Connected \\ February 2, 2021
Gallery rotations show off collection highlights
In the early 19th century, a European and American vogue for “Empire” style dresses fashioned from lightweight Indian muslin, worn together with colorful Kashmiri shawls, drove a lucrative portion of the export textile trade in India. PEM is lucky to hold important collections of both kinds of objects, many of which were obtained or worn by Salem residents. When planning the Sean M. Healy Gallery of Asian Export Art, which opened in September 2019, one of the most exciting prospects was the ability to display these and other export textiles from our collections for the first time. In the gallery we explore Asian textiles as an engine for international trade and a catalyst for transforming furnishings and fashions across the globe. The examples on display help us to illustrate the seductive tactile and aesthetic qualities of the foreign fabrics that merchants and consumers were so eager to obtain.
Conservators and preparators prepare a new muslin dress to be installed in the gallery. Photo by Kathy Tarantola / PEM
But exhibiting works like this presents a special kind of challenge. We can only display them for a limited amount of time before they need to be exchanged for a different object. In fact, if you have had the pleasure of visiting the gallery in the last month, you may have noticed that select new objects, such as colorful Indian palampore (or bedspread) or the Chinese watercolor of a woman in the Philippines, have made their way into the installation to replace others. You may wonder: why do we change out certain objects in the gallery and not others?
Artists in Guangzhou, China. Woman in the Philippines, about 1840. After Justiniano Asuncion 1816–1901, the Philippines. Opaque watercolor on paper. Museum purchase, Augustine Heard Collection, 1931
A watercolor painting of a woman in the Philippines recently added the gallery.