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Sensuous Surfaces: The Decorative Object in Early Modern China (review)

Sensuous Surfaces: The Decorative Object in Early Modern China (review) Reviews 185 welcomealsobecause;asGrothmannpointsout,arkaroofsarerapidlybeing replacedbyconcrete,withtheresultthatarshesongslosetheirfunctionandeither disappearorareturnedintoaformoftouristentertainment. JacobEyferth Jacob Eyferth teaches modern Chinese history at the University of Chicago. He is the author of "Eating Rice from Bamboo Roots: The Social History of a Community of Handicraft Papermakers in Rural Sichuan" and is currently writing a book on the politics of cotton production and handloom weaving in the early People's Republic. JonathanHay.Sensuous Surfaces: The Decorative Object in Early Modern China.Honolulu:UniversityofHawai`iPress,2010.440pp.Hardcover $63.00,isbn978-0-8248-3361-9. ReaderswillbefamiliarwiththedecorativeobjectsthatarethefocusofJonathan Hay'sscholarlymonograph.Theyaretheexquisitelyglazedvases,intricately carvedblackwood(hongmu)cabinets,andattention-inducingjadesfrequentlyon viewinexhibitionsofChinesearttoday.Duringthelatenineteenthcentury,these luxurygoodsbecamethecornerstonesofEnglishandAmericanconnoisseurship ofChineseartworksandthefoundationsofthefirstChineseartcollectionsin earlytwentieth-centurymuseums.Giventheirphysicalportabilityandpresencein thetwentieth-centuryartmarket,generalaudienceswillnotbestrangerstothe aestheticappealoftheseobjects.Indeed,aquickperusalofpresent-dayartauction catalogueswillrevealtheextenttowhichsuchartworksyieldincreasinglyprofitablesalesofChineseart.Auctioncatalogues,completewiththeirhigh-glosspages, reinforcethedynamicsofpleasureandsensualityatworkintheexperienceof theseartworks. TotheextentthatChinesedecorativeartfromthefifteenththroughnineteenthcenturieshasoccupiedauctionsalesofthepastcentury,therehasnotbeen aproportionatedegreeofhistoricalartscholarshippublishedaboutthesesame artworks.Theyremainunderanalyzedand,thus,objectswithouthistory.Jonathan Hay'schallengingbook,Sensuous Surfaces,rectifiesthisscholarlydearthand bringsdecorativearttothefrontandcenterofculturalpracticeinMing-and Qing-dynastyChina.Focusingexclusivelyonsecularluxuryobjectsfordomestic consumptionbetween1570and1840(asopposedtoworksofritualdecoration and oftheluxuryexportmarketthatwasitscontemporary),Hayexaminesthe © 2012 by University of Hawai`i Press 186 ChinaReviewInternational:Vol.18,No.2,2011 importanceofsurfaceindecorativeart.Histhesisisthatluxurydecoration,much morethanstaticobjectsofdesire,infact,actuponhumansandeven"thinkwith us"(p. 78).Decoration'sagency,asthebookcontends,layinitssurface.Specifically,surfacecontainstheabilitytoevokeaconceptualspacethroughmultiple metaphoricresonancesandpleasure-producingaffects.Thus,bythesixteenth century,decorativeartinformedconsciousnessandsubjectivityasmuchasthe hallowedartsofcalligraphyandpainting. Havingestablishedthebook'smajorconceptualassertionsinpart1,thenext sevenchapters,whichmakeuppart2,substantiatetheargumentbyproviding analyticaldescriptionsofMingandQingdynastydecorationacrossmaterialand genre.Eachchapterdescribesaparticularstrategyofsurfacetreatmentdeployed byMingandQingdecoration:monochromesmoothness,materialpatterning, formalpattern,depiction,inscription,fictivesurface,anddiversifiedsurfaces. Ratherthanfollowinthestepsofpreviousstudiesandstandardmuseumpractice, Hay'sformalanalysisofsurfacetreatmentsacrossmediumenablesreaderstosee