Fire Over Earth



The peoples of East and Southeast Asia created traditions of ceramics peerless in their decorative brilliance, technological sophistication, and artistic subtlety. The subcontinent's geology, rich in the earths, clays, and rocks that are the ingredients of ceramics, made this achievement possible. However, the transmutation of these unpromising raw materials into objects of beauty required ingenuity, technological knowledge painstakingly accumulated over millennia, as well sophisticated social organization.

Within this broad area, China was the foremost innovator in ceramic technology, inventing high-fired glazes, porcelain, and numerous decorative techniques that spread to other regions. Yet the ceramics of the other regions were no mere offshoots of the Chinese mainstream. Japan was the earliest culture in the world to produce ceramic vessels, and in the context of the tea ceremony created a unique ceramic aesthetic that celebrated spontaneity and individuality. Korea, too, invested its borrowings from China with a distinct sensibility that was admired both in China and Japan. Within Southeast Asia, Thailand and Vietnam, adopting Chinese technology such as high-fired glazes and painting in under-glaze cobalt blue, catered to a huge demand for high quality ceramics in other Southeast Asian regions such as the Philippines and Indonesia.

Drawing on the Asia Society's Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, the exhibition explores the interrelationships between the ceramic traditions of the respective regions in terms of techniques, styles and the roles played by ceramics in different contexts.

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