Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Korean Folk Art

Every culture in history all over our planet has produced folk art, i.e. art intended for the everyday person, rather than wealthy or noble patrons. Although similar to so-called “primitive” art (a term against which I’ve railed in the past) the artists were often self-trained, folk artists differ from the other because they did not imitate art that was patronized by the wealthy; they produced subjects meant to be appreciated by every day people. And unfortunately, unlike the artists popular with the upper classes, most Korean folk artists are not known by name. In Korea, minhwa is the term for folk art. Along with chaekgado (or ch'aekkori, literally “books and things”), popular subjects included hwajodo (flowers and birds), hojakdo (scenes inspired by popular fairy tales), and sansuhwa (scenery). Fortunately there are artists working in the traditional folk subject matter and style to this day.

When we think of painting in Asia, we naturally immediately think of China and Japan. For centuries, however, Korea played a pivotal role in the region, transmitting culture between China and Japan (especially in the field of ceramics). Always influenced by Chinese art, after a thwarted Mongol invasion in the sixteenth century, Korea became a semi-independent state until it was invaded by Japan in 1910. During the eighteenth century, Chinese influence waned in Korea, and Korean painting came into its own. Everyday life and objects were one of the two most popular genres of Korean painting of the 18th and 19th centuries, next to landscapes. Chaekgado is a late manifestation of the Joseon period (1392-1910).

This panel most likely comes from an eight-fold or ten-fold screen. Such screens were used by common people and nobility alike. The subject is the attributes of a scholar: books, paintings, ceramics, ink stones, pen containers, and musical instruments scattered in bookshelves. The subject itself is actually inspired by the reverence for scholars who esteemed learning and art above all else. This itself was a Chinese tradition, which nurtured the whole school of “literati painting” of scholar/artists. The subject would have appealed to both commoner and noble alike. While the objects are realistically portrayed, their placement within each shelf is somewhat mystical, as if some of them are actually floating. The perspective within each shelf is typical of Chinese and Japanese painting and prints at the time.

Minhwa suffered a decline in popularity in Korea after the Japanese invasion. Ironically, it was a Japanese collector who revived interest in the genre when he established the Japan Folk Crafts Museum in Tokyo in 1936 to display Korean art. This museum inspired Japanese collection of Korean folk art, to the point now where some of the most outstanding examples reside in Japanese collections. Two recent exhibits have helped to energize interest in minhwa among Koreans: “Happy! Joseon Folk Painting” in 2006 at the Seoul Museum of History, and “Korean Folk Paintings – Diversity and Creativity” (2006) at the National Folk Museum of Korea in Seoul.

View additional panels from the chaekgado screen at MFA.

The Art Institute of Chicago has a gorgeous chaekgado.

An interesting variation on the theme from a Korean antique auctioneer.

This example from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts depicts objects not necessarily related to scholars.

Interesting interview with contemporary minhwa artist Kim Hye-joong from earlier this year.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

First Anniversary Treasure Hunt

It’s hard to believe that a year has already gone by since
this blog began. From hits on the blog, followers on Twitter, and links on online resources, it is encouraging to see such an interest in art history. I hope you have been enjoying the topics covered on the blog as much as I have enjoyed writing about them. The wonderful thing about art history is the great variety of subjects; there are many more fascinating topics to cover in the months and years ahead.

In the past year I have had the opportunity to discuss women artists, both ancient and modern art forms, artists from the world over, and many styles of art. To celebrate the one-year anniversary of Curator’s Corner and thank you for reading the blog, I am holding a blog “treasure hunt.” Search through the blog entries from throughout the past year to answer the question below. Then post a comment with your answer. The first person to answer will win a prize.

Treasure Hunt Question: What form of portraiture was fashionable in the US before photography?

The winner will receive two books from the “Art Education and Practice Series” published by Davis Publications.

