It’s nearly 20 years ago
that Kenny Everett, a British comedian, radio DJ and TV entertainer,
passed away from AIDS. To many, he embodied the height of tackiness
throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s , not least with one of his famous
characters – Cupid Stunt (think about it!), who was a starlet with
balloons for boobs and who kept criss-crossing ‘her’ legs while assuring
us that everything was ‘all in the best possible taste’.
perhaps in some parallel universe, Kenny had wished to personify a
museum, he surely couldn’t have done better than to have chosen one in
Tianjin, a city situated some 120 kilometres southeast of Beijing.
House (a.k.a. Porcelain House – 瓷房子) is a ‘contemporary’ museum of
pottery and antiques. It is located in a historical colonial building –
No. 72, Chifeng Dao, in Heping District; and even without taking a
single step inside, you can see how vulgar it is going to be from the
we are all voyeurs at heart, and just as we couldn’t help but switch on
the TV every week to watch Cupid Stunt displaying ‘her’ red satin
knickers every time ‘she’ crossed her legs, so the urge to actually go
in to this monstrous museum became overwhelming and I finally succumbed
on my fourth visit to this lovely city.
five-storey French-style house, which covers some 3,000 square metres
was originally the home of a central finance minister in the late Qing
dynasty (how he must be turning in his grave), and was later converted
into a bank in 1949, after the founding of ‘New China’. But later the
building was left deserted, until porcelain collector Zhang Lianzhi
bought it for 1 million yuan ($160,000). He then spent the following
four years turning it in to the monstrosity it is today.
said that over 5000 ancient vases, 4000 plates and 400 million porcelain
fragments have gone into the outside ‘decoration’ of the house. Not for
nothing is it known as ‘the most eye-catching building in Tianjin’, and
of course, it is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions,
having finally opened its doors to the great unwashed on September 2nd,
courtyard wall is covered with around 3,000 porcelain vases, while the
wall in front of the house is named the ‘peace wall’, consisting of 635
vases made during the Republic China and the late Qing Dynasty.
ways the place reminds me of some of the famous Gaudi buildings that
grace Barcelona – guaranteed to shock on first glance but which grow on
you after a very short while – except that this abomination doesn’t grow
on you – well, that’s to say it hasn’t grown on me one iota, though to
read some of the comments on the likes of TripAdviser you’d end up
thinking this guy was some kind of a genius. It all goes to show there
is no accounting for taste.
the House is decorated with some 400 million pieces of ancient
porcelain, 16 thousand pieces of ancient chinaware, 300 white-marble
carvings, 20 tons of crystal and agate and millions of pieces of ancient
Chinese ceramic chips. Some of the fragments and vases go back to the
Tang (AD 618-907) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.
fact, about 80 percent of the porcelain used comes from broken or
damaged antiques, but Zhang mixed all the different fragments together
and pasted them onto the walls in such a way as to conceal the damaged
bits, so most of them look intact.
ensured that elements of Chinese ' culture' could be seen at every turn;
and he seems to have taken a liking to creating loads of dragons
entwining the exterior wall. Each dragon is more than 200 meters long
and is pieced together from thousands of porcelain pieces. They are said
to symbolize the power of ancient China, being one of the most dominant
features of Chinese architecture.
fact, looking down on the courtyard there are piles of stone pillars and
junk littering up the front yard and one shudders to think what this
guy has next planned on his to-do list.
is snapping away on their mobile phones, with idiotic people striking
poses as if there was no tomorrow. What drives them to behave in such a
way – heaven alone knows! (Ah well, if you can’t beat 'em, join 'em… as
the house it is very dark, making it difficult to see some of the more
imaginative uses one can put a broken teacup to. Thank heavens that in
contrast to the outside, the inside porcelain is only used to decorate
parts of the ceiling, rails and doors.
also loads of antique furniture, arranged like in a junk yard sale.
With the very dim lighting it’s difficult to see if its good stuff or
really is just junk. My inclination was to the latter, though a group of
loud-mouthed Americans wearing grotesquely chequered trousers covering
their ample bottoms ooh’d and aah’d as if they had come across the
meaning of life.
“This is simply awesome,” wrote one overawed visitor; while another opined “The building is very unique,” which I guess demonstrates their level of education and credibility.
with some of the tat, there are a few nice things to see, however, such
as porcelain mosaics of various different animals, scenery, and Chinese
characters. This eagle is rather a handsome bird, I felt…
… while this snub-nosed tiger is somewhat endearing, if perhaps a little anatomically challenged.
As for the cockerel – well you have to smile when you see it don’t you.
Some of the ceiling designs, too, I have to grudgingly admit to finding quite nicely done…
Zhang Lianzhi, meanwhile, just like Kenny Everett, insists it is all done in the best possible taste. "The design is based on my understanding of antique porcelain and traditional Chinese culture,” he once explained in an interview. “The
experience is like a child building his dream house with toy bricks.
With such a large amount of porcelain pieces, all I needed was my
imagination to create and explore."
would argue that used in this way, the antique artefacts have become
worthless, though Zhang counters that antiques are not something that
can only be conserved in storage houses, saying he is giving his
collection a new lease of life by presenting them to the public. "I
want to share my enthusiasm about the collection with many more people.
For the past twenty years, I myself have found great fun in studying the
stories and history behind the ceramics. It would be a pity and waste
if these fabulous works of art were appreciated by myself only." Hmm, if you say so, Mr Zhang; if you say so.
course, you might well be asking yourself how this guy could afford to
put together such a museum. It turns out that not only was he born into a
wealthy businessman’s family in Tianjin, but he also has a profitable
Cantonese-style restaurant chain. He has been collecting antique
porcelain for well over 20 years. And maybe he just ran out of space in
which to store it all!
you, one of his latest acquisitions is a fully functional Land Rover
covered with approximately 10,000 pieces of antique ceramics. It’s
estimated to be worth around 1 million yuan ($160,000). And although its
owner is reluctant to put a price tag on China House, ‘experts’
(whoever they may be) have evaluated the museum to be worth at least 2
billion RMB ($315 million).
blogsite Huffington Post has listed China House as one of the world's
15 most stunning museums; and rumours abound that even Bill Gates wanted
to buy it but was refused.
Which all goes to show, I suppose, that there is one born every minute!