Oriental Encounter: More than a Craze

Oct 20, 2014 7:51PM

The exoticness of foreign cultures never fails to fascinate and inspire artists. The incorporation of Asian elements in the artworks by Western artists is not an innovative one, the most noteworthy movement being the phenomenon of Japonisme in the nineteenth century France—the influence of Japanese art on the aesthetic styles of impressionists. Cross-cultural borrowings have been more commonly observed in artworks ever since—the American Pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein made a series of Chinese-style landscapes, whereas the Japanese artist, Taraoka Masami shows the fusion of Eastern and Western cultures by juxtaposing a blonde woman consuming ramen and a geisha eating hamburger. Oriental Encounter: More than a Craze explores how the cultural exchanges between American and East Asia have fostered cross-fertilization among postmodern and contemporary artists.

The exhibition features nine works by the American Neo Dadaist, Robert Rauschenberg. By using the technique of assemblage in most works, Rauschenberg includes Chinese images like the flying roof of a Chinese pavilion, the lotus, hanzi (Chinese characters), and Chinese fans. The artist also draws upon Japanese elements, such as the koinobori (Japanese carp-shaped kites) and Japanese screen. In Ethnic Cultures (Tribute 21),Rauschenberg expresses his admiration for the Tibetan religious leader. The artist traveled to Japan in 1982, and during his two visits he experimented with the Japanese clay and made sixteen works with this new medium.

Also included in the exhibition are Mao by Andy Warhol, and Multicolored Robe by Jim Dine. By portraying the Chinese political ruler, Mao Zedong, in his signature blotted-ink style, Warhol satirizes the personality cult of Mao in the mid-twentieth century China. Dine’s work, on the other hand, conveys a more friendly message. It was commissioned by the 1988 Seoul Olympic Committee, and through this painting we can see the artist’s interpretation of Korean culture from his American perspective.  

The exhibition concludes with two works by the contemporary Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei—Han Jar Overpainted with Coca-Cola Logo, and the triptych of Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn. The artist comments on how China loses its cultural and historical identity in the process of westernization. These two pieces, therefore, deliver a different response regarding the fusion of cultures.