Giorgio Riello (Professor of Global History and Culture, University of Warwick)
Linda S. Eaton (John L. & Marjorie P. McGraw Director of Collections and Senior Curator of Textiles, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library)
Darielle Mason (Stella Kramrisch Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art)
Asma Naeem (Chief Curator, Baltimore Museum of Art)
In a moment when many museums are rethinking their collections in terms of normalizing narratives, this discussion will draw from South Asian and diasporic art to explore ways that the contemporary may disrupt constructed narratives of the past and challenge institutional practices. Are such interventions short-sighted? How might they locate visitors in time but also dislocate them conceptually? If curators have a responsibility to be stewards of their collections, do our contemporary interventions into historical material enhance visitor experience or take unwarranted liberties with the past? Or does the result depend on selection and implementation?
The discussion will range from artists whose explicit subject is South Asia’s past, and whose work often appears within installations of historical material. These include Shahzia Sikander, who appropriates the Indo-Persian miniature tradition in an array of media and scale, Zarina Hashmi, whose minimalist prints are love letters to her childhood home in pre-Partition British India, and Atul Dodiya, who plays with the tropes of Indian (art) history, mythology, and popular culture. Also considered are artists such as Ranjani Shettar and Mrnalini Mukherjee, whose art connects to the region in large part through medium rather than iconography. In this discussion, the curators hope to unpack some of the temptations and difficulties of locating and dislocating history within the contemporary.
Dorothy Y. Ko (Professor and Chair, Department of History, Barnard College)
Edward S. Cooke, Jr. (Charles F. Montgomery Professor of American Decorative Arts, Yale University)
Our team proposes “eco-aesthetics” as a useful analytic category in material culture studies by reorienting the researcher’s gaze from the aesthetic appearance of individual, discrete objects and a concern with the linear transmission of stylistic details to environmental principles and networks that profoundly impact the look of specific objects and create the distinct category of eco-aesthetics. In short, we are interested in the material response to and experience of an entire eco-system of tangible resources such as water and timber.
Ko will explore the theory and practice of landscape architect Kongjian Yu (b. 1963) to map the parameters of what we refer to as “eco-aesthetics.” The Dean of the Graduate School of Landscape Architecture at Peking University and founder of the firm Turenscape, Yu is a pioneer of sustainable development and “designed ecology.” Against the backdrop of rapacious state-sponsored development in China since the early 1990s, Yu advocates an alternative model to the solidity of land and concrete, one rooted in values drawn from fengshui and rice cultivation, the building of tu–ren-scapes (tu-ren, literally soil-people or man-of-the-earth). This paper focuses on the centrality of water to this approach. As outlined in his books, The Art of Survival(in English; 2007) and Sponge City(in Chinese; 2016), Yu holds the primary objectives of landscape design in a precarious age as sustainable livelihood and security to the people, not decoration or beauty.
While Ko focuses upon the concepts of sustainability and security as an aesthetic to counter the capitalist developmental model, Cooke examines the concept of green woodworking as a lifestyle choice to counter the alienation of post-industrial capitalism. In the late 1970s John Alexander and Drew Langsner began to explore traditional woodcraft by making chairs from green wood. Splitting their own stock from the log and using simple hand tools that cut and shaped the moist wood easily, their work stood in stark contrast to the Fine Woodworking-inspired jigged-up cabinetmaker’s shops that manipulated kiln-dried lumber. From these experimental archeological beginnings has grown a vibrant subculture of amateurs and professional craftsmen who seek out the benefits of direct contact with the timber sources, hand tools, the aesthetics of edge tools, and functional objects. The draw of this lived ecology has its roots in the anonymous directness emphasized in Yanagi’s “unknown craftsman,” the handskills promoted by the Scandinavian sloyd system, and the “gentle revolutionary” philosophy of American studio craftsmen.
Refocusing design as a primal human need, an eco-aesthetics approach dissolves the separation between man and nature, city and village, resource and land, as well as growing and building.
Jens Baumgarten (Professor of Art History, Universidade Federal de São Paulo)
Dennis Carr (Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
The paper concentrates on the circulation of Asian artifacts entering and leaving the Americas, especially the Spanish territories of Mexico and Peru and the Portuguese colony of Brazil, on the ensuing networks of transcultural relationships, and on the consequences of the movement of materials, cultural objects, and works of art during the colonial era. In view of the impossibility of presenting an histoire totalein the context of this vast territory, the intention is to concentrate on objects that have generally been neglected in the relevant literature, and to tell a colonial history of art that ventures beyond the customary stylistic and iconographic models. The paper will also address to a certain extent the wide range of objects made in the colonial Americas that reflect, were inspired by, or were the result of the prodigious and long-lasting exchange with Asia that began in the sixteenth century. The question prompting this endeavor is, to what extent and how this transfer of artifacts shaped the subjectivity of their owners and, hence, that of those observing colonial culture.
