“Forbidden Fruit” porcelain show celebrates 18th century with modern twist

Chris Antemann respects certain aspects of the past. This doesn't prevent her from turning it on its head.

Chris Antemann respects certain aspects of the past. This doesn’t prevent her from turning it on its head.

Opening for display Feb. 26 at Bellevue Arts Museum, Antemann’s “Forbidden Fruit” exhibition showcases the artist’s work through MEISSEN porcelain celebrating 18th century dining culture.

The baroque and rococo-stylized porcelain figures play with the concept of the male gaze, flipping it upside down to create playfully erotic works.

“The subtle sexuality helps make the female gaze turn the male gaze on its head,” Antemann said at the media preview. “The MEISSEN mentality is all about showing curiosity in the face.”

MEISSEN is a German company that has made luxury porcelain products for more than 300 years. The company invited Antemann to participate in its art studio program at the porcelain manufactory on the German Saxon town of Meissen.

The company guarded the secrets of hard-paste porcelain (the first to be made in Europe) for years before Saxony lost a war and the secret proliferated the continent.

Each piece Antemann creates, from the small, limited edition “Little Maid” piece to the massive and intricate “Love Temple” is painstakingly hand-painted. Gold paint made of 24 karat gold powder is used sparingly to highlight certain details such as the hair or the plates and cups used in the scenes.

Antemann said that she works with a team of painters to create the cheeky figures, stylized as semi-nude young adults in the 18th century high fashion. Her wit shines through as each figure expresses mischief, curiosity or lust — and sometimes all three.

Stefano Catalani, Bellevue Arts Museum’s director of art, craft and design, spoke about the porcelain demand of the 17th and 18th century.

“There was a craze for porcelain,” he said. “At first, Europeans were copying the Chinese style, but that gave way to the baroque and rococo styles.”

Working with MEISSEN, Antemann has been asked to produce some of the figures on a larger scale for purchase. She has made several of these limited-edition sculptures, but prefers to make original pieces such as the “Dinner Party” and “Love Temple,” which took more than 300 molds to put together.

“I’m a maker,” she said. “I want to make unique pieces. They rely on limited editions to make money, but once in a while they do allow me to work on something different.”

Antemann, who lives in the tiny town of Joseph, Oregon, has been working with porcelain since 1999. She said the contrast of living in a rodeo town and working with baroque porcelain figurines is not lost on her.

“At first I wasn’t sure what I was getting into,” she said. “I was hiding out there. But now people know me and Wallowa County has become my home.”

Antemann’s husband started the LH Project, an artist residency program in Joseph.

A gallery of Antemann’s art and ways to purchase the pieces can be found on her website and on Meissen.com.

The “Forbidden Fruit” exhibition will be on display until May 29 on the second floor of Bellevue Arts Museum.

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