Exhibition – Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices at the Art Gallery of South Australia

This exhibition includes 300 outstanding and rarely seen works of ceramics, decorative arts, furniture, metalware, paintings, prints, engravings and textiles from both public and private collections in Australia, India, Portugal, Singapore and the United States. It is the first exhibition in Australia to present the complex artistic and cultural interaction between Europe and Asia from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries – a period known as the Age of Spices.

Image detail: Nagasaki School, 'Scenes of traders at Nagasaki', late 18th-early 19th century, Nagasaki, Japan, pair of hand scrolls (e maki): ink, colour and gold on paper; box: wood, paper and ink, scroll, (a) 34x652 cm; (b) 34x652 cm; box 12x19.5x39.5 cm; M.J.M. Carter AO Collection through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2014, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

Nagasaki School, ‘Scenes of traders at Nagasaki’, late 18th-early 19th century, Nagasaki, Japan, pair of hand scrolls; M.J.M. Carter AO Collection through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2014, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

The exhibition’s Curator James Bennet explains that the works of art selected reveal how the international trade in spices and other exotic commodities inspired dialogue between Asian and European artists, a centuries old conversation whose heritage is the aesthetic globalism we know today. Europe’s infatuation with pepper, nutmeg and cloves has often been explained in terms of the necessity to preserve cooked foods in the days before the invention of refrigeration. However, the avid search for these condiments of luxury and status was also responsible for the loss of some human lives.

The exhibition also examines the impact of the Age of Spices on the ‘discovery’ of the Australian continent and the commencement of English occupation in 1788. The colonial art of the period displays the aesthetic reverberations that continued in the Australasian region long after European ships had ceased carrying cargoes of nutmeg and cloves.
Treasure Ships: Art in the age of Spices opens at the Art Gallery of South Australia on 13 June and runs until 30 August 2015. The exhibition opens at the Art Gallery of Western Australia on 10 October and runs until 31 January 2016.

More information available at: http://treasureships.com.au/agsa/exhibition/about/

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