Blouin Art Info
BY JAKE CIGAINERO | NOVEMBER 10, 2015
GENEVA – In the exhibition “The Buddhism of Madame Butterfly,” the Museum of Ethnography in Geneva assembles some of the first Japanese art, artifacts and objects brought to Europe in the late 19th-century.
Curator Jérôme Ducor said the exhibition presents the fascination of Japanese Buddhism within the context of the larger phenomenon of the movement “Japonism,” the French term that describes that early influence of Japanese aesthetics on Western culture.
Although Westerners knew about Buddhism from India, the religion had long been dead on the continent. Ducor said the interest was renewed when Matthew Perry’s forcing Japan open to trade in 1854 revealed the country as a living example of modern practice.
“The fascination was mostly exotic,” said Ducor. “It was the shock of discovering a sophisticated culture that had been closed for so long – that’s to say, the discovery of civilized cultures outside of Europe.”
Vitrines at the beginning of the exhibition trace initial European tastes for Japanese culture up to the moment in which commercialization reached saturation. In just a little more than 20 years, the quality of exported objects plunged, becoming garish and kitsch, as seen in clunky ceramics and porcelain vases with cartoonish samurais.