Jun 9 - Sep 8, 2024

The Portland Vase

Mania and Muse

Mania and Muse

The Portland Vase, an ancient Roman glass cameo amphora held in the British Museum since the early 19th century, has been a global brand that has resonated with artists, makers, collectors, and consumers for centuries. The Portland Vase: Mania and Muse asks why and how a singular Classical vase becomes a legend, an “influencer,” and an artistic and commercial muse across time and place to artists such as Josiah Wedgwood, Viola Frey, Chris Wight, Michael Eden, Nicole Cherubini, Clare Twomey, and Roberto Lugo. Featuring more than 65 artworks, this exhibition examines the role of brands in our culture, considers why Classical traditions dominate the artistic canon, and how that tradition might be reconsidered and disrupted. A catalogue is available for purchase in the Museum store.

Open today 10am - 5:00pm

The Portland Vase, encompassing the original cameo glass antiquity and its enduring legacy, serves as a compelling point of departure for a collective ceramic exhibition. Just as the breaking and subsequent restoration of the original vase enhanced its reputation, contemporary interpretations disrupt canonical ceramic histories and offer new insights into present-day issues.

Sara Morris

Ruth Rippon Curator of Ceramics

Exhibition Preview

Image: Portland Vase Install 1
Image: Portland Vase Install 3
Image: Portland Vase Install 4
Image: Portland Vase Install 2

More Info

The words “Portland Vase” yield 16,100,000 search results on Google. Entries include the unique ancient glass masterpiece housed in the British Museum, Josiah Wedgwood’s limited-edition 18th-century copies, and countless modern commercial replicas produced in many shapes, sizes, and materials. On Instagram, images of the Portland Vase surface as an aspirational pin-up photo, tattoo, non-fungible token (NFT), and other novelties. The Portland Vase has also served as a plot device in films and musicals, including, most notably Make Me an Offer (1954), starring Peter Finch as an antique dealer in search of a rare green version of the Vase made by Josiah Wedgwood. According to the Corning Museum of Glass, the Portland Vase is as famous as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

“This exhibition seeks to uncover the reasons why this ancient vase looms so large in our collective memory as well as how it continues to be vital in culture today. Spanning centuries, The Portland Vase: Mania and Muse starts with the history of this cameo glass vase and demonstrates its impact on modern artists through the work of Viola Frey, Squeak Carnwath, Hitomi Hosono, and others. We hope visitors will have the opportunity to see aspects of art history through new eyes, drawing new and surprising connections,” said Lial A. Jones, Mort and Marcy Friedman, Director & CEO, Crocker Art Museum.

A catalogue, The Portland Vase: Mania and Muse, is available for purchase in the Crocker Museum Store. The exhibition is curated by guest curator Rachel Gotlieb, PhD. On Saturday, August 3, a virtual public program Backstory: Portland Vase Mania brings together curator Rachel Gotlieb and artists Clare Twomey, Glenn Barkley, and Nancy Selvin for a conversation around how contemporary artists are rethinking and addressing art and social histories through reinterpretations of this iconic vessel.