Object of the Week: Prosperity V by Caroline Cheng

Caroline Cheng (b. 1963) is a world-renowned ceramist, curator, and educator. Born in Cambridge in the United Kingdom, Cheng received her bachelor of fine arts from Michigan State University and her master of fine arts from the Academy of Art College in San Francisco before moving to Hong Kong in 1991 to manage The Pottery Workshop, a center for teaching and promoting ceramics. Cheng became Director of The Pottery Workshop in 1997 and has since founded several branches of the Workshop in cities throughout China. Cheng’s ceramic sculptures reflect her Chinese heritage and culture, and she is best known for her Prosperity series, a group of Chinese-style dresses covered with thousands of miniature hand-formed porcelain butterflies. Cheng was first inspired to create the Prosperity series in 1998 on a visit to Jingdezhen, the ancient center of porcelain production in China and today a place of flourishing creativity. She met local craftspeople sculpting tiny butterflies, dragonflies, and bees out of porcelain and, amazed at the speed with which they worked, Cheng ultimately hired Jingdezhen ceramists to make the butterflies needed for her Prosperity series.[1] The enormous amount of labor involved—multiple ceramists sculpting tens of thousands of tiny butterflies—is an important component of the series. The title of the series is a play on words: in Mandarin, the words “clothing” and “prosperity” are pronounced similarly as “fu.” Describing Prosperity, Cheng says, “From afar, people can look at China and see a country with people almost looking the same. But if you look closely, it has many complex personalities, many different cultures mixed into one large pot.”[2] This same experience happens with the Prosperity series. At first, the sculptures look like elaborately patterned dresses, but if you look closely, each individual butterfly is visible, clearly hand-formed and unique.


Photo credit: Ferrin Contemporary 2. Prosperity V, detail.


Similar to Adelaide Alsop Robineau’s Scarab Vase, a significant work in the Everson’s collection, Prosperity V reflects the devotion and hard work of artists dedicated to their craft. The work required to create thousands of tiny butterflies is similar to the one thousand hours Robineau reportedly spent intricately carving scarab beetles on the vase’s surface. Prosperity V is currently on display in Earth Piece through January 5, 2020.

-Steffi Chappell, Assistant Curator

Photo credit: Ferrin Contemporary [1] Laurie Chen, “Hong Kong artist’s butterfly-covered dress at British Museum,” South China Morning Post, https://www.scmp.com/culture/arts-entertainment/article/2142883/hong-kong-artists-butterfly-covered-dress-british-museum [2] Artist statement, Ferrin Contemporary, https://ferrincontemporary.com/portfolio/caroline-cheng/#1493493229108-69a768f5-2b9b

Caroline Cheng, Prosperity V, 2007, porcelain and fabric, 71 x 71 inches, Everson Museum of Art; Gift of the artist, 2019