07 Mar 2021 •
Shortlisted - Exhibition of the Year
The Porcelain Room - Chinese Export Porcelain Exhibition Milan
Tom Postma Design
Fondazione Prada Milan
Production, Curatorship, Communication
The Porcelain Room exhibition explores the historical context, scope and impact of Chinese exported porcelains up to the present time. Curated by Chinese porcelain experts Jorge Welsh and Luísa Vinhais, it brings together more than 1,700 individual Chinese export porcelains made from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
The design represents a contemporary interpretation of the porcelain room. It is divided in 3 sections and conceived as a room within a room. The design comprises of two environments covered in brown velvet including multiple showcases and an intimate space decorated in gold. A temporary setting in direct dialogue with the permanent architecture by Rem Koolhaas.
Fondazione Prada commissioned Tom Postma Design for the design of the exhibition The Porcelain Room - Chinese Export Porcelain, on view on the 4th floor of Torre in Milan. The exhibition is an homage to the ancient porcelain rooms of European palaces and aristocratic houses. This contemporary interpretation of the porcelain room is a temporary setting in direct dialogue with the permanent architecture by Rem Koolhaas.
The spatial design created for The Porcelain Room exhibition is divided in 3 sections and conceived as a room within a room. The design comprises of two environments covered in brown velvet including multiple showcases and an intimate space decorated in gold. The three individual spaces exude their own specific ambiance, arising from the desire to recreate that distinct intimate feeling of a porcelain room.
The precious collection shows the very first commissions of Chinese porcelains by European clients after the arrival of the Portuguese in China. Early Western orders are extremely rare, with only around 150 having survived to the present day. Over 53 precious pieces are elegantly lit and displayed as if they are floating through darkness. The selection of unique first orders, on loan from the most relevant public and private collections from all over the world, represents the entire array of first orders in terms of typology, iconography, and period of manufacture.
Golden porcelain room.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is the golden room, a true contemporary homage to the tradition of porcelain rooms, like the iconic Porcelain Cabinet at the Charlottenburg Palace and Santos Palace. The room walls are totally covered in porcelains and gilded in gold leaves. The room creates an intimate interplay between the visitor and the breath-taking collection of more than 1,400 porcelain plates decorating the entire room. Jorge Welsh – artist in his early years – painted lines of colours, very organic and soft, using the plates as ‘brush strokes’ of a modern painting.
Corridor with tureens.
The middle section features a wide selection of objects interpreted as natural and surprising forms representing animals, vegetables and fruit tureens, in order to explore the impact and exoticism of Chinese table wares made for Western markets. The exhibition took place from January 2020 to January 2021 at Fondazione Prada, Milan.
This project perfectly embodies the judging criteria: innovation, creativity, functionality, sustainability and inclusivity.
Creativity, beauty and functionality.
The installation is a rigorous and contemporary interpretation of the porcelain room, made up of three pure volumes and conceived as a room within a room. From outside this temporary setting aims to set a direct dialogue with the permanent architecture of Fondazione Prada (OMA, 2018). From inside it creates an intimate interplay between the visitor and the breath-taking collection of more than 1700 porcelain art pieces. The installation immediately gets the visitor into a silent and concentrated trip through the history of porcelain, thanks to the combination of refined materials such as the brown velvet and the gold leaves gilded walls of the Porcelain Room, and minimalistic shapes.
The journey starts with the First Orders room, where the most precious pieces of the history of porcelain are displayed as if they are floating through darkness. It continues into a central area with 12 meters long twin showcases that feature surprising and exotic animals, vegetables and fruit tureen. And it leads to the Porcelain Room, a breath-taking immersion in a 360 degrees installation of more than 1400 porcelain plates and objects.
The Porcelain Room is the first contemporary exhibition recreating such a kind of display. It pays homage to classical references such as the iconic Porcelain Cabinet at the Charlottenburg Palace and Santos Palace, yet approaching them from an innovative perspective.
Many hidden solutions for security, lighting, visibility and structure have been developed to keep the design minimal and pure. In particular, the lighting of the Porcelain Room, invisible to the visitor, is very complex. This immersive environment needs an effective lighting able to reach all the pieces and directions, without blinding the visitors, interfering with them and showing the source of light. This issue has been solved with a system of diffused and hidden spotlights, embedded into the walls, the ceiling, the floor and the glass balustrade system. Other examples of the innovative approach to the technical problems posed by the exhibition are the solutions developed for the showcases, and in particular the hidden security system and the reinforced-hidden structure for supporting minimal shelves.
The exhibition layout and a careful attention to accessibility, lighting, showcases height and points of view give viewers of all ages, abilities and vantage points different perspectives of artworks throughout the show and directly enhancing inclusivity as an integral part of the exhibition experience.
The use of materials and the integration of rental structures and existing lighting ensured a sustainable outcome in terms of both environmental and economic impact. The structure of the exhibition is entirely prefabricated and made out of wood. Every finishing is made out of textile, glass or metal. All materials have been optimised, developing modular panels and reducing the amount of parts. No plastic-based materials have been used.
All parts of the installation can be reused, and the whole installation is meant to be disassembled and mounted again. Apart of some mini spotlights, the lighting concept has been developed starting from the equipment of Fondazione Prada and reusing existing lamps.