objectsnormallyconsideredseparatelyinrelationtoeachotherasexistingina sharedexperientialrealm. Sincedecorationwasneverexperiencedinisolation,thefinalpartofthe book considersthefunctionofdecorativeartinitsoriginalspatialcontexts.The emphasishereisonthewayinwhichobjects'surfacesinteractedinarchitectural interiors,includingpalaces,studyhalls,bedrooms,andvariousdisplayunits. Employingtheanalyticalconceptofobjectlandscapes(orsimplyobjectscapes), Haydemonstrateshowdecorativeartfunctionedwiththeirenvironmentsand owners.Evokingsensuousandaffectiveresponses,variousobjectsurfacesresonatedwiththeirarchitecturalsurroundings--forinstance,decorativesurfaces couldbeextendedbeyondsingleobjectswhenviewedthroughopenworkwalled partitions.Byextension,surfacerelationsacrossamultiplicityofobjectsinspace producedtheobjectlandscapethatimpartedpleasuretotheroom'sinhabitants andusers. Sensuous Surfacesisadenselywrittenbookwhosenarrativeavoidsresorting tothedominantportrayalofMingandQingmaterialcultureassocialactsof consumption(see,forexample,CraigClunas,Superfluous Things[Urbana: U niversityofIllinoisPress,1991]).Whileexistingstudieshavehelpfullyapplieda socioeconomicreadingtoluxurydecorationandinterpretthemascommodities orasevidenceforChina'searlycommercialization,thisbook'sfocusonaesthetic pleasureasintegraltodecoration'sabilitytofunctionasasocialconnectoris welcomeandrefreshing.Furthermore,giventhattheargumentdependsonthe powerofaestheticsindecoration,thebookissumptuouslyillustrated,containing hundredsofdetailedcolorphotographsandplates.Suchapresentationalapproach isparticularlyeffectiveforpart2,whereformalresourcesofsurfacedesignare explored.Accordingly,chapters4through10willbeanexemplaryselectionof readingforChinesearthistoryinstructorswishingtoassignstudentsanexample Reviews 187 ofarthistoricaldescriptionofmaterialculturalartifactsoranyonewishingto imparttheimportanceofvisualand,toalesserextent,materialanalysis. Specialistsmayhavesomeresidualconcernsaboutafewoverstatements.For instance,whilethebookdrawsupontextualsourcesofMingandQingfiction, includingnovels,dramas,shortstories,anddiaries,closereadersmayneedmore thananunsystematicgroupingofwordslooselyrelatedtomeaningsofpleasurein ordertoresuscitatethecentralityofpleasureastheprimarymodeofexperiencing decoration(pp.88­89).Othersmaytakeissuewithvaguestatementsaboutsocial arthistory,suchasthesupposedelevatedstatusofdecorationanditsequalstandingvis-à-vispaintingduringthistimeperiod(pp.83­84).Thisreaderfoundthat thebook'soverarchingintentiontorematerializesurface,whilesorelyneededin studiesoflateimperialChinesematerialculture,remainsfocusedonvisualperceptionandopticalanalysis.Perhapssomeattentiontoinnovationsinmaterial technologies,suchasenamelingtechniquesduringtheQing,andtheirextant textualandartefactualsources,wouldfurtherelucidatethesedecorativeschemes asmaterialsurfaces.Forthemostpart,however,thisreviewerisgratefultoHayfor turninghisanalyticaleyetowardtheseunderstudiedobjects,therebylegitimizing theaestheticsofdecoration--howeverelusivematerialaspectsmaybe--asa seriousinquiryofarthistory. EllenHuang Ellen Huang is the Kiriyama Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at the Center for the Pacific Rim at the University of San Francisco. She is revising her book monograph about the production of materials through http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png China Review International University of Hawai'I Press

