Meissen and Bocci in dialogue in Berlin exhibit

IN A NEW LIGHT: When Meissen tapped German fashion designers Otto Drögsler and Jörg Ehrlich for the newly established post of creative director, many openly wondered what the quirky duo behind the women’s fashion brand Odeeh might do. Simply dress up Europe’s first and now 300-year-old porcelain manufactory in new clothes? To a minimal extent, that temptation seems to have been irresistible, as first glimpsed at Odeeh’s seasonal still-life at Der Berliner Mode Salon last July, where a few historic Meissen animal figurines appeared in patterns borrowed from Odeeh’s ready to wear collection. These again welcomed visitors in a camouflage set-up against fabrics in matching but blown-up patterns at “Meissen x Bocci Archive,” which opened in Berlin Tuesday in the run-up to Gallery Weekend.

However, the show underscored Drögsler and Ehrlich’s primary intention of bringing the full spectrum of Meissen’s creative oeuvre — old, new, forgotten, ignored, even accidental — into a fresh focus.

Displayed in 20 rooms in the former courthouse which serves as Bocci’s Berlin headquarters, the show continued an often whimsical dialogue between Meissen and the Vancouver-Berlin lighting and design company’s luminous installations. The tone was playful, with Meissen birds nestled in Bocci’s tree-like structure of molten glass and steel. Or not wanting to collide with a hanging Bocci chandelier, Drögsler and Ehrlich instead displayed a Meissen archive painting of a highly decorative porcelain chandelier on the floor, sprinkling it with real floral porcelain chandelier elements like a curved arm here and there. While Meissen “wouldn’t consider these pieces finished,” Drögsler told WWD, a room filled with large floor vases in pure, undecorated white porcelain was a tranquil and very modern celebration of form, while the duo’s Astroturf picnic spread in a wildly random mix of patterns suggested how younger generations might come to terms with the notion of a porcelain service.

“We’re trying to bring [Meissen services] onto an easier level, not so serious. Like our fashion,” commented Ehrlich. And so the costly tableware found its place on a plastic red and white checked spread, the outdoors theme mirrored in Bocci’s hanging configuration of lit glass spheres which also housed assorted plants. There were porcelain monkey orchestras, both Rococo and newly conceived, animated by a 1950’s music-making and dancing chimpanzee film the duo had found on YouTube. Really putting a new spin on Meissen’s formal possibilities was the “Born in Fire” display shown under the eaves of the roof, where some fabulous mistakes, like a large blue and white floral floor vase which collapsed into a new shape in the kiln, or a two handled cup had real start-up flair.

The show continues through May 16 at Bocci79 on Kantstrasse. The next Meissen projects for its creative directors? CI, window displays, new porcelain series as well as classic decors in new designs. “That’s the difference to fashion,” said Ehrlich. “You’re not reinventing the wheel each season. You have to deal with old and new. It’s always both. And that’s great.”

And what does the staff of the three-century old manufactory, let alone the market think, when rules are broken and the unshowable is shown? “No, I don’t think people think they’re crazy,” responded Meissen managing director Georg Nussdorfer. “It’s about ploughing through our history and standing by our DNA. We’re not only royal and grand but playful. And we want to stay that way.”