In early January 2017 the Museum für Asiatische Kunst closed its doors in Dahlem to prepare for reinstallation in the Humboldt Forum. As part of the series ‘On the Way to the Humboldt Forum’, a selection of the finest works in the museum’s outstanding collection are now on display at the Kunstgewerbemuseum, integrated into the permanent exhibition. Works from both museums are placed in associative dialogue with one another. This form of presentation vividly illustrates the lively, centuries-long interchange of materials, techniques, forms, and motifs between Europe and Asia. The exhibition, divided into five thematic discourses, opens on 15 December 2017 and is expected to remain on view in the Kunstgewerbemuseum and at the Kulturforum until April 2019.
Horn, Bone and Ivory from India and Europe
The first discourse focuses on Indian and European artworks from the 13th to the 19th century. The material itself already symbolizes power, virility, grandeur, and purity across cultures. Ivory was particularly valued, and used for hunting equipment, cosmetic utensils, and rulers’ insignia. In the West, ivory was also associated with the exotic, giving an aura of exclusivity to the foreign material, which could only be acquired through extensive trade networks.
Porcelain and Tea in Asia and Europe
The second discourse is dedicated to ‘white gold’. The formula for porcelain had been known in China for centuries. In the 17th century trade between China, Japan, and Europe intensified, bringing large quantities of Chinese porcelain and tea to the West. European attempts to ‘reinvent’ porcelain, however, remained fruitless until 1708, when the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger and the scientist Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus succeeded in creating porcelain in Meissen. The juxtaposition of Chinese, Japanese, and Meissen porcelain clearly illustrates the differences and similarities between them. The transfer of motifs also occasionally led to misunderstandings. For example, what was a phoenix in China mutated into a rooster in Meissen.
East Asia and Art Nouveau
In their search for new sources of inspiration, the Art Nouveau artists also drew on East Asian models. In the third discourse, French Art Nouveau ceramics enter into a dialogue with vessels from China, Japan, and Korea. The so-called ‘maîtres du feu’ were inspired not only by the forms and motifs, but also by the intensely colourful drip glazes of East Asian pottery. The East Asian ceramics presented here, the oldest of which date to the 4th century, appear timeless and modern.
The Kimono in European Fashion
The fourth discourse addresses fashion. The aesthetic influence of East Asia on the development of European fashion can be traced back as early as the 18th century. Parisian haute couture later discovered the Japanese kimono for ladies’ fashion. In the early 20th century the famous Parisian couturier Paul Poiret (1879–1944) not only liberated women from the corset, but also designed a completely new feminine silhouette, achieving a masterful synthesis of Western and Far Eastern clothing styles. A ladies’ kimono from the Taishō period (1912–1926) provides a Japanese counterpart to Poiret’s designs. The black kimono is magnificent and very formal. To this day such kimonos are still worn on highly ceremonial occasions.
Chinese Chairs as Models
In the fifth discourse, Chinese chairs of the late Ming and early Qing period (15th to 17th centuries) encounter the ‘Kinastol’, designed in 1943/44 by the Danish cabinetmaker, furniture designer, and architect Hans Jørgensen Wegner, and modelled on just such Chinese chairs. Wegner followed the minimalist form of the Chinese models, moulded to the shape of the human body, and reproduced their stunning quality (the chairs are assembled from interlocking components, but not bonded together) with superb European craftsmanship.
On the Way to the Humboldt Forum
The collections of the Museum für Asiatische Kunst and the Ethnologisches Museum will remain on view for visitors during the move to the Humboldt Forum. ‘On the Way to Humboldt Forum’ is a series of dialogic special exhibitions, displays, and events involving the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s two non-European collections and will take place at the Kulturforum and the Museumsinsel Berlin, on view until the spring of 2019.
Further information about the entire programme is available on the website ‘On the Way to the Humboldt Forum’.