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Vis a Vis. Asia Meets Europe

Start Date 15 December 2017
End Date 30 April 2019
Venue Decorative Arts Museum (Kunstgewerbemuseum)
Location Berlin, Germany

The Museum of Asian Art closed its doors in Dahlem at the beginning of January 2017 in order to prepare for its repositioning in the Humboldt Forum . A fine selection of his outstanding holdings is now being presented as part of the “On the Way to the Humboldt Forum” series in the permanent exhibition of the Museum of Applied Arts . Works from both museums enter into an associative dialogue. This form of presentation illustrates the lively transfer of materials, techniques, forms and motifs between Europe and Asia, which has been taking place for centuries. The presentation consists of five thematic discourses and can be seen from December 15, 2017 until April 2019 in the Kunstgewerbemuseum at the Kulturforum .

Horn, bone and ivory from India and Europe

The first comparison shows Indian and European works of art from the 13th to 19th centuries. The choice of materials alone symbolizes power, potency, sublimity and purity across cultures. Ivory in particular was valued as a material for hunting equipment, cosmetic utensils and regalia. In the West, there was also the exotic aspect, which heightened the aura of exclusivity of the foreign material obtained through extensive trading networks.

Porcelain and tea in Asia and Europe

The second discourse is devoted to “white gold”. The porcelain recipe had been known in China for centuries. In the 17th century trade between China, Japan and Europe intensified. As a result, large quantities of Chinese porcelain and tea found their way to the West. The European “reinvention” was not achieved until 1708 in Meißen by the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger and the natural scientist Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus. The differences and similarities become clear in the juxtaposition of Chinese, Japanese and early Meissen porcelain. When transferring motifs, there were also misunderstandings – a Chinese phoenix mutated into a rooster in Meissen.

East Asia and Art Nouveau

In their search for new impulses, the Art Nouveau artists also referred to East Asian models. In the third discourse, French Art Nouveau ceramics enter into dialogue with vessels from China, Japan and Korea. The so-called “Maîtres du Feu” were not only inspired by the shapes and motifs of East Asian influences, but also by the intensely colored running glazes. The East Asian ceramics presented at the same time appear timeless and modern, the oldest of which date from the 4th century.

The kimono in European fashion

The fourth discourse is about fashion. The aesthetic influence of East Asia has been documented in European fashion development since the 18th century. Later on, Parisian haute couture discovered the Japanese kimono for women’s fashion. The important Parisian fashion designer Paul Poiret (1879-1944) not only freed women from corsets at the beginning of the 20th century and designed the new female silhouette. He also succeeded in creating a masterful synthesis between Western and Far Eastern clothing. A women’s kimono from the Taishô period (1912-1926) is the Japanese counterpart to Poiret’s fashion. It’s a gorgeous, black, and very formal kimono. To this day, such kimonos are worn on the highest solemn occasions.

Chinese chairs as a model

In the fifth discourse, Chinese chairs from the late Ming and early Qing periods (15th to 17th centuries) encounter the “Kinastol” designed in 1943/44 by the Danish cabinet maker, designer and architect Hans Jørgensen Wegner. Wegner followed the reduced, human body flattering figure of the Chinese models and translated their astonishing quality – the chairs are only put together and not glued – into excellent European craftsmanship.