Netherlands
during the 17th century. And that kind of makes sense, given that during this period, with the formation of the
Dutch East India Company, it was the Dutch who really kind of to a large extent took over the Asia trade from the Portuguese. And we could credit the
invention of the porcelain room and it’s kind of spread across Europe, to a woman, Amalia con Solms, who’s depicted in this family portrait and who was the wife of the
stadtholder, or governor, of the Netherlands, you
can see him on the left, Frederick Henry, as well
as three of their children. Frederick Henry was from
the House of Orange-Nassau, which was a powerful
kind of ruling dynasty during this period, but they were not hereditary stadtholders, they had not inherited
this office of governor. And so they were attempting
kind of constantly to legitimate their rule, as well as to consolidate
to express their power to compete with European monarchs, and they did this in part
through commissioning great works of art and architecture, as well as building up their collections. And they did a lot of this work together, but Amalia exclusively
collected porcelain. And so we can credit her, although it’s sometimes
very difficult to figure out who’s responsible for what. In this case, porcelain
only shows up in rooms that she was responsible for. And again, I have to
credit another scholar Virginia Trainer, who
has written extensively about Amalia von Solms and her collection. She first began to display porcelain in a kind of kunstkammer fashion, cabinet of curiosities fashion, which was very common at the time in the early part of the 17th century. And just to kind of evoke
that mode of display, I’m showing you a detail of
the painting that represents the earlier rulers of
the Spanish Netherlands, showing porcelain that’s being
kind of displayed alongside other rare and wondrous objects. But beginning in the
1630s, she began to devote to create these interiors, that were devoted
specifically to porcelain, where porcelain was displayed. And again, primarily blue and
white export ware from China and then also some from
Japan was displayed on gilded wall brackets, on shelves, and on mantel pieces. And the walls and shelves,
according to the inventory, were painted red and they were gilded. And so this is an etagere
that was created later for a porcelain room in Oranienburg, but it gives you a kind of sense of what her display
might have looked like. And then on the left, I’m showing you a print
of a porcelain cabinet, or a China cabinet, by the
French huguenot architect Daniel Marot, who worked
for Amalia’s daughters, as well as for her grandson, William the third, the king of England. And it offers also a kind
of sense of the types of porcelain rooms that she commissioned in all of the various state residences that she inhabited in the Netherlands. Probably the most renowned of these rooms, was in the so called Huis ten Bosch, or The House in the Woods, that
she substantially remodeled after her husband died in the late 1640s. And this was a period of
kind of political turmoil for the family, which they lost the governorship
for a period of time. So she really wanted, in this residence, to emphasize and to celebrate
her husband’s achievements as the governor of the Netherlands. And she commissioned this painting program for the central Orange Hall, which showed those achievements and sort of by extension her
connection to him as his widow. And one of the paintings showed sort of, here you can see the title of the work Goods From the East and West Indies, which showed how under
Frederick Henry’s support and stewardship the Netherlands, through the Dutch East India Company had brought in all of these exotic goods that were bringing great
prosperity and wealth to the Netherlands. Porcelain, that’s shown here, but also there’s a kind of
Japanese samurai costume, and various other sorts of
exotic good and commodities. Just behind this painting,
she also commissioned an apartment, or a kind of set of rooms, which included her own state bed chamber, which was decorated with
a lacquer balustrade that had been given to her by Dutch East India Company officers. And then she had a porcelain
room, with these gilded etageres, or shelves, that was painted with the heraldic colors
of the House of Orange, blue, yellow, orange, and gold. Now, Amalia is really important as a kind of originator
of the porcelain room in her own right, but she’s also important for the way that she kind
of spread this fashion, or this interest, in collecting
and displaying porcelain to her descendants, to her four daughters, all of whom had porcelain rooms, and which all ended up in Germany, I’ll talk about it in just a moment. And then her grandson, William the third, who became the king of England in 1689. And William, and especially
his consort Mary, were largely responsible for starting up the fashion for collecting
and displaying porcelain in England, and that’s both east Asian
porcelain and also earthenware, tin glaze earthenware, that imitates blue and white porcelain that was manufactured at Delft, Delftware. Which Mary herself displayed
in a series of rooms that she had at Hampton Court Palace, in a separate building that
was called the Water Gallery, because it overlooked the Thames. And there she had a
dairy that was outfitted with blue and white Delft
tiles designed by Daniel Marot, which you see up here as well
as the Delftware milk pans, a very kind of fancy rendition of a dairy. And then also a room that