The argument evidenced in the following case studies of Asian objects is intentionally neither linear nor dichotomous, in order that a range of different aspects can be examined and integrated into the discourse: materials, relics, and above all Asian artifacts, which have hitherto often only had a marginal role in investigations into colonial Latin America and in particular Brazil. The aim is to shed a clearer, transcultural light on various strategies of appropriation and re-signification, especially as manifested in different regional and cultural contexts. By focusing on materials and on the collection and reception of religious and secular artifacts of Asian origin, this paper will seek to provide some remarks on the significant role that transoceanic and local trade networks played in the development of colonial identity in the Americas and their impact on local artistic production.
Medill Higgins Harvey (Associate Curator of American Decorative Arts and Manager of the Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Forrest McGill (Wattis Senior Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art and Director of the Research Institute for Asian Art, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco)
Our two case studies throws light on the complexities of American designers’ engagement with the arts of Asia in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Edward C. Moore (1827-1891), a young man trained in his father’s New York silversmithing shop, took charge, from the 1850s, of Tiffany & Co.’s silver design and production. He presided over extraordinary creativity and innovation, which was greatly inspired by Asian art and sensibilities. Moore’s drive to transform Tiffany’s into the world’s preeminent silversmith prompted him to seek out new and varied aesthetic ideas and techniques. With the aim of educating and inspiring his designers and craftsmen, he amassed a vast collection of works of art and books from diverse moments in time and geographic regions, becoming a pioneering collector of objects from Asia. The creative exchange that resulted was one of sampling, recombining, and reconsidering to formulate novel decorative vocabularies and designs.
Moore’s work and collection informed subsequent generations of artists and collectors, including Louis C. Tiffany (1848-1933), who studied at Moore’s knee, and Tiffany’s partner and cousin-in-law Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932). Not only did de Forest and Moore share an interest in Indian metalwork but they also had a common passion for designs inflected with Asian aesthetic sensibilities. Lockwood was heir to and continued the creative process of fusing diverse Asian and North American tastes and decorative vocabularies into inventive artistic creations.
De Forest was one of the creators of an extraordinary house in the San Francisco Bay Area built around 1908 and reworked into the 1920s. Originally designed by architect Bernard Maybeck and decorated by Tiffany Studios making use of Indian-style paneling and furniture by de Forest, the house also features rooms in Chinese and Japanese style.
De Forest, protege of Frederick Church (who also had an interest in Asian decorative arts), spent 1881-1882 in India studying Indian architecture and decoration. He formed a business partnership with an Indian businessman in Ahmedabad to produce high-quality furniture, paneling, and architectural components, which were then sold in the US through Tiffany Studios.
The Bay Area house, with its Indian, Chinese, and Japanese components within Maybeck’s California Arts and Crafts architectural context, exemplifies the openness to Asian styles, and the eagerness to adapt them, of Moore, de Forest, and other American designers of their period.
Marco Musillo (Research Associate, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut)
Catharine Dann Roeber (Brock W. Jobe Assistant Professor of Decorative Arts and Material Culture, Executive Editor of Winterthur Portfolio, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library)
In the painting La Princesse du pays de la porcelain, James McNeill Whistler created for the sitter a stage where China and Japan meet: in the background a Japanese multiple-paneled screen decorated with birds and flowers, and a Chinese carpet on the floor. Displayed in a nineteenth-century American home, such an encounter was not only the result of the Western fashion for East Asian luxurious items, especially for Japanese art, but also the visible sign of a centuries-old dialogue between artistic forms travelling between different East-Asian cultures, and between Asia and United States. The screen was a design form constantly in motion. Originally from China where is called pingfen, the screen travelled to Japan where it received a new name – byobu– and a new aesthetic identity. Later, the same transformation occurred when the screen landed in Colonial Mexico, Europe, and North America: in all these places it found new contexts of use and artistic meanings. We will explore the relationship between Chinese lacquered screens, and their North-American spaces of display and translations, using examples from Winterthur and elsewhere. How such pieces were incorporated in American interiors, and how they compete with their Japanese counterparts? What was their influence to the local productions of screens, and what were the differences in terms of raw materials employed and structural elements? In turn, we will discuss how in nineteenth and twentieth-century America, the idea of a folding element like the screen changed, and became a local feature with its own identity, not anymore in debt with East Asian models. For example we would like to exchange ideas on the American practices for making screens, and decorating them with different kinds of pictures, from artistic translations to amateurish practices for decorating homes. The Chinese screens in the Winterthur Collections represent in fact the key to begin a unique American journey through cultural translations of art and design that still today influence our taste and living spaces.
