Friday, 13 June 2014

The secret life of objects; or, the case of SD3

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time adding contextual information to object records. This can be details of when it was loaned to an exhibition, if somebody used it as an illustration in an article or book, or it inspired a creative project.

In my previous post I mentioned that two loans had recently returned from an exhibition in Japan. One of these objects, with the accession number SD3, has come up again and again as I sort through records of how objects have been used. Slowly I realised that this design on paper by Arthur Silver for a Japanese-style room is probably the most used object in the MoDA collections.


SD3, Design for decoration of door and wall, 1885
Every museum has such a star object with a high request use. Sometimes it becomes almost an emblem of the museum, like Tipu’s Tiger in the V&A. These objects have a secret jetsetting life that beautifully represents how many diverse ways collections can be used, make an impact, and share information. Even as I started writing this post I found another two SD3 uses, bring the current number of Procedures, as the cataloguing system calls them, up to twenty-four.

So what has SD3 got up to at home and away?

Mostly recently, it’s been part of a touring exhibition to Japan organised by the V&A called Art for Art’s Sake. It’s a smaller version of their successful The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 exhibition – also featuring SD3 - which showed in London, Paris and San Francisco.  SD3 features in the English and Japanese language catalogues of both exhibitions

It was used with a close-up detail of the wallpaper decoration for an article exploring the aesthetics of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s eerie uses of wallpaper in her short stories ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and ‘The Unexpected'.    Other academics have used it in a MA thesis with the Royal College of Art, and to illustrate and article for Bunka Women’s University journal in Japan.

The Geffrye museum featured the design on the front page of their website in 2008. But earlier in 2000, they borrowed it for their exhibition The House Beautiful: Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Interior.

The highly Japanese-inspired look made SD3 an important object in MoDA’s own exhibition Japantastic: Japanese Inspired Patterns for the British Home 1880-1930 in 2009, now available online. From this exhibition we produced a book of the same name, available in reprint as The Silver Studio and the Art of Japan.

More Japanese influence was explored via SD3 in the exhibition The Great Wave: The Japanese Influence on Western Design at the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery in Bedford in 2001

MoDA’s first-ever exhibition, called A London Design Studio 1880 - 1963,about the Silver Studio, included SD3 and was held at the Museum of London  

Of course SD3 features in the popular book Silver Studio of Design, co-written by Lesley Hoskins, MoDA’s ex-head curator.

The design has been licensed to greetings cards. If you keep your eyes peeled, MoDA’s visually striking objects get around a lot in this form, though we can’t tell you with whom!

And finally, SD3 and some of its interpretations have been the subject of earlier blog posts:
What a life!

Hilary Davidson

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