Meissen began collaborating with artists in the 1920s, when its general manager Max Adolf Pfeiffer brought in a group of artists “to bring new inspiration into the company,” Gulden explains. But the artists weren’t creating unique pieces; instead, they developed designs for tableware and figurines, which are still sold today. Later, from World War II through the Cold War, Meissen was behind the Iron Curtain, making collaboration with outside artists all but impossible.
In 2008, Meissen hired a new CEO, Dr. Christian Kurtzke, who initiated the artist residency program. He hoped the artists would served to bridge Meissen’s past—its 300 years of tradition and history—and its future. Rather than an application process, artists were invited to interview and tour the manufactory to inspire ideas. Upon entering the program, artists are given access to the facilities and master artisans, but little formal direction, leaving them free to shape the residency to their interests.
While artists are given this great freedom, they’re also presented with a great challenge: Porcelain is notoriously difficult to work with. “It’s like cream cheese,” says Antemann. “It’s slippery, and it breaks apart. It’s very hard to build without molds.”
The porcelain process is also slow. If an artist is simply painting on the porcelain, they can perhaps stay for just two weeks, Gulden says. But for sculptural works, a year would be a fast turnaround, even for something small. So, artists often have to visit the manufactory numerous times over a period of years.
According to Gulden, many artists work by creating molds from a clay model, and use them to shape the porcelain. Then it has to dry, which takes about two weeks (it also shrinks by 20 percent, something artists have to plan for). Then, there’s firing, glazing, and a second firing—which can draw out the process to around two months. And that’s before the piece can even be painted.
“People think we are just sleeping,” Gulden says with a laugh. “But the reality is that porcelain takes a lot of time.”