This masterpiece of Chinese porcelain is an important example of early blue-and-white ware from the imperially sponsored kilns of Jingdezhen. Four energetic fish—mackerel, whitefish, carp, and freshwater perch—are depicted swimming along the hips of the vessel; their Chinese names form a rebus for the phrase qingbai lianjie, meaning "honest and incorruptible." The twisting leaves and stems of the eelgrass, blossoming lotuses, and other flora elegantly frame the fish and re-create the teeming pulse of a lush aquarium. The visual wordplay suggests that the jar may have been made for an elite clientele who, it was hoped, would be inspired by the rebus’s message of rectitude while drinking their wine.
Krishna is an avatar (earthly manifestation) of the blue god Vishnu. He lived the early part of his life among cowherds in the countryside. Although this image places him in a sumptuous setting, he still holds the long, narrow flute that he played in the pastures.
Gods are often worshipped together with their goddess consorts. Krishna’s female partner is Radha, whom some traditions treat as an avatar of Vishnu’s consort, Lakshmi.
A true product of a multicultural society in Ptolemaic Egypt, this statuette combines a classical image of the Greek goddess Aphrodite appearing from the sea, just born, with the typically Egyptian material, faience. Egyptian artists achieved the characteristic brilliant blue of faience in a complex process combining ground quartz with a mixture of alkali.
During the early reservation period (1860–91), when Native people were forced onto reservations, the buffalo nearly became extinct due to wholesale slaughter by the United States government. European woolen trade cloth quickly replaced hide that was no longer available for garments. The blue cloth was dyed with indigo, and Native women often retained the undyed selvage as part of a garment’s design, as seen on the sleeves and hem of this dress. Wool cloth was easier to cut, sew, and maintain than hide, and thus became a valuable commodity. The dress’s rich blue color is enhanced by the rows of white dentalium shells on the bodice.
This beaded crown is the ultimate symbol of Yoruba kingship. Although the Yoruba have a long history of glassmaking, the beads used to make this crown would have been imported from the British in the late nineteenth century. At the time, glass beads were a signifier of wealth, and small European “seed beads” were particularly valued for their uniform size and color variety. Blue beads were particularly valuable because the color was not commonly found in natural materials.
Worn by an oba, or king, this crown with its beaded veil serves to depersonalize the man and instead emphasizes his office. It also protects onlookers from the danger of casting their eyes directly upon the divine presence of the oba.
Although experiments with the notion of wireless communication date back to the mid-nineteenth century, the first radio transmission in the United States occurred in 1920. New technology required new forms, and as the household radio rapidly gained in popularity throughout the twenties and thirties, many designers devised different shapes and styles. Walter Dorwin Teague’s radios from the mid-1930s are among the most iconic early radio designs. Their streamlined, curving, silhouettes epitomize the Art Moderne, or Art Deco, style that began about 1925. The striking blue mirrored glass that clads this radio was a clever use of a preexisting material to add to the radio’s novelty and sense of newness.
In the ongoing series Sunday Paintings, Byron Kim inscribes personal notes about his daily life onto his painted images of the sky. In nuanced hues of blue, each of the six examples shown here represents the sky on the Sunday it was painted. The words sit on the picture plane, creating a play between the painting as a flat surface and as a window opening onto the illusion of deep space. Lined up on a wall, the Sunday Paintings have a cinematic quality: each panel looks like a frame in a film sequence—a moment in time stilled—as if each is a part of a larger ongoing whole. While the works were created on Sundays, the title of this series also refers to amateurs known as “Sunday painters,” admired by Kim for the purity of their motives in making art.
Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Pavilion and Lobby and Great Hall, 1st Floor
The works of art in Infinite Blue feature blue in all its variety—a fascinating strand of visual poetry running from ancient times to the present day. In cultures dating back thousands of years, blue—the color of the skies—has often been associated with the spiritual but also signifies power, status, and beauty. The spiritual and material aspects of blue combine to tell us stories about global history, cultural values, technological innovation, and international commerce.
This cross-departmental survey includes objects from our holdings of Asian, African, Egyptian, American, Native American, and European art, among them paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, the decorative arts, illuminated manuscripts, printed books, and contemporary art. It will expand as subsequent chapters unfold, eventually almost filling our first floor.
Infinite Blue is organized by a curatorial team including Yekaterina Barbash, Associate Curator of Egyptian Art; Susan L. Beningson, Assistant Curator of Asian Art; Meghan Bill, Curatorial Assistant, Arts of Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands, and the Islamic World; Edward Bleiberg, Senior Curator of Egyptian Art; Connie Choi, former Assistant Curator of American Art; Joan Cummins, Lisa and Bernard Selz Curator of Asian Art; Susan Fisher, Director of Collections; Barry R. Harwood, Curator of Decorative Arts; Deirdre Lawrence, Principal Librarian, Libraries and Archives; Cora Michael, former Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings; Kimberly Orcutt, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art; Nancy Rosoff, Andrew W. Mellon Senior Curator of Arts of the Americas; Lisa Small, Senior Curator of European Art; Sara Softness, Assistant Curator of Special Projects; and Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein Senior Curator of Contemporary Art; with guidance provided by Nancy Spector, former Deputy Director and Chief Curator, Brooklyn Museum.
Generous support for this exhibition is provided by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, an anonymous donor, and Room & Board.
Infinite Blue is part of A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum, a yearlong series of exhibitions celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.