Exhibition: Diligence and Elegance – The Nature of Japanese Textiles

Exhibition dates: 12 July 2017 – 21 January 2018

Diligence and Elegance: The Nature of Japanese Textiles presents over 50 textiles and garments from the Textile Museum of Canada’s collection of nineteenth and twentieth-century artifacts made in Japan for both everyday and occasional use. Luxurious silk and gold fabrics produced in Kyoto’s professional weaving workshops are juxtaposed with domestic indigo-dyed cotton, plant-fibre cloth, and silk kimonos crafted in an astonishing spectrum of time-honoured techniques – weaving, dyeing, hand painting, gold foil application and embroidery – that exemplify venerable social and cultural values. The exhibition focuses on the highly refined skills and materials by which textiles have been constructed and decorated over centuries, and on how diligence and ingenuity have shaped their timeless beauty. The persistence of traditions seen in such rigorously executed textiles has come to embody the heart of Japanese aesthetics. Every material, colour and technique has a story to tell.

Diligence and Elegance features the contemporary work of Hiroko Karuno and Keiko Shintani, two Japanese-Canadians whose consummate craftsmanship and philosophies are profoundly connected to the evolution of Japanese textile traditions of spinning, dyeing and weaving. Their internationally renowned artistic achievements are testimony to the ethics of labour associated with a lifelong investment of time, practice and precision; they position living traditions as opportunities for personal reflection and the acknowledgement of the significance of collective human accomplishments.

For more information, visit the website of the Textile Museum of Canada, Toronto, Canada.

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Textile Tidbits: Handmade in Japan – The Kimono

For my latest Textile Tidbit, I recommend a short BBC programme about the production of kimonos in present-day Japan.

This programme visits the remarkable island of Amami Oshima in the southern oceans of Japan, to follow the elaborate handmade production of a traditional Japanese kimono. Over five hundred people are involved in producing the island’s famous mud-dyed silk, which takes many months to produce. The film follows the painstaking process of the silk being bound, hand dyed, woven and finally turned into a kimono by a seamstress. Along the way we not only discover the history of the kimono tradition, but also the many difficulties facing the kimono industry in modern Japan.

To watch this programme online, visit the BBC iPlayer website (unfortunately for international readers, this video is only viewable in the UK).

Event: Chris Buckley Talks about Patterns in Silk – The Marvellous Innovations of Tai Weavers

Event date: Tuesday 9 May 2017, 6–8 pm

This talk will discuss the ingenious patterning systems that Tai weavers use, and will show how their influence has been felt from imperial Chinese silk workshops in the east to the development of computing in the west. It will be illustrated with outstanding Tai textiles from China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

Chris Buckley was educated at Balliol and Wolfson Colleges in Oxford. He has spent the last two decades living in Asia, and now lives in Oxfordshire. He is the co-author of The Roots of Asian Weaving (Oxbow Books, 2015) with Eric Boudot.

Location: The Pauling Centre, 58a Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6QS.

Admission is free for members, £3 for non-members.

For more information, and to register for your place, visit the Eventbrite page.

Exhibition: From the Lands of Asia – The Sam and Myrna Myers Collection

pointe-a-calliere-from-the-lands-of-asia

Exhibition dates: 17 November 2016 – 19 March 2017

Pointe-à-Callière Museum in Montreal, Canada, is currently showing the world premiere of From the Lands of Asia: The Sam and Myrna Myers Collection. This exhibition features some 400 pieces selected from among the finest objects in a collection of 5,000 works of Asian art amassed over fifty years by an American couple living in Paris. This collection – one of the world’s largest privately owned collections of Chinese jade and Asian objects – includes stones, icons, textiles, ceramics, ivories, porcelains and clothing.

Sam and Myrna Myers acquired their first pieces in Switzerland in 1966 – objects mainly from the classical age (Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Orient). At the time, the couple was being advised by erudite and intellectual gallery owner Dr Rosembaum, who rubbed shoulders with such renowned writers as Hermann Hesse and Thomas Mann, and pioneers of surrealism like Hans Arp and Max Ernst.

