Celebrated for their mastery of artistic expression in the decorative arts, the people of China have found the deepest wellspring of design inspiration in nature. The new exhibition that recently opened at the Bruce Museum and runs to September 9, “Flora and Fauna: Themes and Symbols in the Decorative Arts of China,” explores the concept of Chinese symbolism, with an emphasis on nature as a unifying theme, across a broad spectrum of the decorative arts.
Outstanding textiles drawn from the museum’s collection are on view, as well as exquisite porcelain, jade, cloisonné enamel, ivory and metalwork on loan from private collections.
Although best known for their stunning achievements in ceramics, the Chinese have excelled in all these media. This exhibition invites viewers to deepen their understanding of Chinese art and techniques by recognizing materials, linking design elements and decoding symbols in selected decorative arts.
How the design repertoire is translated from one medium to another offers visual testimony to both the inventive spirit of the Chinese mind and insistence on the continuity of cultural meaning. Each medium offers different technical challenges, advantages and limitations. The manner in which the artist worked with the inherent qualities of the material †harnessing an inner spirit †is a hallmark of Chinese aesthetics.
Themes drawn from myth, religion and literary sources have also influenced Chinese design. From these rich sources, artists have extracted a visual language of symbols used not only to decorate objects but also to infuse their art with life force. Whether shaping a slab of clay, carving the translucent surface of jade or painting with the bristle of a bamboo brush, the Chinese have used this language to register deep creative impulses. This relentless pursuit of perfection, tempered by a Confucian sensibility of respect and tradition, has left a remarkable cultural legacy of art and design.
Guest curator Karen Hayward, who conceived and organized this new exhibition, worked for many years in the international art auction field as an Asian and European decorative arts specialist and consults for Christie’s in New York City. She has taught and lectured at institutions in the metropolitan area, including New York University, Parsons School of Design, The Cooper Hewitt Museum and The Bard Graduate Center for the Decorative Arts. She is a former docent at the Bruce Museum.
The Bruce Museum is at 1 Museum Drive. For information, www.brucemuseum.org or 203-869-0376.