January 31, 2014
April 27, 2014
Honolulu Museum of Art
The Geldermalsen, a Dutch East India Company ship, left the port of Canton, China, for the Netherlands on December 18, 1751, with a crew of 112 men and carrying almost 700,000 pounds of tea, 203 chests holding 240,000 pieces of Chinese blue and white porcelains, as well as silk cloth, exotic woods, lacquer, and gold bars. While passing through the Bangka Strait, which separates the islands of Sumatra and Bangka in the Java Sea, the Geldermalsen struck a reef on the evening of January 3, 1752 and began taking on water. Despite the crew’s efforts to free the ship, it capsized and sank with 80 men, including the captain, Jan Diederik Morel, and the entire cargo. The tea and the gold were the most valuable goods; the porcelains, although headed for market, functioned mainly as ballast to stabilize the ship. An investigation was conducted, with many of the survivors being questioned. The documents relating the story of the Geldermalsen’s fate would remain untouched in the Dutch East India Company’s archives for almost 235 years.
In 1985, Michael Hatcher, a marine salvager, located the wreck and from 1985 to 1986 his operation retrieved 150,000 undamaged porcelains that he shipped to Christie’s in Amsterdam for auction. Seeing the porcelains in Christie’s warehouse, Christiaan Jörg, then curator of the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands, was able to verify that the pieces came from the Geldermalsen, intensifying media coverage of what Christie’s had dubbed the “Nanking Cargo.” The auction brought more than 40 million Dutch guilders (approximately $20 million), creating a sensation in the art and auction world and also sparking outrage from the Indonesian government, which claimed the wreck was in its territorial waters, as well as from maritime historians and archaeologists, who deplored that the wreck had not been studied more thoroughly and unique data had been destroyed.
Dr. Jörg, noting that in preparation for the auction some porcelains were accidentally broken or damaged, requested and received shards for the Groninger Museum. Hatcher, revisiting the Geldermalsen wreck, brought up shards that he gave to the museum as well. Many of the shards remained in the museum’s storage until it learned from Dr. Jörg about Diane KW using porcelain shards and gave her pieces to create “new” works of art by applying digital ceramic transfers of original texts, engravings, and modern auction photographs that trace the story of the Geldermalsen, from the start of its ill-fated voyage to the controversial handling of the wreck and its fragile cargo in the 20th century.
Read more about artist Diane KW, her process in creating the works in this exhibition, and her new ongoing project Together Under One Roof on the museum blog.
See Diane KW's website.
Photo credit: Judith Monteferrante