Having taken this first step, the Myers then sought to enrich their collection. Everywhere they went, they frequented antique dealers, visited museums and went to auctions. From that point on, the collectors concentrated on East Asian pieces, creating unique and coherent ensembles, particularly in jade, silk, porcelain and other refined materials – some of which are described as having magical properties.

Among other elements of the exhibition, visitors are wrapped up in the world of textiles. Costumes from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries in the Myers Collection prove to be an inexhaustible source of knowledge about the customs and know-how of many societies.

In China, silk fabrics reflected the wearers’ wealth and social status. At court, for example, the colour and decorations of dress changed from dynasty to dynasty. In this colourful, silk-filled space, we are introduced to key characters, including the scholar, whom we learn about through a robe – a rare complete example of a garment of this type – and through accessories such as inkstones, which these experts in writing would retain for their entire lives. From Japan, we discover the kimono, considered by some to be the most elegant garment in the world. We also cross paths with the samurai and their clothing, adapted for wearing armour. Also in Japan, we learn about the Noh theatre, with its actors dressed in sumptuous silk costumes. And we imagine the lives of Uzbek merchants and riders crisscrossing the steppes, clad in flamboyantly colourful garments that take our breath away. A brilliant finale to this journey to East Asia through the works of the Sam and Myrna Myers Collection.

If you can’t make it to Canada to see this exhibition in person, there is a catalogue available.

For more information, visit the website of the Pointe-à-Callière Museum, Montreal, Canada.

Exhibition: Kum Kapi Carpets at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon

Gulbenkian - Kum Kapi

Exhibition dates: open until 19 September 2016

Kum Kapi carpets owe their name to a district of Istanbul where, in the nineteenth century, various Armenian master carpet makers settled to create their rich knotted carpets of silk, with metal threads, inspired by the classic Persian carpets of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Hagop Kapoudjian (c. 1870–1946) was one of the most famous Kum Kapi master carpet makers, and created three of the carpets included in this exhibition, taking place at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, which are placed in dialogue with works by the contemporary artist, also of Armenian origin, Mekhitar Garabedian (b. 1977, Aleppo). Two artists from different times and places who share a common past that, in a way, is connected to the life story of Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian himself.

The exhibition establishes a dialogue between tradition and contemporaneity, continuity and reinvention, showing in surprising ways the relationship between the carpet and the journey that is, here, more than ever, linked to the Armenian diaspora.

There is also a free lecture taking place at the Gulbenkian Museum in connection with this exhibition, on Wednesday, 29 June, on Armenians and rug weaving.

For more information, visit the website of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal.

Exhibition: Korea, Joseon Dynasty – Royal Banquet for Celebration of the 40th Birthday and Thirty-Year Rule of King Sunjo

Cleveland Museum - Korea, Joseon Dynasty

Exhibition dates: 6 June – 9 October 2016

This folding silk screen (pictured above) is on loan to the Cleveland Museum of Art from Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, South Korea. As its title indicates, this eight-panel folding screen was commissioned by Crown Prince Hyomyeong (1809–1830) to celebrate the 40th birthday and 30th year of the reign of his father, King Sunjo. This work is the earliest and one of the finest surviving examples featuring nineteenth-century Joseon court-sponsored screens.

The first panel conveys a series of poems composed by court officials in response to the crown prince’s poem that was first recited during the state feast. A formal state feast only for male court members is rendered across the first three panels, while a more private and intimate banquet reserved for the king, the queen, and the crown prince is painted over the next three panels. Although the royal throne sits empty in front of a screen that bears royal insignias ― the mountain with the five peaks (the earth), the sun and the moon discs (the heaven) ― this does not indicate that the king was absent. The screen symbolizes the royal presence of the king without literally depicting him in the portrait. The last panel bears a list of eight court officials who prepared and executed these celebratory events, and a short note indicating when the screen was made. A variety of music and dance performances were sequentially conducted during the private banquet, but on the picture plane they are portrayed together as if being performed all at once.

For more information, visit the website of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio, USA.

Textile Tidbits: Taming the Dragons on a Chinese Imperial Dragon Robe

CBL C 1051, detail

The Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland, recently published a blog post all about the process of conserving a Chinese imperial dragon robe. It makes for fascinating reading, and includes lots of detailed photographs of the initial analysis of the textile and the subsequent conservation work involved.

