One thing I vividly remember from my youth is the fervor with which my mother collected Lladró…and I just didn’t get it. I wasn’t the sort that liked dolls and dress-up (though I do now), so I could not understand what it was about these porcelain sculptures that she liked so enjoyed. If my mother was the sort to collect Chris Antemann’s work, I might have eventually come to some understanding.
Chris Anteman is a sculptor who is devoted to porcelain. Trust me: these aren’t your mother’s and your grandmother’s porcelain figurines. The artist, who says her “primary focus is liberating the figurine from its roots in mass-production,” creates highly detailed scenes of history, decadence and debauchery.
Antemann does an excellent job describing her work and process. I find this delightful, as I’ve encountered many skillful and interesting artists who have difficulty articulating what they do. On her website, she describes her current pursuits as “expanding upon my previous parodies of decorative figurines by delving into the darker side of relationships and domestic rites: twisted tales of master and servant, the innocence of the floral-clad maid, the dominance of patriarchal desire. Tricked out in frilly camouflage, these characters disregard tradition, exposing society’s cistern of unmentionables.”
These works have direct and indirect allusions to the 18th century, the period in which porcelain first came into popularity. Antemann is concept driven, and all the works originate with some initial inspiration—a painting, a life event, a moment in history. From there, she hand-builds and slip casts the figures and sets; assembles the various elements; fires the final piece; and adds self-created decals and paints in all the gorgeous detail on radiant white glaze.
Porcelain is unmistakable. It has worked its way into our cultural conscious. We all know that shiny white, and can probably think of someone in our lives who collects figurines. To some extent, this work relies on that collective consciousness. The artist is thoroughly invested in this material: its history, what it symbolizes, and how to turn all those allusions upsides-down.
I also love that these works tell stories. A dinner party erupts joyously as a woman turns into the centerpiece. A woman sits on a bed covered in porcelain flowers, her legs are spread and she gives us a lascivious glance. In another, a girl coyly peeks around a tall boy at a couple thoroughly engaged on the other side; we know her secret and we’ll keep it safe.
It’s important to recognize the comedic quality of these works. Antemann clearly has a sense of humor, and I hope many share it. This art is emphatically fun and thoughtful. Indeed, in my home, we’ve been referring to these pieces as “slutty Lladrós”
While Antemann’s work depicts an earlier age than those commonly depicted by Lladró, I like to think back to my mother’s collection. It thrills me to imagine the expressions all those Spanish figures might wear if one of Antemann’s one-of-a-kind pieces took center stage in the china cabinet.