Past Exhibitions

White Matter: Contemporary Porcelain Sculpture

Shir Meller-Yamaguchi & Anat Turbowicz


White Matter: Contemporary Porcelain Sculptur

The exhibition “White Matter” explores porcelain as a sculptural material in contemporary Israeli art, a material whose virginal whiteness and noble appearance have made it so precious and desirable in both the East and the West.

Porcelain has been identified with Chinese culture for centuries, so much so that China has become synonymous with porcelain. This white ceramic material was given the name porcelain by the Italians in the Middle Ages because of its similarity to the shiny ultra-thin cowrie shells called porcellana. First made in China in the 8th century, the secret of its production was carefully guarded. The delicacy and translucence of porcelain have made it the material favored by the Chinese emperors. First samples of porcelain arrived in Europe in the 15th century, but it was only in the 16th century, when commercial maritime routes between China and Europe opened, that regular trade began, with porcelain ware among other goods. The secret of porcelain manufacture was discovered only in the 18th century in Germany, and passed on to other European countries. Porcelain factories produced sets of vessels and sculptures, which were decorated with diverse paintings for audiences with refined tastes and wealth.

The development of hand-workable porcelains during the 20th century gave rise to a new trend of ceramic artists who work in porcelain. The current show indicates the intensification of this trend among ceramic artists in Israel as well. The 1990s saw the arrival of ready-to-use porcelain in Israel, making it possible for many artists to experiment with the material and become infatuated with it, although it is not easy to tame: its plasticity is lower than ordinary clay; it shrinks considerably during the drying and firing phases, and easily becomes cracked and deformed.

The growing interest in porcelain and the possibilities it offered presented artists with new challenges, and expanded conceptual contexts and conventional work methods. Some of the works in the exhibition defy the noble delicacy of porcelain as pretense; others point at its fragility as concealing a painful biography of loss, and its whiteness as erasure of memory. Technically and aesthetically, too, the works challenge the boundaries of the material and its qualities: work in unusual dimensions; wheel throwing combined with hand-building; use of ultra-thin porcelain paper clay; dipping materials that dissolve in firing in liquid porcelain, thereby preserving every nuance, as if they had been frozen in time; and the creation of fossils of culture and nature. The cultural memory stored in the porcelain, and the reciprocity between East and West, continue to serve as fertile ground for contemporary work.