Contemporary Teapots Throw Their Own Party in the Art Market: No Longer Viewed as a Mere Functional Object, the Ever-Tantalizing Teapot Is Being Embraced as a Serious Art Form by a Growing Number of Collectors, Galleries and Museums. (Contemporary Teapots)

By Silberman, Vanessa | Art Business News, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Contemporary Teapots Throw Their Own Party in the Art Market: No Longer Viewed as a Mere Functional Object, the Ever-Tantalizing Teapot Is Being Embraced as a Serious Art Form by a Growing Number of Collectors, Galleries and Museums. (Contemporary Teapots)


Silberman, Vanessa, Art Business News


Throughout its 400-year history, the teapot has served many functions--as an utilitarian vessel to pour tea, as a symbol of hospitality and comfort, as a status symbol among the rich and, because of it's technical challenges, as a showcase of an artist's fine craftsmanship. Recently, the teapot has been elevated to what some would call a "higher" function--that of the fine-art object--due to a new generation of innovative American artists who have entered the field. They have created an astonishing and provoking array of teapots in various media that often look nothing like a teapot in the traditional sense of the word. Fanciful, elegant, abstract and sculptural, organic, figurative, exotic and satirical, these teapots explore color, form and content in ways never imagined. And as the genre of contemporary teapots becomes more important within the craft movement and the art world in general, collectors, galleries and museums are yearning to get in on this ever-enticing Mad Hatter's tea party.

"I have seen a definite rise in interest in teapots as an art form over the last few years at SOFA," said Barbara Smyth-Jones, director of public relations for the bi-annual exposition that takes place in Chicago and New York. "Many more galleries are showing one or two pieces ... And what's interesting is this rise has occurred in all media, not just ceramics."

Indeed, today's artists are creating teapots in such diverse and often surprising media as twigs, textiles, lace, buttons, sterling silver, glass, steel, fiber and wood.

"Teapots represent a new, emerging art form" continued Smyth-Jones. "In many ways, SOFA is a comfortable show--the artwork is very accessible and often humorous--and if you had to point to an object that crosses over, I think these multi-media teapots really appeal to a broad public. They reference the functional arts but with an intellectual, fine-art sensibility, and they represent a mixing of high and popular culture."

Growing Museum Interest

During the 1980s, teapot collecting became a big trend, and several major private teapot collections were established. Now, according to Leslie Ferrin, director of the Ferrin Gallery in Lenox, Mass., "the institutional interest is occurring. Several museums that collect contemporary ceramic art are beginning to assemble important collections of this period of teapot production ... Institutional interest is great because it inspires people to collect privately as well."

The Racine Art Museum in Racine, Wis., the Smithsonian Institution's Renwick Gallery and the American Craft Museum in New York are but a few of the museums with growing teapot collections. The Newark Museum in Newark, N.J., will open a show in 2003 on the vessel, and, according to Ferrin, "they will have quite a number of strong teapots in the show." Meanwhile, The Clay Art Center in Port Chester, N.Y., recently held an exhibit called "Teapots Transformed: Exploration of an Object."

And beginning May 16, a major traveling exhibit entitled "The Artful Teapot: 20th-Century Expressions from the Kamm Collection," based on Garth Clark's book of the same name, will make its debut at COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in Napa, Calif. On view will be 250 teapots from the collection of Sonny and Gloria Kamm of Los Angeles, who in the course of 15 years have amassed a collection of 7,000 teapots--purportedly one of the largest teapot collections in the world. "My heart is like a hotel--I have room for a lot of things," said Kamm, who also collects paintings, large-scale contemporary glass and ceramics. The exhibit has already secured an impressive list of venues, including the Montgomery Museum of Art in Montgomery, Ala., the George Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art in Toronto, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Long Beach Art Museum in Long Beach, Calif., and the Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C.

Such acceptance from the museum world suggests that teapots have made it into the major leagues, and it strengthens the already promising future for the market for contemporary teapots. …

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Contemporary Teapots Throw Their Own Party in the Art Market: No Longer Viewed as a Mere Functional Object, the Ever-Tantalizing Teapot Is Being Embraced as a Serious Art Form by a Growing Number of Collectors, Galleries and Museums. (Contemporary Teapots)
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