Over the last 30 years, Toronto resident, Raphael Yu has quietly amassed an extraordinary collection of contemporary Canadian ceramics. On November 11, 2011, the Gardiner Museum announced Mr. Yu’s commitment to gift his collection of over 300 Canadian works to the public. This gift will elevate the Gardiner’s already impressive collection to be among the best collections of contemporary Canadian ceramics in the world. It is also aligned with the Museum’s commitment to feature work by Canadian artists in its permanent and special exhibition galleries, and to involve living artists in its education programs.
Mr. Yu’s collection documents what Canadian ceramics have achieved over the past three decades. It contains important work by some of the finest Canadian ceramic artists made throughout their careers.
“Ceramics today is more than pots. It can be sculptural or conceptual. It can be tangible or intangible, recognizable or unrecognizable. It can be about living, or about ideas. It is about life,” says Yu.
Yu came to Canada from Hong Kong as a student. Although trained in business and finance, Yu has the passion of a true art collector. He also shows how an ordinary citizen can make a transformative difference to a cultural organization. Yu has a discerning eye and a strategic approach, which has enabled him to collect timeless and substantial works without breaking the bank.
In addition to his collection, Mr. Yu has committed to making a planned gift to create an endowment which will allow the Gardiner Museum to continue to collect Canadian ceramics in perpetuity.
“When making the decision to donate my collection I was very impressed with the commitment of the Gardiner Museum with respect to contemporary ceramics,” says Yu.
Given the transforming and enduring nature of Raphael’s gift the Museum is creating the Raphael Yu Center of Canadian Ceramics. This is not a physical space –it will be a virtual space on our web site – and the rubric under which all of the exhibitions and programs made possible by Mr Yu’s generosity will be positioned.
Why I Collect
Canada has no ceramics tradition, but she has an openness to it. The result is the emergence of practices and sensibilities that are as wide as the country. These practices and sensibilities speak to contemporary concerns. They also challenge mainstream notions of art and social mores.
To some, a pot may be interesting only to our grandmothers. But this venerable art continues to offer perspectives and values that are especially pertinent now. I’m speaking of ‘lost’ values like persistence. It can take a lifetime to be a master potter, if you’re lucky. Or a respect for material and process, an antidote to our increasing addiction to a nano second virtual existence. Or a desire to access a layer of spirituality that only reveals itself when we are still.
Ceramics today is more than pots. It can be sculptural, or conceptual. It can be tangible or intangible, recognizable or unrecognizable. It can be about living, or about ideas. It is about life. For example, the work of Steve Heinemann is a lifelong investigation, using culptural means, into the relationship between nature and culture, the exterior and interior, the inner and outer, using the simplest of forms.
The work of Paul Mathieu, Richard Milette, and especially Leopold L. Foulem, disenfranchised artistically and socially, upend normative hierarchies and prejudices on art, gender and sexuality. Shary Boyle subverts mainstream boundaries on notions of femininity, craft, ornamentation and sculpture. Her porcelain work especially is emotionally and materially vulnerable, yet biting. The work of Boyle raises an interesting question. She is recognized and acknowledged as a 'mainstream' artist, while the others discussed above are not. Yet all of them demonstrated intelligence and passion in their engagement with clay. Perhaps we are dealing with labels here. Labels categorize things. They may, however, limit the way we can experience things. The question is whether we should continue to define ourselves, and others, by labels.
I have been collecting since about 1980, never expecting that it has taken on a life of its own. The collection is an extensive collection of Canadian ceramics of the last 35 years, a period in which Canadian ceramics achieved a level of quality that can stand up to comparison with the best from other ceramic traditions, historically, and internationally. It contains some of the most important work from the finest Canadian potters and ceramicists. It is unique because of its national scope, and because some of the most important work of these potters and ceramicists are no longer available.
So why clay? I don’t know. Perhaps it gives me a deeper sense of time and history, of the mutability of things. This is my solace.
I am what you are. We are each other’s harvest. I collect and write in response to the potters and ceramicists I admire. They take me places. To go along for the ride requires knowledge, intuition and humility. With such impossible demands, there is no question of ever arriving. The best one can hope for is to be forever going somewhere.
This, to a student immigrant from Hong Kong, is a truly pleasant surprise.