Vietnam created the most sophisticated ceramics in Southeast Asia. Though they borrowed from China, Vietnamese potters explored their own indigenous tastes and developed their own production techniques. As early as the 1970s, members of the Asian Art Society at the Museum recognized the beauty of Vietnamese ceramics and the potential for creating a significant collection in an under-appreciated field. The Museum quickly amassed a core group of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century blue-and-white export wares, modeled on the great blue-and-whites from the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen in China. The Museum bought more Vietnamese export wares at the rich international auctions of shipwreck materials that have revolutionized the study of Southeast Asian ceramics since the year 2000.
In 2010 the Vietnamese ceramics collection of Mr. William M. Spencer III, long-time Museum patron and founding member of the Asian Art Society, was bequeathed to the Museum. His gift greatly strengthened the Museum’s holdings of Vietnamese ceramics made for domestic use and never exported, a neglected area in which it has been difficult to find material. This donation, and the continuing judicious purchase of outstanding pieces over the years, has resulted in an extensive collection, with many fine, undamaged, and unique examples. Along with The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Birmingham Museum of Art now has one of the three finest collections of Vietnamese ceramics in North America.
Dragons and Lotus Blossoms: Vietnamese Ceramics from the Birmingham Museum of Art is the largest exhibition in the United States to date devoted solely to Vietnamese ceramics. The exhibition is co-curated by Donald A. Wood and John Stevenson, internationally recognized scholar and expert on Vietnamese ceramics. The entire Birmingham Museum of Art collection of over two hundred pieces, including a Le Dynasty jar recently named by Apollo magazine as one of the top ten museum acquisitions of 2011 in the world, is on display and illustrated in the accompanying catalogue. The catalogue includes essays by John Stevenson, Philippe Truong, and Donald A. Wood.
Dragons and Lotus Blossoms: Vietnamese Ceramics from the Birmingham Museum of Art is supported by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by the J & H Weldon Foundation, Inc.