was specifically devoted to displaying porcelain from Asia. This series of rooms was sort of built as a kind of private space for the queen, but it must have been
quite publicly visited because it was written about by travelers, as well as the author Daniel Defoe, who praised the queen’s,
at least in public, praised the queen’s
vast stock of Chinaware and the apartments that she
had exceptionally decorated, but who at the same time kind of elsewhere started to criticize this
China-mania phenomenon, this idea of piling up the porcelain on mantel pieces and shelves and so on, and there’s a kind of a
note of a slight criticism for the sort of culture of accumulation that this was beginning to represent. Now I mentioned that
Amalia’s four daughters all had porcelain rooms, and I’ll just talk about one of them, which was created by her
daughter Louise Henriette, who predeceased her. And this was at
Oranienburg in Brandenburg. Louise married the elector
of Brandenburg, in Germany, and he sort of to celebrate her, he greatly expanded a
hunting lodge that he’d had and transformed it into a palace. And she had a small
porcelain cabinet there that was decorated with gilt
leather, blue and gold sort of leather wall hanging,
with porcelain placed on these gilded etageres in front of it. And this also doesn’t survive, but I can try to evoke a
sense of it for you here, by showing you this installation view of this Dutch Gallery at the Met, which has one of these
extraordinary examples of gilt leather wall hanging. When Lousie Henriette
died, she died in 1667, and then when her husband
died, their son succeeded him and he became the elector of Brandenburg, and eventually the king
of Prussia in 1701. And he decided to, to
pay homage to his mother and also to the collecting
and display of porcelain, by greatly expanding the
Palace of Oranienburg. He added four wings to the palace, one of which housed his
own state apartments, and at the end of a long suite of rooms, past a small lacquer
cabinet, you opened a doorway and entered into this
space, which was taller than the other rooms and wider, which had a series of windows on three sides overlooking the garden. And that was completely
covered with porcelain, that was displayed on these etagares, but that was also fitted
directly into the walls with plaster. So that you had this kind
of complete disellusion of structure and ornament, and it really becomes a kind
of decorative wallpaper, plates, and vases, that kind
of line up against the cornice, and all of the elements of
the room kind of dissolve, and you have this just
really eye popping effect that’s repeated a bit
later at Charlottenburg. On the ceiling there’s a
painted allegorical image that represents kind of
the triumph of porcelain. And this was a moment in which, when he developed this
room, Frederick Henry was really vying to become
the king of Prussia, he wasn’t the king yet. And this was a kind of bid to suggest that if he became the ruler of the space that he would bring all of
this kind of prosperity, these connections, the success
that the House of Orange had enjoyed for a very long
period of time, into Prussia. And again, this a room that
would have been visited by a very elite audience, but once he became the king of Prussia, he also displayed porcelain
as well as orange trees in his triumphful procession into Berlin. So it was very much a kind of instrument of propaganda for him. In the early 18th century
after he became the king, along with his wife Sophie Charlotte, and with the help of the
architect Eosander von Gothe, he created the porcelain
room at Charlottenburg, which I showed you at the beginning. And you can see that it looks similar to the early example of Oranienburg in many different respects. And it has been substantially restored, and most of the porcelain replaced. But the restoration looked
back to 18th century images of the interior, like this
print which is now at the Met. You can see also porcelain
covering virtually every inch of the space, along with other decorative elements that include these kind of
red, carved wood display units as well as the sort of grinning
Buddha figures down here with this (mumbles) Figures. And then up at the top you
have these painted stucco Chinese mandarins, these gentlemen who are
wearing inverted Amari Teabowls on there heads, and they’re
holding out a tea service, in this kind of shelf. One of the things that this detail does is it reminds you that these rooms were places that had different functions, but to some extent many of them were spaces of entertainment, you know where you would
go and have a salon or listen to music and you would consume, you know not just look
at exotic porcelain, but also consume exotic beverages that were being imported into
Europe through the Asia trade, as well as through better
kinds of international trade, things like tea, as well as of
course coffee and chocolate. And to a large extent
a lot of the porcelain that was coming into Europe was being used to consume
these exotic beverages. But another thing that I think this detail reminds us is the way that these interiors were not just meant to be seen, but really kind of felt. The way that they were intended to just sort of mobilize and
to engage all of the senses, sight, but also kind of the effect or at least the imaginary sense of touch, the way that these
decorative elements kind of push past their confines and sort of move into your space. Smell, you think about the
exotic beverages being consumed and taste as well. And I think they also
