‘Asia Imagined’ presents a dual vision of Asia reflected through the collections of Alfred Baur (1865-1942) and Cartier (1847-current day). It reads as a love song to the East by the West (as represented by Cartier).
The title of this exhibition puts in our minds the idea that we might be imagining Asia in a certain way through the works of Cartier. Is it all a construct? Are the dreams of Asia shown through the works of Cartier a myth or a reality? Is there any true basis for what we have been shown through these precious works, or is it an idealisation in gemstones of a figment of Cartier's romantic imagination?
Alfred Baur was a Swiss-born collector whose passion for the subject of Asia bega
n in 1884 in Ceylon. In 1923 at the age of 58, he spent a year travelling through India, China, Korea and Japan after which he refined his collection until it included only the very finest pieces from these lands.
Cartier’s visual engagement with Asia goes all the way back to 1877 when its archives record the creation of a cigarette case in the ‘Chinese style’. The style became more fashionable in 1907 with Far Eastern motifs in demand at Cartier’s first exhibition in Russia. Two years later, the Ballet Russe’s performan
ces in Paris inspired Louis Cartier to develop the Art Deco colour combinations for which Cartier has always been famed.
In 1911, Jacques Cartier made his journey to India, gaining access to the treasuries of the Maharajahs and their fabulous stones. Commissioned by them to remount their ancient jewels in the Western style, Cartier’s relationship with the Royal Houses of the East continued well into the 20th Century.
The exhibition is grouped by themes – materials, architecture, colours and patterns. Through the clever arrangement of the pieces, we can see the source of Cartier’s inspiration – it serves to put the fabulous works into a form of context – to give a deeper understanding of the ideas behind
the works, while offering a deeper appreciation of the work in each.
Through Cartier, our Western-acclimatised eyes meet and become fascinated by the East, and through the artworks of China and Japan, we discover and fall in love with Cartier once again.
The Asia Imagined exhibition runs until 14th February 2016 at the Baur Foundation, Geneva
The accompanying catalogue by Estelle Niklès van Osselt is available from Five Continents Editions