- Different techniques and raw materials for making screens, in Asia and in America.
- How the screen shaped the living space? Use of the screen in the domestic space, how it changes through time.
- Functions of the screen: the screen as furniture, the screen as sculpture, and the screen as picture or as surface to display pictures.
- The screen in the history of American design: practices through which the screen becomes American.
- The screen as an exotic and luxurious object for collection: the role of merchants and collectors.
Femke Diercks (Head of Decorative Arts, Rijksmuseum)
Karina Corrigan (H. A. Crosby Forbes Curator of Asian Export Art, Peabody Essex Museum)
Building off of the work we did together for Asia in Amsterdam: the Culture of Luxury in the Golden Age, we intend to explore the role of shine – or gloss – as a signifier of Asia in American (or American-market) decorative arts. While shininess is not unique to Asian products, it was an important factor in their aesthetic power and appeal. The sheen of Chinese silk, the iridescent gloss of a turbo shell, and the glossy surfaces of porcelain and lacquer were valued and acknowledged attributes of Asian luxury goods.
We’ll begin our exploration of this larger concept by focusing on a Delftware teapot with an early 18th century American provenance. During excavations at Drayton Hall in Charleston, South Carolina, archaeologists uncovered six black-ground tin-glazed earthenware shards from a teapot; the Rijksmuseum’s collection includes an intact example of this rare form. During the first half of the 18th century, a fashion for glossy black ceramics blossomed in Europe.
Written descriptions of the desirable attributes of Asian luxury goods are rare. Indeed, in period sources, the glossy surfaces of earthenware are more explicitly mentioned than for porcelain. The qualities of the ‘original’ are assumed; it is only when the imitation is praised as good as the original, that these qualities are made explicit. In his 1708 poem R. Cramer writes that Delftware “in color and gloss and paintwork” is better than anything else in the country, matching “what has been brought from China.” The same is true for lacquer. It is not in the descriptions of Japanese and Chinese lacquer, but rather in sources such as Stalker and Parker’s recipes for imitations that we find lacquer described as “more glossy and reflecting than polisht Marble”.
Greg Landrey (Director of Academic Affairs, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library)
Liu Chang (Associate Professor, Tsinghua University, and Director of the CRAFT Educational Program, Palace Museum)
Lee S. Glazer (Director of the Lunder Institute for American Art, Colby College)
Stacey Pierson (Senior Lecturer, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London)
It could be argued that the expatriate American James McNeill Whistler—an artist but also an enthusiastic collector of Japanese and Chinese lacquer, woodblock prints, and, above all, porcelain— “invented” what is usually characterized as an “Asian aesthetic” for a generation of American and British painters, connoisseurs, and consumers. Beginning with a series of costume pictures in the 1860s and culminating with Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, his storied domestic interior, Whistler translated a diverse array of pictorial and decorative motifs and actual objects into a system of aesthetic relationships, a “story of the beautiful ”as he put it, that ignored specific histories of material production or cultural interchange in favor of cosmopolitan commonalities and correspondences. Of course, Whistler’s Asian aesthetic was itself the product of a particular context, a late-19th-century British art world where Japanese and Chinese objects were easily acquired, popular, relatively affordable—and little understood. This paper will explore that context and Whistler’s place within in it through the framework of the Peacock Room, considering its early history as a dining room in Victorian London and then examining its subsequent recontextualizations: as an aesthetic laboratory in the Detroit home of Gilded Age industrialist and museum founder Charles Lang Freer and, finally, as an artistic object in the Freer Gallery of Art that has been on permanent display since 1923. Our work will be guided by the seemingly contradictory notions of the Peacock Room as an embodiment of Whistler’s aesthetic invention (or signature style) andas a site of continuous and ongoing reinterpretation of “Asian aesthetics” in a global context.