really mobilize a specific kind of 18th century conceit, which is expressed in
interiors as well as artworks and many different examples of literature in the 18th century, which
is this kind of fanciful, imagining of an inanimate
object coming to life and taking on human characteristics, And this is very much part of a sort of enlightenment philosophical debate about the self, sort of about the boundary between objects and subjects. It’s about a kind of
new economical culture in which luxury commodities threatened to kind of overwhelm oneself. And I’m not gonna go too
much into the philosophy behind it here, but I’ll
just say that there’s lots of examples of this in
18th century literature and one of them is a
wonderful Libertine novella published in France around
1740 by Crebillon Fils it’s called Le Sopha and
it’s the story of a sofa that comes to life and
starts to tell people of its sitters sexual exploits. Sexual exploits in case I think someone just dropped something. Another example which
actually specifically uses porcelain is a
ballet pantomime written by the Colm de Caluse called
le ballet de porcelain which is a kind of mini
short theatrical production in which dancers appear initially on stage flanking a large porcelain teapot made of I guess paper mache or something and they’re very elaborately dressed and they start spinning
around and all of a sudden they turn into, magically transform into porcelain teapots themselves. So you have this whole notion
of things coming to life and really engaging you
in a quite visceral way. And this is something that porcelain rooms attempt to mobilize, but I
think it’s also something that’s a really strong
characteristic of Arlene’s work, particularly in her installation. And I’ll come back to
this point at the end when I say a bit about
the Frick Installation. But I also notice this in
an exhibition that she had in 2014 at the RISD museum in Providence in which she had two
rooms that were devoted to the juxtaposition of work her Meissen body of work
along with Meissen sculptures from the museums collection. And I think you can see in
the way that she’s posed both her own pieces and
the 18th century pieces that there’s a sense in which they’re kind of having an animated
conversation with one another, one that might continue
if you leave the room or she’s installed here
this famed monkey band made by the Meissen Porcelain manufactory and it looks like they’ve
kind of stopped playing their instruments or they’re
gonna again like start again after the museum closes. And in this instance
she placed these figures in this box that she’s kind of pushed out at this very sort of rakish angle, which I think really
emphasizes their theatricality, but also the way in which
they quite exaggeratedly attempt to sort of merge with our space and to engage with us
in a really strong way and also to mobilize the sense of touch. We wanna walk around these figures, we wanna see them from all angles we wanna think about
them in a different way. By the early 18th century,
the porcelain room had become kind of the fashionable element that all elites had to
have in their residences and I’m showing you just
a French fashion plate from the very end of the 17th century where you have an aristocratic woman who’s sitting in her
fashionably exotic interior with porcelain displayed
on her mantlepiece. And then on the left this is a print from an architectural treatise
by the German architect Paul Decker in which he
explains how a prince might create a porcelain
cabinet in his residence. And he stipulates that the shelves of course should be gilded
and that they should ideally be set off against
black ebony backgrounds so that they could really kind of come out into relief and that also
that chinoiserie element should be displayed,
specifically lacquer panels if that was possible. So it’s really giving
instruction for people who want to emulate this fashion. And there are just so many examples. People really took up this call. And there’s so many wonderful examples of 18th century porcelain rooms and we could sit here
for the next five days, which I know no one wants to do, maybe you do, I would do it. To look and talk about all
these different examples, but I’m just gonna focus on
a few kind of choice one’s before moving more into more recent times. But just to show you, this is one example at Pommersfelden in Germany, Rundale Palace in Latvia, and the Chinese Cabinet at Schonbrunn, created by Marie Antoinette’s
mother Maria Theresa. And they’re just many other
kind of wonderful examples, but these will have to suffice. What I wanna do is talk about one very important porcelain patron who really kind of took the
idea of the porcelain room to an entirely new
level, creating an entire sort of porcelain palace
filled with many many different examples of porcelain rooms. And that’s Augustus the
Strong, the ruler of Saxony, creator of the major patron
of the Meissen factory, as well as the King of Poland, who was so crazy about
porcelain that at one point he traded 600 of his soldiers to Frederick the King
of Prussia in exchange for some 150 large Ming vases. And those soldiers back in Prussia became known as the Porcelain Regiment. So hew as really fanatical
about east Asian porcelain and he was also really
obsessed with the idea of trying to reproduce it
successfully in Europe. And he ultimately achieved this with creation of the Meissen manufactory, which in 1710 became the
first European manufacturers of true or hard-paste porcelain. And this was something that
he really wanted to celebrate in all of his residences,
