As part of the exciting reinstallation of their Chinese ceramics galleries, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is exhibiting four of Eric Zetterquist’s Object Portraits that have been acquired for the permanent collection. For over a thousand years the Chinese have painted portraits of art objects in their collections, both to extol the esthetic virtues of an object and to exhibit the accomplishments of a collector. Following and contemporizing this practice, Eric Zetterquist, a specialist in Asian ceramics and CFile’s New York editor, has created a series of portraits of ceramics: Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 A.D.), Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 A.D.), and Yuan Dynasty (1279 – 1368 A.D.).
He has done this by isolating minute form elements of the object, and highlighting the negative space created by them. He further reduces and abstracts these forms by creating large-scale, flattened images in black and white with “painterly” edges.
Unlike the hard-edged minimalism of the seventies, the splashed edges, together with the matte-textured paper on which they are printed, are evocative of Asian calligraphy, and create “warm minimalist” abstractions. Not merely photographs of objects, these works compel their viewers to see and contemplate form in a new way.
Why minimalism? Although it is folly to ascribe modern “isms” to ancient minds, the makers of Song Dynasty ceramics, then the highest medium for secular sculpture, intentionally addressed the concept of minimalism a thousand years ago. Influenced by Chan (Zen) Buddhism, the Song Dynasty literati intentionally subscribed to the “less is more” esthetic. They had the technology to decorate ceramics, but chose to leave them monochromatic and let the strength of their forms speak for themselves.
Every work of art should reveal the sum total of the artist’s life experience. During his time as a collector, dealer and photographer of the ceramics of this period, Zetterquist has given thought as to what makes a form dynamic, and how we perceive this dynamism, either consciously or subconsciously.
These large modern images of ancient objects result from his connoisseurship and artistic visions. The photographs below show the ceramic that is the subject, a red line frames the segment of each ceramic that he has extracted and then the resulting image together with his commentary on each work.
Above image: Detail image of 9th century cuspidors included in Zetterquist’s exhibition.
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