Vis à Vis: Asia Meets Europe

12.05.2017 to 30.04.2019

The Museum für Asiatische Kunst closed its doors in Dahlem in early January 2017 to prepare for reinstallation in the Humboldt Forum. A selection of objects from its magnificent holdings will go on show over the coming months at the Kunstgewerbemuseum, interwoven into its permanent collection display. Works from both museums will thus be placed in associative dialogue with each other. This form of display illustrates the lively transfer of materials, techniques, forms, and motifs that already took place many centuries ago. Conceived as five ‘thematic discourses’, the display will go on view in successive stages, and will appear in its completed form December 2017 until spring 2019.

East Asia and Art Nouveau

From 15 July 2017 the new discourse will be devoted to ceramics: European porcelain and Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) stoneware will be presented alongside vessels from China, Japan and Korea.

Although the date and context of their origins are quite different, the ceramics exhibited do display design similarities. Parallels can for example be seen in the use of running glazes, the sculptural shaping of forms, the ennoblement of vessels through their placement on pedestals, and the depiction of motifs from nature. This is particularly evident in the juxtaposition of East Asian ceramics and those of the French ceramicist group Art du feu (Fire Art).

On the threshold between historicism and Art Nouveau, Western artists were searching for new sources of inspiration. Their encounter with East Asian art acted as an initial spark. Here, the Berlin Kunstgewerbemuseum, founded in 1867, played an important role. In its early days it acquired both European and non-European works and saw itself as an exemplary collection.

However, the Museum für Asiatische Kunst, established in 1906 under the name Ostasiatische Kunstsammlung, took East Asian instead of Western concepts as a model when it built its collection. The Western reception of East Asian art known as Japonism is therefore scarcely reflected in the collection. Nevertheless, the selection of mainly Chinese ceramics from earlier periods still reveals those principles of design that inspired Art Nouveau artists. The oldest works date from the 4th century but appear timeless and modern today.

Horn, Bone, and Ivory

The first discourse begins on 12 May 2017, and focuses on objects made of horn, bone, and ivory. Artworks created in both Europe and on the Indian subcontinent between the 13th and 19th centuries will be juxtaposed in the Medieval Hall of the Kunstgewerbemuseum. The precious materials horn, bone, and ivory, valued for centuries for their firmness and elasticity, their surface lustre and pleasant feel, were commonly used to create luxurious objects and prestigious works of art. Ivory symbolised power, virility, grandeur, and purity across cultures. It was valued equally in both Europe and Asia for hunting and military equipment, for courtly gifts and cosmetic utensils, as well as for religious and devotional objects, and for rulers’ insignia. In the West, ivory was also associated with the exotic, giving an aura of exclusivity to the foreign material, which could only be acquired through extensive trade networks.

Two throne legs from Orissa (now Odisha, India) from the Museum für Asiatische Kunst exemplify the dramatic juxtaposition of Asian and European ivories. The iconography, which appears exotic to European eyes, and the technical finesse of the carvings illustrate the high calibre of this southeast Asian ivory work from a royal court.

A lidded goblet in the shape of a boat, made in southern Germany in the second half of the 17th century, was carved from zebu horn instead of ivory. The carvings symbolise the African continent and reflect the exotic origins of the material, which was rare in Europe. The example in the Kunstgewerbemuseum comes from the Kunstkammer of the Hohenzollern in the Berlin Palace, and reflects the Electorate of Brandenburg’s pursuit of colonial aspirations beginning around 1680.


Offers for

© Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Karen Bartsch

20.08.2017 11:30 Uhr
Public tour

© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstgewerbemuseum / Katrin Hammer

21.09.2017 16:30 Uhr
Curator tour

© Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Karen Bartsch

24.09.2017 11:30 Uhr
Public tour

© Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Karen Bartsch

22.10.2017 11:30 Uhr
Public tour

© Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Kunstgewerbemuseum

16.11.2017 16:30 Uhr
Curator tour

© Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Karen Bartsch

26.11.2017 11:30 Uhr
Public tour

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Unknown artist, Portrait of Yang Maolin, ca. 1600. Hanging scroll (Detail) © Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
© Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

Special exhibition by the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin for the German-Chinese Cultural Programme 2017

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