The Gardiner Museum in Toronto is Canada’s best-known institution committed to chronicling the history of clay as an art form. While a large part of its mission is to showcase the beauty and functionality of clay, the museum also aims to offer immersive and experience-based learning opportunities to the local community as well as to the visitors it attracts. Those planning a visit are encouraged to supplement their viewing experience by taking one of their workshops or attending one of the many lectures that are on offer. The Gardiner Museum also includes a gift shop as well as a bistro, making it a well-rounded destination for those new to Toronto.
The Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art was founded by George Gardiner and his wife Helen in 1984. George Gardiner had been a successful businessman when he began collecting ceramics from various parts of the world. His passion for ceramics ultimately led him to acquire pieces that would form the basis the museum’s holdings. While the institution was briefly managed by the Royal Ontario Museum, it ultimately regained its independence in 1996. Hereafter, attendance, program participation, and membership more than doubled over the following 7 years. Between the years of 2004 and 2006, the museum underwent a sizable expansion, which saw the addition of 14,000 square feet to the building, giving additional capacity to house a larger collection. Aside from adding more gallery space, the expansion provided a new retail shop and café.
Representing 47 different cultures from across Mexico, the American Southwest, and Central and South America, the Gardiner Museum is home to one of Canada’s most developed collections of ceramic art from the Americas. Visitors are invited to appreciate the myriad of regional aesthetic differences in the exhibited pottery from these distinct cultures. This comprehensive collection has pieces dating from 1550 AD to as far back as 3500 BC, giving guests an inside look at art forms developed prior to European contact.
Chinese and Japanese Ceramics
While China has been producing pottery since the Neolithic period, its best-known contribution in this area is its invention of porcelain during the Tang Dynasty. The Gardiner’s collection of blue and white porcelain, originally manufactured in the city of Jingdezhen, showcases the way in which this art form spread in popularity from the 14th to the 17th centuries all around the world. Visitors are invited to compare and contrast the way this art form was adapted across different artistic traditions. Further, this exhibit highlights the influence of Chinese and Japanese ceramics in the world today.
Slipware, creamware, and tin-glazed pieces are all represented in the European Earthenware collection at the Gardiner Museum. While pieces form Italy, France, and England are most heavily represented, there are also a few prominent pieces of stoneware hailing from Switzerland and Germany. Visitors can explore the various ways earthenware differs depending on the glaze, decoration, and body contour it is given.
18th and 19th Century European Porcelain
By the late 17th century and early 18th century, Europeans perfected the production of hard-paste porcelain products. By then, demand for these products was at an all-time high throughout the continent. The Gardiner collection reflects the regional differences of ceramics made in Austria, England, France, Germany, and many other European countries. One interesting section of the collection titled Comedia dell’Arte features pieces that depict actors and well-known characters from theatrical performances that were first popularized during the Renaissance.
Modern and Contemporary Ceramics
The contemporary and modern ceramics on display allow visitors to observe the way in which the art form changed and developed in the period after WW2 up to the present day. Canadian, American, and international artists are highlighted. In browsing the pieces on display, visitors can trace the tension between the opposing perspectives that many artists have taken on the value and function of ceramics. While some saw the art form as a way to oppose the encroachment of industry into historically artisanal domains, other preferred to divorce ceramics from their functionality and see them as purely decorative objects. Artists that espoused the latter approach were part of the Modernist movement and included such names as Lucie Rie and Hans Coper. At the same time, renowned artist Bernard Leach promoted the former view. Both perspectives are in dialogue through the pieces on display and visitors are invited to enter the conversation by forming their own ideas based on what they see.
111 Queen's Park, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C7, Canada, Phone: 416-586-8080