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August 25, 2009

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Reviving the artistry of ceramics

DESPITE thousands of years of history, Chinese brands have not attained world fame, but the organizer of a fair in Shanghai aims to change all that, writes Wang Jie.

When mentioning top ceramic brands, one would immediately think of Wedgwood, Royal Albert and Hermes. But China, a country with several thousand years of ceramic making, seems to be a bit embarrassed about not owning even one world-famous brand.

Perhaps that's the main reason why Ge Qiantao has organized China Unlimited Ceramic Art Shanghai which will kick off on November 6 at ShanghaiMart.

In fact, this is the first time that a major art fair featuring quality ceramics has been held in a major Chinese city.

"Today many Chinese people strangely have a prejudice against ceramics," says Ge. "They would immediately think of Jingdezhen, the cradle of China's china, yet now notorious for mass production of unpolished ceramic ware."

It seems that many Chinese people have a carefree attitude to ordinary ceramics - ranging from bowls and plates to tea and coffee sets.

"Once I was invited to visit a luxurious villa of my friend," Ge recalls. "He is a billionaire and he has a special taste in home decor. The furniture, the decoration and even the window curtains were chic and luxurious. But it was such a pity when it came to the common coffee set that he used for the afternoon tea.

"At that moment, I realized that our Chinese people really need to re-interpret the enchantment of ceramics, otherwise it would be a shame for the Chinese people."

Ge has a wide collection of ceramics that he frequently buys in Europe, America and China.

"Frankly speaking, I am quite picky about the bowls, plates or cups that I use," Ge says. "A good set of tableware really manifests the owner's taste and class."

Ge has expanded his personal hobby into organizing the ceramic art fair in the hope that more Chinese people will learn to enjoy the art and culture of ceramics.

Occupying an area of 8,200 square meters, the fair will be divided into six sections: an international pavilion; a masters' pavilion; a rising stars' pavilion; an art pavilion; a pavilion of ordinary life and an interaction pavilion. Merely judging from these titles, the ambition of Ge and his team is clear.

"We are actually building up a platform that will present something different for the visitors," he says.

"Of course, our priority is to change the stereotypical image of Jingdezhen ceramics in the mind of many people."

Besides attracting some Western luxurious ceramics brands such as Hermes and Lamborghini, the fair also intends to promote some domestic brands as well.

"Compared with those Western brands, there is still a big gap in image building, design and sales channels for the domestic ceramic brands.

"We hope to switch the marketing centers of some Chinese ceramic brands, which are normally in their producing regions, to Shanghai with more exposure and focus."

To be exact, some need to have their own boutiques open in several shopping malls here in town as part of its marketing practice."

One industry insider says the bond between ceramics and other art media should be blurred in the future.

"Believe it or not, the mix-match style will also prevail in the ceramics area, so the design job will be very critical and there will be much cooperation between the ceramists and artists.

"The possibilities in ceramics are unlimited."

Apart from the functional ceramics, pure art pieces will also feature at the fair.

Ge says the price of contemporary ceramics is not as daunting as other art forms such as oil painting and sculpture.

"But this does not affect their value to collectors," Ge says, "In fact, it will help nurture a healthy and promising market."

Liu Jianhua, perhaps the most well-known Chinese ceramic artist in the West, who endeavors to break his image merely as a ceramist through some avant-garde works, is on the invitation list.

"But we have not received his reply," Ge adds. "I am confident that I will convince him to come."

Alongside the fair, a Creative Ceramics Competition for young people will be held to emphasize the creation and innovation of the ancient media.

Surprisingly, the judging members are not ceramists, professors and scholars, following the usual practice.

On the contrary, musicians, writers and gallery owners have the final say.

"He Xuntian, the famous composer, agreed to come," Ge says. "I believe that they have their unique angle.

"Art is not limited, and china is also unlimited."


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