Enfilade

Opinion | Time to Rethink Chinoiserie

Posted in journal articles, opinion pages by Editor on November 2, 2021

Thomas Chippendale, Chinese Chairs, 1753; black ink, gray ink, and gray wash (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 20.40.1.23). From The Met’s online description: “Preparatory drawing for Thomas Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director. Published in reverse as plate XXIII in the 1754 and 1755 editions. The plate is reworked and renumbered as plate XXVII in the 1762 edition. In the new version the arm chair on the right (left in the print) is left unaltered, while the chair back of the chair in the middle is changed and the chair on the left (right in the print) is changed completely.”

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The following op-ed was published online at Elle Decor in May with a version also appearing in the October issue of the print magazine. It’s the sort of essay that I’ve been hoping to find for a few years now, one that bridges the scholarship of the past two decades with contemporary design practice, particularly as promoted by shelter magazines. I suspect that it could be useful pedagogically as a way to connect the historical origins of the material to present-day decorating trends. CH

Aileen Kwun, “Opinion: It’s Time to Rethink Chinoiserie,” Elle Decor (27 May 2021). From pagoda motifs to floral wallpaper, chinoiserie has always openly borrowed from Asian visual culture. But is it harmful? A design writer and reporter asks the AAPI design community to weigh in.

Foo dogs. Ginger jars. Yin-yang tables. Pagoda motifs, fiery dragons, and bamboo stalks. See it in architecture, gardens, interiors, furnishings, products, graphic motifs, and at just about every scale of design. Chinoiserie, a genre of reproduction design dating back to 17th- and 18th-century Western Europe, has had a long history. From Louis XIV’s decor at Versailles to Ettore Sottsass’s pagoda-topped postmodern shelving, Westernized versions of Asian motifs have long been a mainstay of interior design. . . .

As a style of decor, chinoiserie is ubiquitous, even beautiful. But as an Asian American, chinoiserie has never sat well with me—as a motif or as a word—and, to varying degrees, I’m not the only one. “My reading of chinoiserie is that it’s ‘Asian’ in facsimile,” the architect Michael K. Chen says. “The way that chinoiserie is deployed in interiors is something that I am a little reflexively allergic to. As a component of a ‘traditional’ interior, it seems to highlight the question: Whose tradition are we talking about?” . . .

The full essay is available here»

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