19th-Century Indian Crafts Go On Display at the Norton Simon Museum

Published : Monday, March 19, 2018 | 7:14 PM

The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena will examine the connection – and tension – between Indian artists and their historical practices and the commercial ambitions of colonial administrators in the 1800s during its “In Search of New Markets: Craft Traditions in Nineteenth-Century India” exhibition.

The vast majority of the monumental stone sculptures, metal shrines, votive objects, painted textiles, manuscripts and so-called “miniatures” from South Asia in the Museum’s collection were created for religious or courtly settings, whether in Buddhist, Hindu, Jain or Islamic cultural contexts.

By contrast, the seven objects on display for “In Search of New Markets” – a wooden table, vases, jugs and plates – were created for commercial purposes, and reveal the distinctly modern modes of promotion and distribution that were used to generate demand for them.

In the late 19th century, artisans in India faced a contracting market for their work. In response, some reimagined their designs, fusing familiar styles with new shapes and sizes of vessels and furniture that appealed to European buyers.

The city Multan, in what is now Pakistan, was long a center of production for glazed ceramics, predominately tiles, which were used to adorn mosques or tombs. As the economy shifted, the number of Indian patrons who could fund such architectural projects waned, and the demand for these tapered.

However, the palette and style of floral decoration typical of Multan tile started appearing on new types of vessels. By 1883, a commentator writing for the Journal of Indian Art remarked instead on the wide variety of flowerpots and vases that were for sale there, in forms that “neither the potter in India nor his ancestors in Persia ever conceived.”

Efforts to produce handmade items of this type at a scale (and price) that could compete with mass-produced goods from abroad were relatively short-lived, peaking at the end of the 19th century.

During the 1880s and 1890s, under the auspices of colonial schools of art and independent commercial ventures, Indian artisans produced these vessels, as well as richly carved wooden furniture that incorporated designs from the pierced stone screens, brackets and other architectural features of extant Indian monuments. These designs circulated in pattern books, which were meant to standardize production. Unfortunately, the amount of time and careful labor that even one such piece of furniture required made the cost prohibitive to all but the wealthiest consumers.

While the objects featured in this exhibition represent forms of artistic production that proved economically unsustainable in the long run, they remain compelling examples of the ways in which artists and colonial administrators tried to imagine a role for Indian craftsmanship in the everyday lives of buyers worldwide.

“In Search of New Markets” is organized by Stephanie E. Rozman, assistant curator at Norton, and is on view in the Museum’s small rotating exhibitions gallery on the main level from April 6 to September 3.

Pasadena’s Norton Simon Museum is known as one of the most remarkable private art collections ever assembled. The Museum houses more than 12,000 objects, roughly 1,000 of which are on view in the galleries and gardens. Two temporary exhibition spaces feature rotating installations of artworks not on permanent display.

The Norton Simon Museum is located at 411 W. Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena.

For general Museum information, call (626) 449-6840 or visit www.nortonsimon.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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