but especially in this palace which was substantially
remodeled around 1730 and renamed the Japanese palace. And which was intended to
be used for the display of his Asian collection as
well as his Meissen collection. Now you can see the sort of
nod to Asia in the exterior of the architecture on the
pediment in front of the entrance there’s a kind of figure of Saxony who’s being given examples of both
Asian and Meissen porcelain. When you go inside, you pass
through an interior courtyard where you have these kinds
of playful Asian herm figures whining this courtyard. And then you entered into
a succession of galleries, none of which really exist today, so you have to kind of
reconstruct them from drawings, but which were used to
really stack up mass and display in very artful arrangements and different color distinctions and innovative formal schemes. These different rooms, which
displayed East Asian porcelain on the ground floor and
then Meissen porcelain on the first floor, you know,
the European first floor. And it’s been suggested
by a number of scholars that this was really
Augustus the Strong’s attempt to kind of compete with Asian rulers who had themselves sponsored
the creation of porcelain for centuries and also to
suggest that Meissen porcelain was triumphing over and
above East Asian porcelain, but it had kind of
superseded it in some way. And that’s an idea that’s suggested in one of the ceiling paintings in the residence and perhaps also by the
kind of hierarchical display of the Meissan porcelain on the top. Now, we have to kind of again
sort of use our imagination to reconstruct what these
might have looked like, but in some sense, the
installation at the Frick helps us out because it’s in vision, I mentioned that
Augustus separated his display of porcelain using different colors, blue and white, yellow, green, and so on. And this inspired, at least to some extent the installation at the Frick. And so you can see that followed here and it’s also the case
that some of the objects in the Arnhold collection
were actually intended for the Japanese palace, including these wonderful
Meissen bird cages that you see here. When I was looking online
for reconstructions of the rooms of the Japanese palace, I also came across this photo, which is a kind of wonderful homage to it back in Asia, specifically in Japan. Apparently the Keio Palace Hotel in 2014 created a kind of fanciful recreation of the Japanese palace
for a small exhibition that they did in their lobby called Antique Imari
Porcelain Beloved in Europe. So the porcelain room is now
actually coming back into Asia, which I think is really interesting. A sort of achievement of Meissen was one that was really envied by rulers across Europe and
one that they desperately wanted to emulate to try
to divine or even steal the formula for creating
true or hard-paste porcelain. And there were a number
of state manufactories that sprung up in the wake of Meissen, some of which started
producing hard-paste porcelain quite early. In Vienna for example. And others who produced, for a long time a soft-paste variet, which itself became quite valued. Early examples of Sevres up until 1768 were made in soft-paste. And an Italian example,
the porcelain manufactory at Capodimonte in Naples
also created a very beautiful example of soft-paste porcelain. Now this manufactory was
sponsored by the King of Naples and Sicily Charles, who was
the son of the King of Spain and who went to rule, who
moved to Naples after Spain conquered the territory during the 1730’s. Very soon he set out to
kind of represent himself as this enlightened monarch,
this enlightened ruler. And he sponsored all of
these different projects of architectural and
urban reform, in addition to creating these kind
of wonderful palaces, one of which was at
Portici, which was where this porcelain room
was originally created. And it was, it may seem
strange to us today, ’cause I don’t know that we automatically associate porcelain with
modernity or with enlightenment, but the idea of having a kind of successful state porcelain manufactory, that’s something that an
enlightened monarch would do. Porcelain, again maybe this
is hard for us to imagine, but it took such sheer technical
skill and sophistication to be able to produce it,
kind of technical know-how, that to look at it was
just sort of understand that this skill was being
sort of properly shepherded by the ruler who was
sponsoring these manufactories. Also it was quite good for the economy because you no longer had
to spend all that money importing porcelain from Asia. You could make it at home, you could also present
it as diplomatic gifts. You could create new markets
for it throughout Europe that it really kind of was a signature along with other sort
of state manufactories. It suggested a kind of careful
management of resources and a real sort of
enlightened beneficence. So once Charles created
this porcelain manufactory he decided using his chief
modeler Giuseppe Gricci to create this fantastic porcelain room at this royal palace, which as you can see represents a kind of decorative departure from some of the earlier
examples we’ve looked at. Rather than plates or vases
being installed on the walls, what you have here is more
than 3,000 interlocking pieces of porcelain that create
this kind of intricate web across the walls of the
room and create these sort of fanciful garlands, flowers, fruit, exotic birds that are all brightly painted and set off against the
