Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Summer of China, continued

Sunday, July 24th, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to follow up the "Summer of China" exhibits we hadn't seen. The Museum was having a Chinese cultural festival that weekend as well, with vendors, exhibitors, perfomances, and food, so that was an additional incentive to visit again.

The additional smaller exhibits included "Emerald Mountains: Modern Chinese Ink Paintings from the Chu-tsing Li Collection," which contains examples of work by mid-twentieth-century artists adapting centuries-old techniques of ink painting to modern concepts of style. This was a very interesting exhibit with many beautiful pieces done in modern versions of the famously subtle and restrained "mountain painting" style.

"Way of the Dragon: The Chinoiserie Style, 1710–1830" shows pieces created in Great Britain and America during the eighteenth century, during the same time when the Qianlong emperor was incorporating Western influences into his designs of the Qianlong Garden. This was a small exhibit, but fascinating as it shows the evident popularity of the "Chinese" style for all economic levels. In fact, I was most struck by how crudely made some of the pieces were. One of the most popular products was what we would now call "knock-offs" of the "Blue Willow" type of porcelain design. The exhibit includes not only very fine copies of this style, but some that only resemble the originals in the use of the classical blue pigment on white porcelain. A couple of the pieces look as though the designs were drawn by third-graders, surprising since the color process is rather difficult to control. It's also surprising that better artists weren't engaged, but showing that, since this stuff was still saleable even though at low-end it must have been wildly popular.

The last exhibit is an installation by Yue Minjin, "Contemporary Chinese Warriors," which is a pointed parody of the famous terra-cotta tomb warriors. The figures, garbed as modern Chinese working men, have hands over their ears, eyes closed, and mouths gaping in a grinning or laughing grimace. The over message is that "everyone's happy in the workers' paradise," but the distinct real message is "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"--practical advice for those living under a government with a poor record on human rights in general and free speech in particular--.

We also walked through "The Emperor's Paradise" again, taking a second look at our favorite pieces, and enjoyed the short cultural program which presented Chinese music, dance, martial arts, and juggling, and sampled some very good pot stickers and egg rolls from "House of Confucius".

This has been a very excellent set of exhibitions. Kudos to the Milwaukee Art Museum staff not only for snagging "The Emperor's Paradise," but also for the work put into the supporting exhibits.

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Tags: art
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