Enfilade

Exhibition | Made in China: Cultural Encounters through Export Art

Posted in exhibitions by InternRW on July 23, 2016

Press release for the exhibition now on view at the ROM:

Made in China: Cultural Encounters through Export Art
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, 5 September 2015 — 2 August 2016

Curated by Jian-fei He and Wen-chien Cheng

Soup plate. ROM European Collection.

Soup plate (ROM European Collection)

Primarily originating from four renowned ROM collections, Made in China: Cultural Encounters through Export Art features nearly 100 objects including paintings, porcelain, lacquer, silver, and photography. Displayed over several rotations, these pieces were created in the 18th and 19th centuries for enthusiastic European and North American consumers. Placing the ‘Made in China’ trademark in historical context, the exhibition explores the cultural encounters between China and the West, revealing a dynamic history of export trade centered in the port city of Canton (Guangzhou). Dr. Jianfei He, the ROM’s James M. Menzies Chinese Research Fellow, is the exhibition guest curator. Dr. Wen-chien Cheng, the ROM’s Louise Hawley Stone Chair of Far Eastern Art, is curatorial supervisor.

Wallpaper detail. Gift of Mr. Noah Torno (ROM)

Wallpaper detail (ROM, Gift of Noah Torno)

Chinese export art is associated with both Chinese art traditions and Western ideas. Like many products manufactured in China today, the works created centuries ago served as decorative art and souvenirs for foreigners. Examples of pith paper paintings, a materially demanding and technically complex art form, are among the highlights of this intimate exhibition. Derived from the ginseng family, pith paper is strong and, when damp, may be stretched and folded into nearly any shape. Watercolours and tempera are absorbed easily, creating a relief texture with a velvety visual depth. Rarely publicly displayed, these paintings are among the hidden treasures of the ROM’s Far Eastern holdings. Beyond this distinction, these works embody the exhibition’s theme: a lens through which extraordinary cultural encounters are witnessed. Scenes painted on the pith paper romanticized Chinese customs, daily life, landscapes, and exotic plants and insects—all serving to evoke fantasized images of China for Westerners.

Establishing that this tradition continues to this day is the inclusion of a set of contemporary hand-painted wallpaper commissioned especially for the ROM’s exhibition and created by a modern workshop in Shenzhen, China. A diverse group of specimens and objects from a number of different collections—from insects of the ROM’s entromology department corresponding to those seen in nearby pith paper paintings to a silver goblet from the Museum’s European Decocorative Arts Department depicting a dramatic scene—round out the display.

Jianfei He’s research fields and interests include ancient Chinese bronze mirrors as well as the embroidery, textile, and cultural heritage management of Southwest China and Southeast Asia. Wen-chien Cheng’s major area of research is premodern Chinese painting, and her research approach is a contextualized study of visual culture.

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