New ceramics by Chris Antemann, created in the renowned Meissen Couture porcelain manufactory near Dresden, fuse delicate technique with titillating themes.
Chris Antemann’s work is the ultimate tease, taking come-hither flirtation to delightful extremes. Her porcelain figurines in “Forbidden Fruit: Chris Antemann at Meissen” have only one thing on their minds: seduction. And the way they go about it is as sly as it is refined.
Antemann’s work has always hearkened back to the mannerisms of 18th-century art, especially classic Meissen figurines. The difference in “Forbidden Fruit” is that the Oregon artist created all the pieces at the actual porcelain manufactory of Meissen Couture itself.
The German company, established in 1710 in a town near Dresden, invited her there in 2010. The resulting body of work, created over a four-year period with the help of the company’s artisan specialists, is as technically elaborate as it is erotically mischievous.
‘Forbidden Fruit: Chris Antemann at Meissen’
11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, until 8 p.m. for Free First Fridays, through May 29 at Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way N.E., Bellevue; $5-$12 (425-519-0770 or bellevuearts.org).
While the outward similarities between Antemann’s work and Meissen’s usual fare are forthright, Antemann introduces some sexual role-reversal that playfully subverts Meissen tradition. At the press preview for the show, she said she sometimes had to coax her Meissen collaborators into taking these liberties with company tradition.
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The centerpiece is a magnificent “Love Temple” with a “Forbidden Fruit Dinner Party” going on inside. The temple’s colonnades frame a variety of wayward attractions. Some of its nude males and flower-frocked females form distinct couples. Others are free agents. A few lone males train their gazes on the trio of maidens perched among the banquet dishes on the dining table — and those maidens are just as avidly checking out the male goods on display.
In several smaller works that surround the “Love Temple”/“Forbidden Fruit Dinner Party” installation — “Trifle,” “A Taste of Paradise,” “Covet” — male-female-female three-ways seem about to erupt at any moment, if they aren’t derailed by jealousy first.
Other pieces portray male-female duos in varying modes of erotic connection or comical disconnection. In “A Strong Passion,” the male figure seems entirely distracted by a porcelain vase he’s holding in his hand, while the woman at his side seems to be asking: “What about me?”
In “Love Letter,” a woman sits on a naked man’s lap, but her attention is fixed exclusively on the missive she’s reading. Is it from someone other than her doting lover? Or is she simultaneously enjoying both her lover’s words and his embrace?
“Ambrosia” is a rare instance of a man making the moves on a woman, tempting her with a tasty morsel in his hand as they drift along in a swan-prowed boat. In “Little Maid” — the only solo figure in the show — the maid of the title carries a full tea service on her rump, complete with teapot, cup, sugar bowl, cream jug and a stack of sugary confections.
Food, especially fruit and dessert, is as prominent in Antemann’s world as the promise of sex. It takes particularly ostentatious form in “Fruit of Knowledge” and “Tempted to Taste,” the two pieces she dubs “fruit pyramids.” In the latter, a young Eve-like woman offers her wary but intrigued beau an apple to sample, while a solitary female on the other side of the sculpture has clearly already savored her fruit.
In making the leap from Meissen-influenced to genuinely Meissen-made, Antemann delivers the goods with verve and panache. Yet she’s charmingly modest about her German adventure.
“It’s just been such a joy,” she said. “I feel very, very lucky.”