Organized Panel Session
A January 17, 1938 cover of Time featured a portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright with a rendering of Fallingwater in the background. A Tang dynasty tomb sculpture of a woman stood above Wright’s shoulder in the middle ground. How would contemporary viewers have made sense of this composition? Julia Meech outlined Wright’s appreciation of the formal qualities of Chinese artifacts, and the social distinction these possessions offered him (2001). This paper widens its purview beyond the architect, contextualizing the tomb figurine within concentric circles of cultural meaning. First, museums and associated private collectors, particularly in the Midwest, were increasingly interested in ancient Chinese artifacts. Second, the availability of newly unearthed pieces combined with the United States’ burgeoning consumer culture to make tomb ceramics a fashionable commodity in the 1930s. Han through Tang pieces appeared not only in art exhibitions, but also in model homes promoted by House Beautiful, and in advertisements for hotels and department stores. Ancient sculptures were understood to complement the masculine simplicity of modernist interiors, for they had not accumulated the feminine associations of late imperial Chinese goods. Yet the figurine on the Time cover is a counterpoint to Wright’s bustand the linearity of his architectural design, indicating the ambiguously gendered meanings of Chinese tomb sculpture. In January 1938, these extended beyond the aesthetic to a wider political realm. Given the publisher Henry Luce’s sympathies, the Tang figurine likely also stood for China: enduring, female, and gravely imperiled by the rapacious Japanese.