Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures explores complex American attitudes toward the Near East--as revealed in collected paintings, interior design, and multiple vernacular forms--at the formative moment of industrialization and the crystallization of a truly mass culture. Published to coincide with the multimedia exhibition that opens at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute and travels to the Walters Art Gallery and the Mint Museum of Art, this catalogue considers how urban, mercantile, Protestant America represented the Islamic world of the Middle East and North Africa in ways that say more about itself than the foreign culture.
This gorgeously illustrated volume first looks at the use of Orientalist stereotypes by some of the country's most important high art painters of the nineteenth century: Frederic Edwin Church's treatment of the exotic terrain through a lens of deep religiosity; a more cosmopolitan reading of the harem girl by John Singer Sargent; the perfumed alternative to industrial capitalism conjured in the landscapes and market scenes of Samuel Colman and Louis Comfort Tiffany; and interpretations of the Orient as emancipatory by Ella Pell, the only major woman Orientalist. The book next traces the popularization of Orientalism in the decorative arts (including a few treasures from Olana, Church's Moorish-style home on the Hudson), on Broadway, and in Hollywood, as well as through advertising that linked consumer products with visual suggestions of exotic sexuality and through cultural objects, such as the Shriners' fez.
The generous color plates show both an innocent romanticization of the Orient and a darker, heavily eroticized version of Oriental "otherness." An excellent chronology and bibliography, in addition to expert essays by both Americanists and Islamicists, give context to absorbing images. Though a perfect companion for visitors to the exhibition, Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures is also for anyone seeking an uncommon take on the development of American self-understanding.
The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
June 11-September 4, 2000
The Walters Art Gallery
October 1-December 10, 2000
The Mint Museum of Art
Charlotte, North Carolina
February 3-April 22, 2001