Chinamania: A Theory of Everything

Walter McConnell began his series A Theory of Everything after he traveled to China in 2002 and witnessed the mind-boggling ceramics production sites at Jingdezhen. Each sculpture in this series combines hundreds of individual elements—imitation Ming vases, smiling Buddhas, grim reapers, historical icons, and cartoon characters—that the artist casts from molds recycled from the hobby industry. After the mineral-rich crystalline glazes on the figures are fired at extremely high temperatures, they create complex surface textures and rich tonal variations.

McConnell refers to his ceramic assemblages as stupas due to their simple conical forms. Stupas, which originated in India and spread throughout the Buddhist world, are freestanding structures made to hold holy texts or remains of saints. McConnell’s stupas elevate mundane objects that have been endlessly replicated for popular consumption. By comparing his extravagant piles of kitsch to a sacred structure, McConnell asks us to think about the meaning of our own “acquisitional urges” and the desire to accumulate.

The relationship of “the ceramic archive” to collecting and display has a long history in the West. During the Victorian and Gilded Ages of the late nineteenth century, connoisseurs and consumers vied to acquire exported Chinese blue-and-white ceramics. A Theory of Everything brings the ceramic archive, recycled and compounded to excess, into the twenty-first century. As McConnell says, this is evidence not only of a collective unconscious but also of the larger cultural contexts in which objects accrue value and meaning.

Read an interview with Walter McConnell in Sculpture’s April 2016 issue.

The ceramic archive recycled and compounded to excess seems to be evidence of a collective unconscious—vastly weird and wonderful—that is at the core of our acquisitional urges and desires.

—Walter McConnell








We are excited to reopen the Freer in October 2017, following a renovation to allow us to better present our art and serve our visitors. The Sackler remains open, with a full lineup of exhibitions and events both in the museum and around DC. For your safety, all visitors will have their bags checked. See the complete list of restricted items and bag sizes.