Date of Award

2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Fine and Decorative Art and Design

First Advisor

Melanie Marino

Second Advisor

Elizabeth Pergam

Abstract

The contemporary design market has seen a resurgence of the rococo style. Porcelain has become a popular medium, and artists and designers have been revisiting the possibilities of it by returning to the motifs and symbols of the mid eighteenthcentury. While there is a wealth of existing literature on porcelain manufactories, including Meissen, Sèvres and others, the rococo style is often overlooked in literature for its cultural and theoretical value. The rococo has been given little consideration by art historians, because of its excessive luxury and cultural appropriation. However, many contemporary artists and designers have found new inspiration in the incredible craftsmanship of this era, and in the conceptual ideas behind the rococo and chinoiserie styles. By relating these concepts to our modern-day global luxury design market, the designers chosen for this study have reinvigorated porcelain for the contemporary interior.

This thesis explores the eighteenth-century influences in the work of five artists spanning three generations. This study is comprised of an introduction, five chapters that each focus on a single artist, and a conclusion. The first chapter examines Arlene Shechet, who has shown her work from a residency at Meissen alongside traditional Meissen objects in different museum settings. The second chapter follows an interview with Robin Best, and her porcelain vessels that use historically and scientifically biased imagery. A studio visit with Beth Katleman comprises the third chapter and discusses how she developed her unique style that combines pop art and the rococo while simultaneously making a lighthearted social commentary. Chapter four moves on to Molly Hatch, and her expansive market and ideas which we discussed in an interview as a contemporary continuation of the chinoiserie dialogue. The fifth chapter ends with an interview with David Wiseman, the youngest of these artists, who makes very traditional decorative arts objects and wall sculptures, that utilize the lessons of modernity and tie together all these different influences.

By assessing existing scholarship, material evidence, and primary research conducted through interviews with four of these five artists, this thesis examines the resurgence of the rococo style of porcelain in the contemporary design market. It has become prominent due to the current artistic climate, which has encouraged ornamentation and excess on design objects. The eighteenth-century style also responds to luxury by crossing cultural boundaries and including “exotic” designs intended to fascinate and delight the senses. The contemporary works that look back at this rococo style take the materials and symbols used, but they also explore the deeper conceptual aspects of it. Ultimately, this thesis proves that this group of artists borrows from the eighteenth-century, in order to make luxury art items relevant to our material culture once again.

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