Connected \\ September 4, 2019
Asian export art
Some people go the postcard route. Scottish merchant James Drummond sought a more sumptuous souvenir to remember the 20 years he spent living and working in Guangzhou, China. He commissioned a local Chinese artist to create an entire room of wallpaper to capture views of this thriving port city.
For 175 years, the panoramic wall covering hung in his family’s castle in Scotland. Today the rare work gloriously adorns PEM’s new Asian Export Art gallery. Visitors on the second-floor space can admire the enveloping scene, sit in armchairs by a cozy crackling fire (a convincing video of one) and listen to a soundscape that evokes the experience of traveling from Scotland to China and back again.
As a team, we worked hard to make this room come to life,” says Karina Corrigan, The H.A. Crosby Forbes Curator of Asian Export Art. “You’ll hear the sound of rain and bagpipes and wind through the heather, which morphs into the noises of a busy waterfront with passing ships, flags flapping and people speaking in different languages.
Coromandel Coast, India, woman’s yoke (detail), about 1750. Cotton, linen, silk. Museum purchase, the Veldman-Eecen Collection. 2012.22.28. Photo by Walter Silver/PEM.
We want to disrupt the notion that ours is the first global era,” says Corrigan. “What for us is a simple act of clicking a mouse and getting something delivered from China has been happening for centuries. It took a lot longer. It cost a lot more. It was fraught with danger. But it’s fundamentally the same kind of global connection.
PEM owns the world’s most comprehensive collection of Asian export art, including ceramics, paintings, furniture and other works made in China, Japan and South Asia specifically for export. The gallery showcases this abundance of riches in new ways. More than 200 works of art on view demonstrate the beauty and ingenuity of objects that are created through blending artistic traditions, materials and technologies.
Japanese artist, jewel box (detail), about 1640. Lacquer, wood, ivory, gold. Museum purchase in honor of Anne G. Studzinski, made possible by anonymous donors, 2009. Photo by Dennis Helmar/PEM.
Chinese artists, large covered vase (detail), 1710. Porcelain. Museum purchase made possible by an anonymous donor, 2001. AE85782.AB. © Peabody Essex Museum.
Chinese porcelain is one of the collection’s greatest strengths. One “wow” feature of the new space is a wall with 130 pieces of porcelain, inspired by displays in European palaces.