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Elevating the Nation or the Living Toom? Antiquities in Chinese and American Pictorial Magazines of the 1930s

Sat, June 25, 3:00 to 4:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 104


Chinese antiquities were prominent in global media in the 1930s. The Shanghai pictorials Meishu shenghuo and Shenbao huakan featured the Second National Art Exhibition, newly excavated bronze vessels accompanied by handwritten commentary, and photographs of objects that had been sold abroad (liu wang zhi guo bao). In the West, the widespread attention garnered by the 1935 International Exhibition of Chinese art is well known. Less familiar are radically modern interiors as settings for Chinese ancestor portraits and tomb figurines, featured in the magazines Home and Garden and House Beautiful. Considering the objects presented, the enveloping discourse, and the graphic layout of these elements, my paper will examine how while Chinese antiquities circulated internationally, the meanings assigned to them diverged and converged. In the context of pervasive nationalism, cultural leaders in China defined certain artifacts as exemplars of the country’s artistic achievements. I hypothesize that the charged significance of these items meant that they could not be portrayed by the Chinese media as floating above a streamlined couch, unmoored from all historical or political significance. Furthermore, bronze vessels and grave goods seem not to have been included in the disorienting photomontages common in 1930s pictorials. Their orderly presentation instead supported a coherent narrative of Chinese art history. I will test my observations of pictorials against descriptions and photographs of Chinese collectors’ homes in the Freer Gallery archive, assuming that there were commonalities in how antiquities were displayed behind closed doors, East and West.