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The Juxtaposition of tradition and modernity through ceramics

The debate about the relationship between "tradition and modernity" occupied the dominant position of critical theory in China throughout the 20th century; criticism and reflection on Chinese traditional culture made the label of the century "criticism and enlightenment". A lot of artists like to use the juxtaposition of tradition and modernity to express the impact of China's rapid industrialization on the country's cultural, social and economic landscape.

Juxtaposition--Artists usually juxtapose with the intention of creating a particular effect, especially as two contrasting or opposing elements are used. The viewer's attention is drawn to the similarities or differences between the elements.

Chinese ceramic artist Li Lihong used the method of juxtaposition to combine two familiar but disparate imageries. The combination of tradition and modernity, the East and the West, business and art is not the kind of violent conflict that people expect. On the contrary, through the contrasting sources, the overarching familiarity is almost complementary.

Li Lihong (2007) McDonald'

Li Lihong (2015) Apple China

The juxtaposition with traditional painted porcelain and symbols of Western culture, such as the logos of McDonald's and Apple, is a way to reflect the dialectical thinking of globalization and nationalization in the contemporary time. “We stand at the crossroads of globalization and nationalization”, Li Lihong contend that "Modern", "postmodern" is not a opposite with tradition, but a way of self-renewal. These brands also bring different consumer cultures. So he used ceramics, the most traditional, and the most "globalized" commodity in China as a medium to express the contradiction and integration with global economy and national culture.

Many artists absorb the influences of contemporary society, from advertising to consumer culture (large companies such as Coca-Cola or McDonald's in the 1980s entered China), and also used the method of juxtaposition of imageries to open up a dialogue about consumer culture in the globalization and how traditional culture can interacts with modern life, such as Lei Xue’s blue and white vase in 2009 and Keiko Fukazawa’s “Made in China”.

Lei Xue (2009) Vase, hand-painted porcelain vases

Li Xue (2009) Drinking Tea, hand-painted porcelain cans

Xue's interest in cultural conflicts, but also in tradition and contemporary culture, is acutely captured by a piece consisting of multiple soda cans littering the floor of the gallery. Seemingly bent and bashed like so much garbage, their material contradicts their form: The cans, hand-painted with typical motifs from the Ming dynasty, are made of fired porcelain. Is this an elevation of trash culture or a gesture toward retrieving and modernizing a great, lost era? Either way, Xue presents a subtle show in which he combines epochs, cultures, and styles and transforms them into profound and poetic works of art.

Keiko Fukazawa (2015) Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom II

Keiko Fukazawa (2016) Made in China

Keiko Fukazawa borrowed and re-contextualized images of Chairman Mao, along with other elements taken from Chinese pop culture and the dally life of the people there, as a way of making a conceptual point about the impact of China's rapid industrialization on the country's cultural, social and economic landscape.

Much of the work in Hello Mao is the result of an artist residency at the Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen, China, an ancient city known as the “Porcelain Capital”. Fukazawa has secured the residency three times, offering her the opportunity to work with craftspeople highly trained in the use of porcelain in the Chinese tradition.

Chinese political history and popular culture serve as a major influence in Fukazawa’s work. Fukazawa incorporates historic imagery of Chairman Mao along with highly recognizable images of popular culture and high-end product logos to underscore the conflict of interest between socioeconomic conservatism and the current obsession with consumerism.

Issues as “Old vs. New”, "Progress vs. Regression," "Nature vs. Industrialization," “Community vs_ the Individual,” and “Communism vs. Capitalism” are challenging China. In these artists' work. They wants to find and express the tension, truth, irony and drama at the point at which all these opposites meet, however chaotic that point may be.


Li Linghong (2009) Breaking the mold: contemporary Chinese and Janpanse ceramic sculpture available at

Lei Xue (2009) Zwischen Ming And Coca-cola available at

Keiko Fukazawa (2015) Made In China available at

#juxtaposition #tradition #modernity #porcelain #ceramics

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