Sensuous Surfaces: The Decorative Object in Early Modern China (review)

China Review International , Volume 18 (2) – Sep 19, 2011

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Abstract

Reviews 185 welcomealsobecause;asGrothmannpointsout,arkaroofsarerapidlybeing replacedbyconcrete,withtheresultthatarshesongslosetheirfunctionandeither disappearorareturnedintoaformoftouristentertainment. JacobEyferth Jacob Eyferth teaches modern Chinese history at the University of Chicago. He is the author of "Eating Rice from Bamboo Roots: The Social History of a Community of Handicraft Papermakers in Rural Sichuan" and is currently writing a book on the politics of cotton production and handloom weaving in the early People's Republic. JonathanHay.Sensuous Surfaces: The Decorative Object in Early Modern China.Honolulu:UniversityofHawai`iPress,2010.440pp.Hardcover $63.00,isbn978-0-8248-3361-9. ReaderswillbefamiliarwiththedecorativeobjectsthatarethefocusofJonathan Hay'sscholarlymonograph.Theyaretheexquisitelyglazedvases,intricately carvedblackwood(hongmu)cabinets,andattention-inducingjadesfrequentlyon viewinexhibitionsofChinesearttoday.Duringthelatenineteenthcentury,these luxurygoodsbecamethecornerstonesofEnglishandAmericanconnoisseurship ofChineseartworksandthefoundationsofthefirstChineseartcollectionsin earlytwentieth-centurymuseums.Giventheirphysicalportabilityandpresencein thetwentieth-centuryartmarket,generalaudienceswillnotbestrangerstothe aestheticappealoftheseobjects.Indeed,aquickperusalofpresent-dayartauction catalogueswillrevealtheextenttowhichsuchartworksyieldincreasinglyprofitablesalesofChineseart.Auctioncatalogues,completewiththeirhigh-glosspages, reinforcethedynamicsofpleasureandsensualityatworkintheexperienceof theseartworks. TotheextentthatChinesedecorativeartfromthefifteenththroughnineteenthcenturieshasoccupiedauctionsalesofthepastcentury,therehasnotbeen aproportionatedegreeofhistoricalartscholarshippublishedaboutthesesame artworks.Theyremainunderanalyzedand,thus,objectswithouthistory.Jonathan Hay'schallengingbook,Sensuous Surfaces,rectifiesthisscholarlydearthand bringsdecorativearttothefrontandcenterofculturalpracticeinMing-and Qing-dynastyChina.Focusingexclusivelyonsecularluxuryobjectsfordomestic consumptionbetween1570and1840(asopposedtoworksofritualdecoration and oftheluxuryexportmarketthatwasitscontemporary),Hayexaminesthe © 2012 by University of Hawai`i Press 186 ChinaReviewInternational:Vol.18,No.2,2011 importanceofsurfaceindecorativeart.Histhesisisthatluxurydecoration,much morethanstaticobjectsofdesire,infact,actuponhumansandeven"thinkwith us"(p. 78).Decoration'sagency,asthebookcontends,layinitssurface.Specifically,surfacecontainstheabilitytoevokeaconceptualspacethroughmultiple metaphoricresonancesandpleasure-producingaffects.Thus,bythesixteenth century,decorativeartinformedconsciousnessandsubjectivityasmuchasthe hallowedartsofcalligraphyandpainting. Havingestablishedthebook'smajorconceptualassertionsinpart1,thenext sevenchapters,whichmakeuppart2,substantiatetheargumentbyproviding analyticaldescriptionsofMingandQingdynastydecorationacrossmaterialand genre.Eachchapterdescribesaparticularstrategyofsurfacetreatmentdeployed byMingandQingdecoration:monochromesmoothness,materialpatterning, formalpattern,depiction,inscription,fictivesurface,anddiversifiedsurfaces. Ratherthanfollowinthestepsofpreviousstudiesandstandardmuseumpractice, Hay'sformalanalysisofsurfacetreatmentsacrossmediumenablesreaderstosee