While the newly launched exhibit “Degas: A New Vision” is, deservedly, receiving much of the attention at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, it’s worth your time to seek out a smaller collection of decorative arts before it closes this weekend at the museum.
“Look to the East: Decorative Arts and Orientalism, 1870–1920″ explores the cultures of India, China, Japan, and the Middle East, and delves into how they influenced Western artists and designers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The exhibit contains about 40 works from the museum’s collection that showcase how Western artists and designers used Asian techniques in textiles, furniture, glassware and other home decor and pieces. The objects on display feature Moorish-style cut-out designs in furniture and ceramics, wall-sized “shawls” mimicking the paisley design in the traditional Indian cover-all, and Chinese- and Japanese-inspired nature motifs on vases and glassware.
The collection is a peek at a time at the turn of the 20th century, when Indian, Persian, and East Asian artistry caught the attention of the Western decorative arts world. If you’re unfamiliar with the Asian design concepts, you will know some of the business names that helped spread these trends across America and parts of Europe, such as iconic retailer Tiffany & Co. or the Rookwood Pottery Company, whose founder, Maria Longworth, was inspired by Japanese designs she saw while attending the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876.
At a time of so much division, it’s nice to see how East and West can so beautifully come together — at least in art.