Thank you for reading my blog. As always, please feel free to suggest topics and let me know your art history questions.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The art of the fashion designer

Since we’re celebrating the one year anniversary of this blog, I thought I would revisit a blog topic from around a year ago: fashion. Many of you may not have thought about this, but there are many absolutely fantastic collections of historic fashions in museums around our country and the world. I myself have kept a 1951 suit of my mother’s after she died with the intention of donating it to a costume collection in a museum: it was tailor made. That’s the awesome thing about fashion from the past; the really great stuff was made by hand. I couldn’t resist showing you this gorgeous dress from the Philadelphia Museum. I can totally see Miss Kitty from “Gunsmoke” rocking this ensemble! In fact, the fifth link below my blog may contain costumes from “Gunsmoke.”

Through the time of the Renaissance (c1400-1550), the main center of developments in fashion was the courts in Italy and Spain. During the reign of Louis XIV in France (1643-1715), Paris became the focal point for western fashion design, and pretty much remained such until World War II (1939-1945). When Paris was cut off from the rest of the world by Nazi occupation during World War II, fashion design began to flourish in New York City (albeit with some émigré designers from Paris). To this day, Paris still has a dominant role in the fashion industry in the West, although it is now rivaled in Milan, London, and New York.

The idea of a fashion designer as opposed to merely a dressmaker came about with the famous French designer Charles Worth (1826-1895). The term “couturier” which we now associate with “fashion designer” actually means “dressmaker” or “seamstress.” Worth was the first dressmaker who showed drawings of his designs to clients rather than prototypes of actual garments, as had been the age-old practice in fashion. Though little is known about Emile Pingat, during the nineteenth century (between c1850 and 1896) his fame rivaled Worth in his designs, mostly for women’s clothing. Though he designed a variety of dresses, he is best known as an authoritative designer of opera coats, jackets, and mantles.

The crinoline (or hoop skirt), which is attributed as a Worth innovation and is most famously documented during the American Civil War (1860-1865) (and in films like “Gone with the Wind”), rapidly diminished in size during the late 1860s. The half-crinoline of that period gave way to the bustle of the 1870s and 1880s, exemplified in this gorgeous ensemble. The bustle consisted of a collapsible wire cage over which pads were placed. Draping, bows, and trains added to the bustle’s size. Bell sleeves were very popular during this period because they tended to offset the perceived size of the skirt. Almost all designs during the 1870s had a draped overskirt and train of some size. The striped draped overskirt of this dress resembles the so-called tablier à la blanchisseuse, or laundress’s apron, the French name for the assymetrical drape of the overskirt.

Cincinnati Art Museum has a fabulous costume collection.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute has over 1200 images online. You just have to wade through shoe buckles, slippers, and lace caps to see the good stuff.

A must see museum for anyone interested in fashion: the Fashion Institute of Technology.

See other works by Emile Pingat in Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection.

The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, another fascinating school/museum that has costumes from Hollywood.

The Mint Museum also has an impressive Historic Costume Collection.

On a related note, the American Museum of Natural History describes the process of weaving with spider silk in Madagascar.

Featured Collection: Philadelphia Museum of Art

Monday, September 14, 2009

Puerto Rican Colonial Art

In the US we tend to think of John Singleton Copley, John Smibert, and Charles Willson Peale when the words “colonial art” come up. There is, however, another rich and fascinating world of colonial art in Central and South America, areas conquered by the Spanish. Like the American colonies, these areas imported the styles current in Europe in order to suit the tastes of affluent art patrons. One reason I find Spanish colonial art so interesting is because of its affinities to what was going on with art in Spain, and the way Spanish colonists (who often intermarried with the native people) viewed themselves. DID YOU KNOW that the Brooklyn Museum of Art (rapidly becoming one of my favorites in this country) has been advocating the study of Central and South American and Native American art since the 1930s? In 1941 alone the BMA acquired 1400 objects from Latin America. That said, the Ponce Museum in Puerto Rico has an equally impressive collection of Spanish colonial art.

Archeologists have found traces of human settlement on Puerto Rico dating to at least 2000 BCE. Between the 7th and 11th centuries CE an Arawak Indian culture developed: the Taino. The Taino were the dominant culture by the year 1000. Columbus encountered the Taino when he landed on the island in 1493. By 1508 the island had been colonized by the Spanish. The Spanish forced the Taino into slave labor and their culture was soon decimated by diseases introduced by the Europeans. The Spanish began importing African slaves in the 18th century to replace the dwindling Taino culture.