objectsnormallyconsideredseparatelyinrelationtoeachotherasexistingina sharedexperientialrealm. Sincedecorationwasneverexperiencedinisolation,thefinalpartofthe book considersthefunctionofdecorativeartinitsoriginalspatialcontexts.The emphasishereisonthewayinwhichobjects'surfacesinteractedinarchitectural interiors,includingpalaces,studyhalls,bedrooms,andvariousdisplayunits. Employingtheanalyticalconceptofobjectlandscapes(orsimplyobjectscapes), Haydemonstrateshowdecorativeartfunctionedwiththeirenvironmentsand owners.Evokingsensuousandaffectiveresponses,variousobjectsurfacesresonatedwiththeirarchitecturalsurroundings--forinstance,decorativesurfaces couldbeextendedbeyondsingleobjectswhenviewedthroughopenworkwalled partitions.Byextension,surfacerelationsacrossamultiplicityofobjectsinspace producedtheobjectlandscapethatimpartedpleasuretotheroom'sinhabitants andusers. Sensuous Surfacesisadenselywrittenbookwhosenarrativeavoidsresorting tothedominantportrayalofMingandQingmaterialcultureassocialactsof consumption(see,forexample,CraigClunas,Superfluous Things[Urbana: U niversityofIllinoisPress,1991]).Whileexistingstudieshavehelpfullyapplieda socioeconomicreadingtoluxurydecorationandinterpretthemascommodities orasevidenceforChina'searlycommercialization,thisbook'sfocusonaesthetic pleasureasintegraltodecoration'sabilitytofunctionasasocialconnectoris welcomeandrefreshing.Furthermore,giventhattheargumentdependsonthe powerofaestheticsindecoration,thebookissumptuouslyillustrated,containing hundredsofdetailedcolorphotographsandplates.Suchapresentationalapproach isparticularlyeffectiveforpart2,whereformalresourcesofsurfacedesignare explored.Accordingly,chapters4through10willbeanexemplaryselectionof readingforChinesearthistoryinstructorswishingtoassignstudentsanexample Reviews 187 ofarthistoricaldescriptionofmaterialculturalartifactsoranyonewishingto imparttheimportanceofvisualand,toalesserextent,materialanalysis. Specialistsmayhavesomeresidualconcernsaboutafewoverstatements.For instance,whilethebookdrawsupontextualsourcesofMingandQingfiction, includingnovels,dramas,shortstories,anddiaries,closereadersmayneedmore thananunsystematicgroupingofwordslooselyrelatedtomeaningsofpleasurein ordertoresuscitatethecentralityofpleasureastheprimarymodeofexperiencing decoration(pp.88­89).Othersmaytakeissuewithvaguestatementsaboutsocial arthistory,suchasthesupposedelevatedstatusofdecorationanditsequalstandingvis-à-vispaintingduringthistimeperiod(pp.83­84).Thisreaderfoundthat thebook'soverarchingintentiontorematerializesurface,whilesorelyneededin studiesoflateimperialChinesematerialculture,remainsfocusedonvisualperceptionandopticalanalysis.Perhapssomeattentiontoinnovationsinmaterial technologies,suchasenamelingtechniquesduringtheQing,andtheirextant textualandartefactualsources,wouldfurtherelucidatethesedecorativeschemes asmaterialsurfaces.Forthemostpart,however,thisreviewerisgratefultoHayfor turninghisanalyticaleyetowardtheseunderstudiedobjects,therebylegitimizing theaestheticsofdecoration--howeverelusivematerialaspectsmaybe--asa seriousinquiryofarthistory. EllenHuang Ellen Huang is the Kiriyama Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at the Center for the Pacific Rim at the University of San Francisco. She is revising her book monograph about the production of materials through

Journal

China Review InternationalUniversity of Hawai'I Press

Published: Sep 19, 2011

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