gleaming white walls. It’s really the sort of tour de force. And it very much responds to
a kind of 18th century conceit of playing with materials
and sort of violating the whole dictum of truth to materials in the sense that this is
a hard ceramic material that’s made to look
like this intricate sort of undulating web. The ceiling also is a bit
of a violation of truth to materials in the sense
that it’s not actually made of porcelain, it’s made
of stucco that’s painted to look like porcelain. And you can see here in a detail also these chinoiserie figures that are part of the rooms decorative scheme. Charles moved back to Spain in 1759 when he became the king
there and very immediately continued this project
of enlightenment reform and also founded a
porcelain manufactory there. And he brought his favorite
modeler Gricci with him and he fairly soon after
created another wonderful porcelain room at
Aranjuez, his royal palace outside of Madrid. Now my friend and colleague Tara Zanardi who’s here in the
audience is writing a book about this porcelain room,
so I’ve learned a lot about it from her and
I’ll just say a couple of very brief things, which is to say that it resembles the one in Naples to some extent, but I think you can see
there’s an even greater kind of plasticity and a
sort of sculptural dynamism in the use of the porcelain
as well as these kind of sculptural vignettes
that almost look like arabesque paneling that kind of move out again, sort of push past their boundaries and sort of move out into our space. And again, that idea of
them kind of animated, taking on this very
liveliness that creates a very strong visceral impression. Also, the ceiling now is
done entirely in porcelain and it looks very different
from the one at Capodimonte. It emulates a kind of garden
grove and I think there’s this really sort of interesting
sense of an inversion between sort of inside
and outside and interior and the garden, this is also
something that’s at play in Arlene’s installation, but it’s very much a
part of certain examples of these rooms. I think that inversion
of inside and outside is taken to the really the enth degree with the example in France
of the Trianon de Porcelaine which had a brief life
span, but it was built in the gardens of Versaille by Louis XIV for the enjoyment of
himself and his mistress Madame de Montespan around 1670 and I know that we’re
back-tracking just a little bit back into the 17th century,
but I wanted to spend a few minutes on porcelain in France before moving into more recent eras. The Trianon de Porcelaine as you can see this an
image of the garden facade and then an imaginary
reconstruction of that here. It was according to the Kings propagandist completely covered in
porcelain and it was meant to imitate the tower at Nanjing, although it obviously doesn’t look, the Pagoda at Nanjing although, it obviously doesn’t
look anything like it. And in that sense, it was
also Louis XIV’s attempt to kind of emulate the Chinese emperor in the way that Augustus
the Strong also did. But in fact there isn’t
East Asian porcelain used in this decoration, it’s pottery tiles made mostly from French manufactories and then also delphed tiles
that had to be imported because there wasn’t enough in France. And Louis XIV must have really wanted this little pleasure pavilion because the Dutch were his greatest rivals in this period and he was about to embark
on a huge war with them, but in any event these tiles
covered, as you can see, part of the exterior and then
there were vases added as well and they didn’t really
stand the test of time so it was pulled down, some
15 years after it was built and this was also the period
in which Madame de Montespan herself had fallen from favor. In terms of the interior,
the furnishings were again painted or used as sort of to evoke or imitate porcelain. One really extraordinary example is at the Getty, this writing
table that’s made of oak, veneered with ivory as well
as a blue painted horn. And then this painting at the
V&A which was originally done to decorate a fan presumably
or supposedly shows Madame de Montespan in a
very sumptuous interior decorated with all sorts of luxury objects and then you can see here,
there’s a little cupid who’s kind of playfully opening the window and you can see the blue
and white on the exterior. So this is perhaps presumably,
a sort of fanciful view of the interior of the Porcelain Trianon. Now as I said, there were no examples of porcelain rooms, at least
none of the royal mistresses and queens who collected
and displayed porcelain, they didn’t have the
sort of porcelain room in the sense that I’ve
kind of shown it to you and defined it, but
they were all very eager and avid consumers of porcelain. And Madame de Pompadour
is the best known example, but Marie Antoinette also
collected and displayed porcelain and I couldn’t resist
just briefly showing you where she, one of the places
that she installed it, which was at her pleasure dairy at her fake farm or Hamlet hamo at Versailles, kind of on
the outskirts of the gardens of Versailles. She had her own royal
porcelain manufactory created, but produced porcelain for her various interiors
and this was one sort of very opulent milk pan that
she had for her dairy. And this was the way in which she herself kind of performed an idea
of queenly benevolence as well as kind of
sophisticated consumption, good taste and consumption, but it was one that I think
offended a lot of people in that I don’t think it did offend a lot of people at the time who felt that as one american visitor
