New 'Art of Refreshment' exhibit highlights the history and cultural aspect of tableware

FLINT, Michigan — Art lovers across the region can look forward to a new upcoming exhibition at the Flint Institute of the Arts which features objects used to present and serve food and liquids from locations across the globe and from various points throughout human history.

“The Art of Refreshment” opens on Saturday, Feb. 25 inside the FIA’s Ann K. Walch-Chan Gallery and will be viewable through Sunday, Aug. 27. The collection includes approximately 50 unique items.

Sarah Kohn, who serves as curator of collections and exhibitions at the FIA, explained that when looking for inspiration for a new exhibition, she often starts by scrolling through the museum’s online database. 

Other times, she takes a walk through the vault to look at the items close up and in person. The museum's vast collection includes over 8,500 items.

While perusing the several thousands of paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and more, Kohn often asks herself, “What ties these objects together?” She also considers what items have not yet been seen by the public.

Kohn says the new “The Art of Refreshment” exhibition highlights the ties that bind us all as human beings no matter what time period or place we come from. “The act of eating and drinking, whether it’s at a party or a quiet tea, it’s part of who we all are,” she said.

Japanese Teapot. 19th century. Ceramic. Gift of Miss Angelina Simonson. 1935.2.
“That teacup might remind you of an important point in your past,” she added. “The exhibition hopefully shows you things you’ve never seen before, and makes you think of parties, events, or moments across history and across the world.”

While many of the more contemporary pieces in the exhibition are from the U.S., other pieces come from the far corners of the globe.

The oldest items in the exhibition are a pair of bronze dishes from Iran — a cup and a bowl — that date back to 1000-800 BCE. “They’re a little rustic looking,” Kohn said.

Other items in the exhibition hail from 18th-century China. “Dishes were made in a process where clay is punctured and then the object is dipped in a glaze, so it looks like there are areas that are translucent. So it looks almost like lace,” said Kohn. 
Eric Goldschmidt. American, born 1972. Galaxy Goblet, 2018. Glass. 12 × 3 in. (30.5 × 7.6 cm). Purchase prize from the exhibition From the Flame, with funds donated by Security Credit Union. 2019.86.
Another set of objects with a more simplistic design utilizing basic shapes is a glass dish and bowl from Ancient Rome.

Some of those older objects show visible signs of wear which can tell the viewer even more about their history. “You can see scrapes around a bowl, or where these objects have been lovingly used,” Kohn said.

One of her favorite parts of the exhibition is one of the more modern items, a tea set by contemporary ceramics artist Dan Anderson that was sculpted to take the shape of a factory. “It’s really remarkable because you would never know by looking at it that it’s an entire tea set,” said Kohn.

Visitors can expect to see that set, entitled “Purina Chow Tea Set,” and dozens more in the exhibition. Other types of items include salt cellars, salad dishes, nut dishes, and chopsticks, to name just a few.

In addition to “The Art of Refreshment,” several other new exhibitions are scheduled to open at the FIA this spring.

“Sentences” will open on March 1, and is described as “a captivating, hypnotic meditation on the poetics of space and language.”

Another upcoming exhibition, entitled “Torched Glass Pipes,” opens on April 20 and will “explore the creative possibilities of functional glass.”

Admission to the Flint Institute of Arts is free to Genesee County residents, FIA members, and children 12 years of age and under.

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Read more articles by Katy Kildee.