WSJ review of the Vietnamese ceramics exhibition at the Birmingham Museum

Dragon Ewer, Wall Street Journal 20120215

The Wall Street Journal has a review of the recently-opened exhibition on Vietnamese ceramics at the Birmingham Museum. [Thanks to Coral Carlson the link]

Dragon Ewer, Wall Street Journal 20120215
Dragon Ewer, Wall Street Journal 20120215

Vietnamese Vessels for the Heart and Soul
Wall Street Journal, 15 February 2012

‘Chinese ceramics are good for the eye; Vietnamese ceramics are good for the heart.” This sentiment from an unnamed Vietnamese scholar quoted in the catalog of “Dragons & Lotus Blossoms” should be emblazoned at the show’s entrance. There could be no better invitation to this display of Vietnamese stoneware at the Birmingham Museum of Art, one of the top such collections in the U.S. along with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Curator Donald Wood’s installation is straightforward: With few exceptions, he groups all 220-plus of the collection’s vessels and ritual ware in table-high display cases that fill nine partitioned spaces. As with all displays of ceramics, there is an inherent frustration: Our fingers can’t explore the surface of a glaze; we can’t lift a ewer and marvel at how light—and therefore thin-walled—it is; we can’t flick the rim of a stoneware bowl and hear this high-fired clay ring like porcelain. All we have are our eyes, and what at first seems like a sea of ivories and browns reveals bowls in intense greens, jars with lively blue-and-white decoration, incised vegetal motifs faintly visible beneath thick glazes, and such startling pieces as a 24-inch-tall polychrome jar (16th century) with paintings of winged horses and demon-headed creatures.

Full story here.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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