We might as well go ahead and call it a trend; museums that take the form of giant ceramics are a thing now. There’s the teapot-shaped Museum of Tea Culture in Meitan County, China and the almost obscenely huge Wanda Cultural Tourism City Exhibition Center, also in China.
Those two examples are now joined by the Liling Ceramic Museum (also in China, also brain-shatteringly enormous). To its credit this is more sophisticated architecturally than the other two and has a certain grandeur for the vessel form theme. The five-year project was headed by the Italian architecture firm Archea Associati. The complex, an homage to Liling porcelain, sprawls across nearly a quarter of a million square meters and includes a hotel and an industrial area for ceramics processing. The buildings take the form of vases placed in a circular plan.
We were surprised to learn from the architects that the number of volumes used in the complex is actually greater than the functional needs of the museum. The excess here is for spatial reasons. The circular forms create a cumulative effect that the designers say establishes a relationship to the spaces in between.
From the architects:
“The ‘space between,’ as shown in the initial concept, takes substance in a line of vases that follow a commutative rule, shifting without changing the final result, which is always ensured by the juxtaposition of the vases’ generative contours.
“According to the system suggested in the design, density becomes a value, a resource that allows for a dense relationship, a vicinity, a use of the space on the ground like that of the historic city.”
Liling underglazed porcelain has its roots in the late Qing dynasty, setting itself apart from other forms of porcelain by being polychrome rather than blue and white. In 2008 it was recognized by the Chinese government as part of the national cultural heritage. China’s relationship to Liling reminds us of presidential dinner sets from the United States. An exhibition of Liling porcelain to celebrate the founding of the People’s Republic of China included sets that were used by Mao Zedong or given to foreign leaders as gifts.
CFile editor-in-chief Garth Clark points out that such museums often seem to be exhibitions for trade and not necessarily culture. He suspects that Liling will have the same fate, as the owner of the complex is the Hunan Li Ling Multicolored Under Glaze City Development Co. Ltd. That and the industrial purpose of some of the buildings points to that being the case. We can’t help but notice the scarcity of crowds in the photographs taken by Cristiano Bianchi. Maybe Bianchi took the photographs while the complex was still being constructed but we have to ask: is anybody home?
We’d like to see more of their collection; it would be a shame if the buildings were more awe-inspiring than the pieces they housed. (That question isn’t meant to be a dig on the art form as much as it is an acknowledgment of the audacity of the architects and project sponsors.) Take a look at the aforementioned exhibition and decide for yourself.
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