Campeche was the son of an African slave who bought his freedom and a white mother. He rose to become the most celebrated Puerto Rican artist of the eighteenth century, and the first internationally renowned Puerto Rican artist. His father worked as a gilder, decorator, and painter, from whom Campeche most likely learned how to paint. Although he could not afford to go to Spain to learn current styles, he was able to adapt the Spanish Rococo style from the Spanish exiled court painter Luis Paret y Alcázar (1746-1799). Campeche’s palette lightened and his drawing became considerably more fluid and refined after 1775, the first year of Paret’s exile. He may have even assisted Paret in religious commissions for the Cathedral of San Juan. This work definitely has affinities to the Rococo period of Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes.

Campeche achieved renown in many areas, including architecture and music. He even designed fireworks celebrations and funeral corteges. Although he painted many religious scenes, he is most famous for his portraits of the elite of Puerto Rican society. As with portraiture in mainland Spanish colonial cultures, wealthy Puerto Ricans emulated their European counterparts. This portrait of a wealthy young woman has all the allusions to refinement and status of Peruvian and Mexican portraits of the period. It reflects the Spanish Rococo style as seen in the court portraits of such Spanish artists as Goya. The portrait is one of five depictions of “amazonas,” or women riders by Campeche. Such young women were renowned as accomplished riders in yearly riding competitions.

Featured Collection: Ponce Museum

Spanish colonial art from the Brooklyn Museum of Art

Website for the Museo de Arte de Ponce

Learn more about Spanish colonial art in the Early American Masters set from Davis.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Glass and Native Americans

Preston Singletary (born 1964, Tlingit), Eagle Hat, 2003. Blown, sandblasted glass. Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence. © Preston Singletary. (SMA-100)

I had another one of my “holy cats!” moments this week when I came across this gorgeous artwork from the Spencer Museum. I’ve mentioned that I have these little epiphanies quite often, particularly when I delve deeper into the background of works of art in the Davis Art Images collection to which I have not really paid a lot of attention. Well, being a painter, the cobalt blue of this piece blew me away at the start. When I researched the artist, it dawned on me that we’re looking at a unique chapter in contemporary Native American artwork: blown glass art.

Native American bands first became acquainted with glass in the form of European trade beads. They valued glass for its transparency, its reflective surface, and its brilliant colors. They decorated clothing and objects with the glass beads. Native American-made glass paste pendants were made by crushing European glass trade beads into a paste, shaping and then heating the paste until the glass fused. Pendants are best known from Leavenworth, an Arikara site in South Dakota, but occur at many Native American and fur trade sites in the Plains, Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast regions of the United States. They first appear in the Plains and Midwest in the late 1600s and are not found in the Southeast and Northeast until the 1700s.

Preston Singletary’s work fuses the European tradition of glass-blowing with traditional native Tlingit forms and designs. He began glass-blowing right out of high school as an assistant and later learned Venetian techniques of the medium in Murano. He also learned formal aspects of Tlingit art studying alongside other Northwest Coast artists. His native Tlingit ancestry informs his forms which are spiritually based. Other influences are shamanism, transformation themes, animal spirits, and basketry patterns. While Singletary’s work is an extension of Tlingit traditions, he has fused those traditions with modern technology. His work has influenced other Native American artists to work in the glass medium.

The Tlingit people inhabit parts of southern Alaska. Traditional Tlingit eagle hats were made of either basketry or carved out of wood. This artwork has inverted the traditional conical shape of the eagle hat, and employs traditional Tlingit symbols as decoration. The eagle is one of the two main primary moieties or clans, the other being the raven. Each of these two primary clans is subdivided into sub-clans and houses. 

Please visit these websites to see stunning examples of Singletary’s glass art. He has taken traditional forms such bent wood chests, baskets, transformation masks, and even totems and created beautiful, translucent glass works of art. My particular favorite has got to be the bentwood chest in the second link.