said, it was a semblance to splendid of rural life
and therefore it was kind of making fun of the rural poor
that this Hamlet evoked. Louis the sixteenth’s
building administrator, the Count Don Juvie also
created a dairy for the queen at the new royal chateau Rambouillet and the interior of this
dairy had a kind of grotto at the back as well as
the shelves in the front which were used to display a
new Sevres hard-paste porcelain service that he
commissioned for the space. This was, I’ve talked about this elsewhere and I don’t have time to talk about it but the whole interior
was meant to suggest a kind of idea of royal regeneration and also aesthetic and
economic regeneration for the Sevres manufactory which was going to move away from the
Rococo shapes and colors associated with Pompadour and earlier eras and create this hard-paste porcelain that was very kind of
severely Neo-classical in its decoration and
that looks specifically to prototypes that had
been excavated at Pompei and Herculaneum during the 18th century. Of course the modelers
of this porcelain service kind of strayed I guess
from archaeological accuracy and you see a sort of
return of the repressed in one of the porcelain
objects created for this dairy, which is the Sevres porcelain breast cup you would actually
drink milk from this cup by lifting the cup, the
breast off its tripod base and then, so it really I guess engages that idea of touch once again. And also it’s trump-l’oeil
accuracy really kind of lead to the rumor that it as perhaps modeled on Marie Antoinette’s own breast and this was a rumor that
the Goncourt brothers among many others perpetuated. Moving into the 19th century
and in the last 10, 15 minutes and I’ll finish by looking at our own era. The Goncourt brothers
were not the only ones who were kind of obsessed
with the ancien regime, the 18th century and with porcelain rooms. I guess the most famous
obsessive, in that respect, was King Ludwig of Bavaria, who styled himself as Louis the fourteenth in this portrait and elsewhere and who went so far as
to construct a replica of Versailles on an island in Bavaria, the Chateau of Herrenchiemsee where he had a full scale
model of the Hall of Mirrors, which still survives today, as well as the Ambassador
staircase and other rooms. And because he was such
an ancien regime fan, of course he had a porcelain
room at Herrenchiemsee, which you see here as
well as this dining room, which actually is a sort of pastiche of the salon de la princess
at the hotel Soubise with this enormous Meissen chandelier. So what he’s really kind of merging here is a range of different
aesthetic and historical, and geographical traditions. The grand style of the
Louis the fourteenth, the French Rococo of
Soubise, the Bavarian Rococo and sort of the Meissen tradition as well. And this might be sort of offensive to our eyes, but for him
it was quite wonderful. And I think I read somewhere, I’m not sure if this is true, but that it was the
furnishing of this palace the porcelain was the largest single order that the Meissen
manufactory ever received. The last historic porcelain
room that I wanna talk about is a seg into contemporary examples. It’s of course the Peacock Room, the sort of revival I
guess of the porcelain room in 19th century Victorian Britain. And as we all know, in the 19th century, Britain greatly expanded its empire and it became the chief
importer of porcelain from Asia. And there’s a shift here
in terms of the patrons or consumers of porcelain
rooms in this period. It’s not only aristocratic clientele, which is what we’ve seen
in the early modern era, but also the upwardly mobile bourgeoisie who start to have these rooms. And Frederick Leyland, the
patron for whom this room was originally created, was
himself a member of that class. He was a very wealthy shipping magnet who hired the architect Thomas Jekyll to create this room for the
display of his porcelain which he apparently, he was a
connoisseur in many respects, but apparently not a
connoisseur of porcelain. He supposedly would order
it on mass form a dealer to match the couch or the mantelpiece or something like this. But he did own two extraordinary paintings by the artist Whistler
and he asked Whistler once this room was completed to kind of consult on the color. Whistler took one look
at it and went nuts, and while Leyland was away
for an extended period, he completely re-imagined the space and painted it in colors
green, blues, gold, as well as these images
of birds around it, which gives the room its name. And he charged Leyland a
really exorbitant price for this room and Leyland who
had not asked for it at all offered him only half of the sum, which really enraged Whistler and he decided in addition
to adding these two battling peacocks in the
room which represent himself and Leyland, he criticized his
former patron in the press. Now this room was eventually acquired by the American industrialist
Charles Lang Freer who’s a contemporary of Henry Clay Frick’s and it was reinstalled
in his house in Detroit before it ended up in the museum
that bares his name in DC. And it’s now currently being
restored so when you go to the Freer, what you
instead is a recent project by the American artist Darren Waterston, called Filthy Lucre,
which was an installation originally created for MASS MoCA, but which is now in the Freer. And I think what it speaks to, it kind of recalls that
quote by Daniel DeFoe that I said, some many minutes ago, this sort of seedy underbelly
of the porcelain room, which we can celebrate as
