To paraphrase Mr McGuire’s advice to Dustin Hoffman’s Ben in the movie The Graduate, “Just one word. Are you listening? Porcelain. There’s a great future in porcelain. Think about it.”
We say this based on recent news that while the art market falls, the shiny white stuff is on a roll. The Elfriede Langeloh Gallery’s Friedel Kirsch, a specialist in early German porcelain, says that demand has been on the rise for years and has risen even faster with the recession.
Coincidentally, we came upon ceramic historian Garth Clark’s comments in the book Shards about the impact of Jeff Koons million dollar prices for his porcelain sculptures as well as his thoughts on the other great porcelain artwork of the 20th century: Fountain.
There seems to be some residual how-the-hell-did-that-happen and but-he-didn’t-even-make-them-himself lingering with the ceramic folk about Koons, but as Clark notes, the works are so astonishingly good that they would have been regarded as great works whoever made them, hands-off sculptor or hands-on ceramacist.
As to Duchamp’s wily selection and subsequent reproduction of a porcelain urinal to turn 20th century art on its head, Clark is less positive. His sticking point is not the conceptual leap itself, but Duchamp’s ordering up eight replicas in the sixties. These not-readymades, in glazed earthenware (finished off in white paint to imitate porcelain), were produced by Italian craftsmen following Duchamp’s designs. They are the Fountains most commonly seen today in art museums. It was one of these hand-crafted Fountains (from Indiana University) that was shown in Wellington in the exhibition When Art Hits the Headlines back in 1987.
Images: Left, Duchamp in front of one of the editioned replicas. Right top the original Fountain as photographed by Alfred Stieglitz's, bottonm one of the 1964 edition works note the three extra vent holes.