Black Current: Mexican Responses to Japanese Art, 17th – 19th Centuries
Crow Collection of Asian Art
October 21, 2010 through January 2, 2011
Crow Collection celebrates Mexico’s bicentennial with inspired exhibition highlighting the enduring cultural imprint of Japanese art forms in Mexico
In celebration of the bicentennial of Mexico’s independence, the Crow Collection of Asian Art explores the imprint of Asian art on Mexico in Black Current: Mexican Responses to Japanese Art, 17th – 19th Centuries. Mexico, as “The Viceroyalty of New Spain” between 1521 and 1821, was a strategic player in a global trade network that linked Asia, the Americas and Europe. Black Current highlights works of art made in Mexico between the 17th and 19th centuries that reflect exposure to Japanese art – only one of many offerings of the trade, but one that left an identifiably distinct imprint on Mexican material culture. Opening Thursday, October 21, the Black Current exhibition runs through Sunday, January 2, 2011. Free and open to the public.
“There is a very interesting history of Japanese merchant ships sailing to and from Mexico, profiting from the mutually lucrative galleon trade, and the residual effects it had upon Mexican culture,” said Trammell S. Crow. “We’re thrilled to have an opportunity to honor the Mexican bicentennial with the Black Current exhibition, which demonstrates the subtle influences between two different cultures in an insightful, enlightening way.”
The exhibition takes its name from the equatorial current flowing to Mexico from Japan. Japanese seafarers saw it as a dark band on the horizon and called it Kuroshio, the Black Current. The Black Current brought Asia to Mexico’s doorstep in myriad curiosities, commodities, and luxury goods, their origins often obscured in labels such as “China” and “the Indies.” Stately galleons departed from Manila in the Philippines and brought trade goods from all over Asia to Mexico’s shores. The ships returned to Manila with payment in silver and dyestuffs from Mexico’s soil. With port cities on the Atlantic and Pacific, Mexico was more exposed in this period than any other part of the Western world to goods and commodities from Asia, whether they came indirectly from Europe or as part of the galleon trade that ran regularly between Manila and Acapulco Bay from 1571 to 1815.
In a selection of approximately 30 objects, Black Current demonstrates the enthusiastic response of Mexico’s artists and consumers to Japanese art forms: pictorial folding screens, lacquered objects of inlaid shell and precious metals, and votive paintings, conveniently rolled for travel. These responses range from pure quotation, to local equivalencies, to independent flights of distinctive Mexican cultural identity.
Three folding screens in the exhibition made in 17th-century Mexico for elite patrons incorporate Japanese pictorial conventions, techniques for elements such as hinges on the convenient room screens. The grave black and gold beauty of Japanese lacquer appealed to 17th century Iberian sensibilities, and shell inlay has a history among pre-Conquest cultures of the Americas. Japanese lacquer was a product not only of Japanese craft traditions, but also of a tree native to Asia.
Two lacquer chests from the Crow Collection of Asian Art are included in the exhibition. They are painted in gold and silver, inlaid in mother of pearl, and were made in Japan for export. They provide evidence of Japanese objects available in Mexico through the galleon trade that were admired and innovated upon. The New World approximation of Japanese lacquer is a varnish known as “barniz de pasto.”
Of particular note in the exhibition are two series of paintings called “enconchados” or [pictures] “incorporating shell.” The subjects are Catholic narratives of the life of the Virgin and one includes an image of the patron saint of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe. The narrative style is European; only the Virgin of Guadalupe is shown in Mexican iconic form. It is the technique that assumes particular interest in the frame of the exhibition, as possibly inspired by Japanese mother of pearl pictorial inlay. The exhibition provides an opportunity to consider this proposition in a visual context.
Works of art for this exhibition were drawn from collections in Mexico and the United States.
Admission is free. The Crow Collection of Asian Art is open Tuesdays – Thursdays (10 a.m. – 9 p.m.), Fridays – Sundays (10 a.m. – 6 p.m.) and closed on Mondays. For more information, please go to crowcollection.org or call 214-979-6430.
About The Crow Collection
The Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art is located in the Arts District of downtown Dallas. The Crow Collection is a permanent set of galleries dedicated to the arts and cultures of China, Japan, India and Southeast Asia. LinkAsia, the newly dedicated gallery space at the Crow Collection, presents art works that provide a contemporary global path to understanding Asia through unique perspectives and mediums. The museum offers a serene setting for both quiet reflection and learning, which spans from the ancient to the contemporary.