totally opulent and glorious and wonderful, but which
was also created at a time, especially in Victorian
Britain, the time of, the celebration of the 1%, when a significant percentage
of the British population was living under the poverty line, the kind of culture of
excess and accumulation, which was something that Whistler ended up attacking Leyland for
after he wouldn’t pay him his money, but which is
certainly a kind of theme or a sort of aspect of the porcelain room, that I think this installation
really brings to light. And when you first walk
in, it’s about the same almost the same size as the Peacock Room except that the ceiling
is lowered about two feet so it feels really kind of
oppressive and it’s dark and it’s got music and
all of a sudden you start to realize that there’s
smashed porcelain that’s on the floor, the shelves
have been kind of splintered, you have this bold puddle
oozing out underneath this part of the wall as if the whole room is kind of melting and
turning into a ruin. Now the porcelain room
aesthetic has really experienced a resurgence and a
revival in recent years. And you see it especially
in museum installations, although I also saw it at TEFAF yesterday, the Robbig gallery in Munich
had a kind of evocation of a porcelain room in its booth. But there’s many examples of this and I’m just showing you a couple of them. It’s become a kind of a common way to display one’s porcelain
collection I think because it does really
animate the collection, it gets people excited and interested. And one example here is the porcelain room at the Seattle Art Museum
and then also the remodeling of the porcelain museum
in Dresden, the V&A also has one of these installations as well as many other examples. And there’s also a number
of contemporary artists who are working with porcelain and kind of engaging with
various historical aspects of the material. But I wanna really look at is, again, is sort of artists who are
thinking about porcelain rooms and I just wanna show
very briefly the work of one other artist before
spending the last few minutes on Arlene’s installation. This is a project that
Donald Judd carried out along with the curator
Christian Witt-Dorring in Vienna at the MAK
Museum in the early 1990’s. And he was invited, Judd was
invited along with a number of other contemporary artists
to reinstall certain aspects of its permanent collection. And he was given the task
of trying to reinstall this period room that the museum owned, which was a porcelain room formerly, in a palace in the Czech Republic. Now Donald Judd is maybe
not the first person you would think of, the first
artist you would think of in relation to a porcelain room and he himself I think was
made quite uncomfortable by it, at least as he said
in an artist statement, it made him feel kind of
uneasy, he didn’t like the fact that he was supposed to
install this room in this kind of large white gallery space. He felt that it was really
artificial and he said even a bit devious to do this. And so I think he came up with a kind of a ingenius solution, which is first of all
to preserve the scale and the intimacy of the
room by isolating it from the rest of the gallery space, putting it in this kind of white box, but at the same time to
really kind of underscore the incongruity of putting an
18th century porcelain room, which is itself mediated
a kind of reconstruction into this white box. And has really sort of emphasized that and to a sense to kind of lay bare to expose something that
otherwise might appear to be quite sort of seamless or hidden. Now Arlene’s installation is not it’s not in a kind of period room per say, unless you think of the whole Frick as a sort of historic interior, which of course it is, but the Portigo gallery was
added relatively recently. And it’s not so much that she’s trying to create a period room, not at all. And I don’t even think
that she’s deliberately trying to create a porcelain room, but it does remind in a way
of this type of interior and I think for me there’s almost kind of two porcelain rooms. There’s this kind of longer gallery here, which looks back to the Japanese palace and other sort of more public galleries for the arrangement and display and then this kind of smaller
more intimate rotunda space where the installation
is somewhat different, that I’ll show you in just a moment. But I also like using
Donald Judd or his project as a seg to talking about Arlene’s work. And I just wanna show you a couple of individual objects before I close with the
installation as a whole. Because I think her work is also about sort of bringing to the surface hidden aspects of a historic object. And when she had this residency in Meissen a few years ago she was fascinated by the industrial plaster
molds that the factory uses and has used for more than 300
years to make its porcelain. And these molds became sort
of the basis for her work, which she adapted and she
produced these objects out of them, which don’t look
like 18th century examples of porcelain, but I think
again conceptually resonate with them in a number of ways. Sometimes in her installation, which is a hugely important
aspect of her work, she juxtaposes the product, the bowl that would’ve been
created out of this mold from her own sculpture. So I think you can really
see the relationship and you can see this kind of dialogue between process and product
that’s kind of revealed to you and I think elevated or
raised to a level of high art. There are also a lot of
interesting other juxtapositions in here between the
