Interpretations: Craft Alliance Reimagines the Teapot
The new exhibition of teapots at Craft Alliance’s “Interpretations” (available until March 20) ranges from more traditional forms to experimental interpretations of teapots and tea culture. It’s a stunning show, featuring 49 local, regional and national works of artists and makers When entering Craft Alliance, I assumed that this might be another craft show where fine—but no doubt orthodox—art awaited me, but nothing could be further from the truth. Craft Alliance has a show that will dazzle the viewer with its variety and power of expression. “Interpretations,” and the artists involved with this particular show, transform what it is we think of when encountering supposed mere use—items like a kettle, cup or pot.
I was told that 10 to 20 percent of the teapots in the exhibit were functional, while the remaining objects were non-functional. Whatever the case, teapots most likely began being made in the Yuan Dynasty Period in China. Now, aside from being able to steep leaves or hold liquid, the artists at Craft Alliance have both drawn from tradition and eschewed it as well. And that’s the great surprise at “Interpretations.” From the burgeoning of teapots in Kubla Khan’s territories in Asia, to the present, such a long history is far from being tedious or rote. Rather, at Craft Alliance, the history of the teapot is revitalized and reimagined in a variety of styles and forms.
According to Executive Director at Craft Alliance, Boo McLoughlin, “This is the only show in which we suggest real constraint on what the artist chooses to make. They have to create a form that features a spout, handle and body that implies volume. I love the breadth of artistic expression around that constraint.
She continues, “In other shows, there might be a theme or context for what kind of work is included in a curated exhibition, but this particular gives complete freedom within the constraint. It’s like prosody in poetry or form inspiring a better poem. Greater artistry comes about because you have to fit within a certain parameter. These pieces can be political, whimsical, they can poke fun, but ultimately, they create beauty.”
And the manipulation of forms is wonderful, in the way great poems can writhe to life and live outside the page almost due to the requirements of formal limitations. The artists— all of them—featured at “Interpretations” know how to not merely express themselves but to express the ineffable while paying homage to traditions. Self-expression is a given. It is a tired phrase as well. What I love about the teapots at “Interpretations” is the work, the craftsmanship and the beauty found in every object. The Persian poet Omar Khayyam wrote in the 12th century about the hand of God slipping away from the pot that represented the world. Hence, error and illusion entered into that world. To view the teapots at Craft Alliance is to see that error of the gods rectified, made whole, beautiful.