NORMAN, OKLA. – Following a major gift of Native American art by private collector James T. Bialac a year ago, the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art debuts a new exhibition of contemporary Chinese teapots from Bialac’s collection.

Tea & Immortality: Contemporary Yixing Teapots from the James T. Bialac Collection opens with a reception at 7 p.m. Friday, April 1, at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma. The exhibition is organized by the Phoenix Art Museum, which received the collection as a gift from Bialac. The Museum Association will host the opening reception and invites the public to attend the complimentary reception.

Chinese OU students will present a Chinese teaceremony in the foyer of the Museum Store at 5:30 p.m., followed by a guest lecture by Alan Atkinson, OU School of Art and Art History instructor, at 6 p.m. The tea ceremony will highlight the traditional methods for serving tea.

“Mr. Bialac’s dedication to quality art and education continues in this new exhibition ofselected works from his beautiful Chinese teapot collection,” said Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art director Ghislain d’Humières. “Mr. Bialac’s gracious gift of his expansive collection of Native American art last year set the groundwork for this exciting new exhibition. This exhibition of intriguing teapots shows Mr. Bialac’s breadth of appreciation for fine art.”

The stoneware clays of Yixing, China, known locally as “zisha” or “purple sand,” have been shaped into handsome utilitarian objects since the 14th century. By the 17th century, local craftsmen were using Yixing clay to create aesthetically sophisticated teapots for the scholar gentry of China. This selection of contemporary Yixing teapots from the James T. Bialac collection represents the delightfully whimsical culmination of this tradition.

In his lecture, The World in a Teacup: Some Observations on the Global Impact of Tea and Tea Culture,Atkinsonwill discuss the impact of tea on the world culture. Tea has spread from itsprehistoric origins in the jungles of southwest China to become the most popular prepared beverage in the entire world. Atkinson, a historian of Chinese art, tea aficionado and Yixing teapot collector, will take particular notice of the invention and spread of the ceramic teapot as a key element in the civilizing ritual of tea.

“Nothing coming out of China, with the possible exception of paper, has had the kind of widespread impact on other cultures that tea has had,” Atkinson said. “There is nothing that reminds us of our shared humanity quite like the intimacy of sharing a pot of tea. Wherever you go on this planet, an invitation to tea is an invitation to join your host in quietly contemplating the benefits of civilization.”

Although the exhibition features several dozen exotic teapots in the forms of animals, mythological creatures and more, Atkinson emphasized the importance of their function.

“Yixing Teapots are like utilitarian sculpture, and no matter how finely wrought, or carefully crafted, or cleverly shaped they might be – unless they can deliver a stream of hot tea safely into your teacup, they are no use at all,” he said.

During the exhibition, the Museum Store will offer replicas of teapots from the Bialac collection for sale. The individually priced Yixing teapots are close approximations to several pieces in the Bialac collection and, alongside the exhibition, have been selected to reflect the diversity represented in the collection.

The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is located in the OU Arts District on the corner of Elm Avenue and Boyd Street, at 555 Elm Ave., on the OU Norman campus.

Admission to the museum is free to OU students with a current student ID and museum association members, $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $3 for children 6 to 17 years of age, $2 for OU faculty/staff and free for military veterans with proof and children 5 and under. The museum is closed on Mondays and admission is free on Tuesdays. The museum’s website is www.ou.edu/fjjma. Information and accommodations on the basis of disability are available by calling (405) 325-4938.

Construction on a new wing is under way, but the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is open and fully functional with exhibitions and programming throughout the entire construction process.

 

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