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty collected eight Chinese dragon robes; it is thought that several came from the Forbidden Palace in Beijing. These magnificent robes were once worn by the emperors of the Qing Dynasty, 1644–1911, the last ruling dynasty of China. The robes tell a story of a vanished court life and were worn for important rituals as well as everyday occasions.

Over the last few years, a rolling programme of conservation has been undertaken to conserve all the dragon robes within the collection, to allow an annual rotation to coincide with the library’s celebration of the Chinese New Year. For anyone thinking of planning a visit, the dragon robe case is in the first floor ‘Arts of the Book’ exhibition gallery.

The blog focuses on the conservation of one of the three imperial yellow robes, which are of the highest quality yellow silk and feature exquisite embroidery.

To read more about this conservation work, visit the blog of the Chester Beatty Library conservation team.

Event: Silk Textiles with Frances Pritchard at The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester

MEDATS - Silk Textiles with Frances Pritchard

Event date: Saturday 9 April 2016, 2pm

Frances Pritchard, curator of textiles, will introduce a limited number of participants to the collection of historic silk textiles belonging to the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester. The event will take place in the Studio and will last an hour and half. Meet in the foyer of the Whitworth Art Gallery no later than 1.55pm.

Please note that this is a MEDATS (Medieval Dress and Textiles Society) event, but it is open to non-members. The cost is £5 per person for members and £8 for non-members.
To reserve a place please pay online via Paypal at www.medats.org.uk. (N.B. if you are interested in attending this event, I would advise reserving a place promptly, as the cut-off date for sending cheques by post was 1 March 2016.)

Allocation will be on a first come, first served, basis, but in the event of large numbers it may be possible to arrange a second tour of the silks at 3.30pm. Participants are asked to please bring their own magnifiers.

For more information, please visit the MEDATS (Medieval Dress and Textiles Society) website.

Exhibition: Asia in Amsterdam – Luxury in the Golden Age

Rijksmuseum - Asia in Amsterdam

Exhibition dates: 17 October 2015 – 17 January  2016

At the start of the Golden Age, Dutch merchants used their business acumen to establish lucrative trade agreements with Asia. This trade saw all sorts of exotic treasures, such as porcelain, lacquer ware, ebony, ivory and silk, arriving in the Dutch Republic, where no one had ever seen such design and materials before. Asia in Amsterdam shares the sensation that these luxury items caused, while also presenting the history behind this first global market. When Dutch ships sailed the entire globe, when young men risked their lives to become rich in Batavia, and when the phrase ‘Made in China’ meant something else altogether. Amsterdam played a central role in the story: the capital city became the marketplace for Asian luxury goods. And not just for the republic, but for all of Europe.

The exhibition also presents many seventeenth-century paintings: still-lifes and portraits of citizens who had themselves painted among their newly acquired items of Asian luxury; for example, men who wanted to be truly fashionable had their portraits painted wearing a silk ‘Japanese skirt’, which was a long loose-fitting silk coat, such as the one worn by Amsterdam pharmacist Johannes Hudde in the portrait of him by Michiel van Musscher in 1686.

The exhibition is organised in cooperation with the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, USA, and will travel there next, opening in February 2016. Loan items originate in such far-flung places as Moscow, St Petersburg, Versailles, London, Oxford, Madrid and Stockholm.

For more information, visit the website of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Exhibition: Chinese Textiles – Ten Centuries of Masterpieces from the Met Collection

Met Museum - Chinese Textiles from the Met

Exhibition dates: 15 August 2015 – 19 November 2016

This installation, which explores the cultural importance of silk in China, shows the most important and unusual textiles from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection. In addition to three rare pieces dating from the Tang dynasty (618–906), when China served as a cultural hub linking Korea and Japan to Central and West Asia, and, ultimately to the Mediterranean world, the exhibition also includes eleventh- and twelfth-century tapestries from Central Asia, as well as contemporaneous Chinese examples of this technique.

Spectacular embroideries – including an imperial fourteenth-century canopy decorated with phoenixes and flowers, and a monumental late seventeenth- or early eighteenth-century panel showing phoenixes in a garden – are also on view, together with theatrical garments, court costumes and early examples of badges worn at court to designate rank.

For more information, visit the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.