Elegance from the East: New Insights from Old Porcelain


I’m Dr. Shirley M. Mueller, guest curator
for the exhibit Elegance from the East: New Insights into Old Porcelain well the visitor comes into the exhibit
the objective is to see how it relates to the visitor today how the motives of
the visitor today and feelings are similar to those of people 400 years ago
and what happened to them is what happens to us pleasure pain they wanted
profit they had miscommunication they anticipated learning they anticipated
good things happening to them all of these things are covered in this exhibit
and how they relate to us today the garniture gallery contains garniture
x’ which are basically sets of porcelain that would be used to decorate a home
the idea is to show the visitor how these beautiful pieces gave people
hundreds of years ago pleasure just as we gain pleasure today when we decorate
our own home and the more it pleases us the more the area above our eye will be
stimulated and it has direct communication with the pleasure center
which is deep in our brain I think what shirley is doing here with this
exhibition is something quite new and innovative she is a great scholar of
Chinese export ceramics but she also is a neuroscientist and she’s using both of
her skills in the effort to create a dynamic exhibition for the Indianapolis
Museum of Art we’re trying to turn exhibitions into experiences that go far
beyond that passive experience so adding that bit of science to the exhibition
adding the smell of tea those kind of things all helped us turn or could be a
fairly state exhibition into an experience that a lot broader audience
might choose to enjoy gallery 2 is the Iranian bird palace we see a young girl
Louisa Henriette who was forced at age 19 to leave her native country the
Netherlands and to go to Germany how she must have felt pain probably felt
isolated and alone and unhappy many of us just throw herself into activity and
that’s what Louisa did she built a palace in Dutch style like her home
and she created rooms that had porcelain the porcelain reminded her of home as
well because her parents were importing this porcelain from China into Holland gallery 3 is miscommunications
misunderstandings mishaps the Europeans wanted to order porcelains that would
represent themselves the Chinese weren’t familiar with Christians and bowls they
weren’t familiar with armed orioles that represented families they weren’t
familiar with Dutch writing or English writing one well-known mistake is a
dobre where the Englishmen wrote read where he wanted red in his armorial
green where he wanted green on it but instead the bread was painted green but
the red was included and fight in for the green it was painted rose but the
green was included because the Chinese person was trying so hard to do a good
job that Hiba studiously included the writing which he couldn’t understand
obviously I suspect in the 18th century when that long-awaited crate of
porcelain arrived and then to have to open it up and realize that the Chinese
enamel errs had misunderstood what you had wanted must have caused a tremendous
amount of pain gallery 4 has to do with dating antiques particularly Chinese
export porcelain what we see in this exhibit would be from 1643 onward among
the pieces that survived the shipwrecks are some that were in vulnerable parts
of the ship so the water would be flowing over them and with time you
could actually see wearing away of the decoration there are two kinds of
decoration underglaze blue and then gold and red which is over the
glaze and with the wearing away of the water the over glaze will wear off and
that’s called a ghost decoration gallery 5 is prompt designs the Dutch East India
Company it had a corner on the market in the 1600s they were making money
they were happy but come 1700 other countries are entering the market in a
big way what do you do when you lose market share you worry they were worried
so one of them had the idea that if they hired a man called Pronk who was a
designer in Amsterdam to make designs to send to China that these designs would
appeal to a mass market when they did this they were anticipating regaining
that profit and actually anticipation of what we desire stimulates our pleasure
center deepen our brain even more than getting what we desire and that applies
to us today thinking about what we want is actually more pleasant in getting it tea coffee and wine is so suitable for
the last gallery because it talks about social events and social events make us
happy again they stimulate our pleasure center so the pieces in here are
exceptional because they tell a story and they’re intellectually interesting
why does this matter being able to connect that what what is happening in a
museum to our own personal lives is is the fundamental way that I think people
do see the relevance and can get greater enjoyment out of their museum experience
personal experience makes it real if you go to the Lilly house and go upstairs
you can see this wonderful show it gives you a little bit of taste of the wide
variety and diverse things that you can do here on this incredible campus the
most important thing that I would like visitors to learn is that these pieces
are not just old pieces and historically important but that they relate directly
to the visitor because a visitor shares a commonality with the people that lived
400 years ago that gathered these pieces that made these pieces that treasured
these pieces were the same today you

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