At any price point, blue-and-white Chinese porcelain wares were hot items in 1870s London, a craze the British press mockingly dubbed “Chinamania.” Our eponymous exhibition explores the endurance of this phenomenon from the Victorian era to our own. Artist Walter McConnell selected and arranged blue-and-white wares from China’s Kangxi period (1661–1722)—similar to those originally displayed in James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room—and contributed two of his own monumental ceramics. Inspired by his visits to the kilns and factories in Jingdezhen, a major site of Chinese ceramics production and export since the fourteenth century, McConnell’s work questions the aesthetic and cultural meanings of replication, consumption, and transnational encounters both commercial and artistic.
Chinamania complements Peacock Room REMIX: Darren Waterston’s Filthy Lucre, a contemporary installation that reimagines the Peacock Room as a resplendent ruin collapsing under the weight of its own material and creative excess. The toppled, shattered, and misshapen ceramics, oozing and dripping with paint, that fill the shelves and litter the floor of Filthy Lucre convey a sense of unsustainable luxury. The work resonates with McConnell’s interest in the interplay among creativity, mass production of aesthetic objects, and our culture’s centuries-long infatuation with China (and china).