Imagine hoisting this silver seat atop an elephant's back, and an Indian royal climbing into it to be carried through a battle. It is hard to think of a more "over-the-top" combination. (Curators' remarks tell us that it may have been used for hunts and ceremonial processions as well.) The seat elevates its sitter above everyday folks as a symbol of social status. Its embossed and gilded decorative motifs covering sheets of silver signify the owner's wealth. These messages come through loud and clear. But what do you think? Is this ornate ride a flashy case of "more is more" or does it leave you thinking that good taste can't be bought?
- AH ("Gorgeous" exhibition)
"Less is a bore."
Or so said the American architect and theorist Robert Venturi. We look at a lavishly ornamented silver elephant seat and can't help taking it as a piece of high camp: garish, middle-brow, essentially laughable. What do the lion and buffalo have to do with the peacock-panther? Why the solemn coat of arms amid the riotous Indian foliage? What is THE POINT? But we live in chaos, with every kind of thing jostling every other. Maybe occasionally things that enter our field of vision make some sort of sense together, but usually they don't. The commotion, the confusion, the jumpin' indeterminacy are the point.
- FMcG ("Gorgeous" exhibition)
Video: Royal Rides: The Asian Art Museum's Silver Howdah and its Virgina Relation (Part 1 of 2: http://youtu.be/aBregDSW1xM
Video: Royal Rides: The Asian Art Museum's Silver Howdah and its Virgina Relation (Part 2 of 2): http://youtu.be/m3shFETYelc
John Henry Rice of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts discusses the silver howdah in the Asian Art Museum's collection. A lecture presented by the Society for Asian Art on April 3, 2015.