functional and the decorative plates versus figures. And I think this is something that Arlene also really likes about porcelain rooms that they themselves kind
of merge the functional and the decorative and in
some way kind of nullify the distinctions between the two. Now again, this doesn’t look
like an 18th century object but in its emphasis on
process and in other objects that she creates where she leaves the sort of drips, the cracks,
inventory numbers other sort of elements of her process. This in a way relates to a kind
of 18th century appreciation of process as an index
of artistic creativity as something that’s admired. For instance, the philosopher
and art critic Denny Detoro really admired terracotta clay sculpture. He said that terracotta has
a kind of fiery quality. You can really see the artists creativity, his or her mind at work and it’s something that’s
kind of lacking once you get to the finished product,
the marble sculpture for instance, that kind of
living breathing quality is something that the terracotta study has and the eventual marble
or other sculpture lacks. So this is another example in which kind of not so much formally,
but kind of conceptually, there was a kind of nod
to the 18th century. Here again also in the installation, these figures really come alive. They’re turned around, you
can see them for the back and we come alive too
because we’re animated quite physically asked to
walk around to look at them and we have this kind of
privileged view of these objects that you don’t normally get when you go into a porcelain gallery. Everything’s displayed frontally. This is kind of the collectors view or the curators view. And it really also, I
think kind of engages your sense of touch as
well as gives you the sense of these objects coming
to life and having a kind of animated conversation with each other. Or in this case they’re sort of pointedly ignoring each other. And this is true of
figures, but also of objects like these cups that
are turned upside down. It looks like they’re kind
of taking a nap or something. They have this sort of
anthropomorphic quality while at the same time really showing you this privileged view of something that you would never otherwise see
that’s being presented to you as a gift. And I think I love in
particular this object, and I hope you all have a
chance to go and see this as soon as the end of my
lecture, which is concluding in just a couple of minutes, to go and see this
installation for yourself, but this is one of my
favorite objects in terms of the way that it’s
installed on the wall. And it looks like a sort
of ornamental medallion that has sprouted legs and is about to kind of
walk out of the room. And it looks so modern,
but at the same time it reminds me of these 18th
century rococo ornament prints where you have these
candelabra, these sconces that themselves seem to
be like sprouting legs and looking like they’re gonna kind of take off at any moment. And I think that the shadow
that this object casts really amplifies that
sort of lively affect. And then finally, I really
love the way that this conceit of surprise is played with and that Arlene plays with this
conceit in her installation. Again, going back to the Santos palace, imagining what it’s like
to walk into that room and to look up in a much more subtle, kind of equally playful way. To be in this installation and look up and see these two little
Meissen birds perched on the sort of element
here separating the gallery from the rotunda at the end. When I first walked into the rotunda, I was immediately reminded of
the Santos palace installation by this smaller, subtler
massing of plates, which I think she herself she
has likened to floral bouquets so they kind of create this analogy again with the garden outside, but that also look very
much like this display in terms of the groupings
of different shapes, different colors and so on. And even including one of here own plates, although I think by the
time you get to this room, if you’ve really kind of paid attention and looked closely, you
almost can’t see for a moment which is hers and which
is the Meissen example. They both become so
kind of wonderfully new and fresh and modern. And then finally,
there’s a nod to the past in this gold-mirrored panel here, which is placed opposite
the doorway leading out to the lawn. And of course this a kind of witty homage to the nickname that porcelain
had in the 18th century, white gold cause Europeans
were trying so desperately to produce it, but it also
reminds us of the fact that mirrors were often
displayed in porcelain rooms again as a way to kind of
make it look like you had more than you really did. But it also reflects light,
it reflects the gardens, and it kind of reflects
this installation itself and again, that’s sort of
why I started with this slide and why I wanna end with it, which is to say that
I think this is a room that has a very deep and
kind of profound knowledge of the past, but also a
real awareness of the ways in which the past is ultimately
kind of fundamentally inaccessible to us. That it’s always sort of
mediated, it’s always something that we sort of reach through
a variety of different filters like a reflection on water. And it’s really something
that is as much about our own interests and concerns as it is about its own history itself. So I thank you for that and I hope you’ll all
go join me in looking at this extraordinary exhibition. Thank you very much. (audience clapping)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *