Le French May x CityU Present "Cabinets of Curiosities"
Unlock the World's Curious Cabinets of Nature, Art and Science
by Jobie Soo
Imagine walking into a room and feeling like being transported through time to a different dimension – that’s what it felt like when I was visiting the “Cabinet of Curiosities” exhibition yesterday.
Partnering with Le French May, City University of Hong Kong is presenting an extensive French collection of more than 250 European artefacts that date back to as far as 16th to 18th century, baring witness to many changes in the world then and now. But that’s not all. These century-old artefacts have travelled to countless continents and crossed different borders – Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania - and now they’ve finally made it to Hong Kong, here at CityU Exhibition Gallery Hall.
Travel Back in Time
“Cabinets of Curiosities” has 5 exhibition areas, displaying fascinating collections from well-known French art houses like Deyrolle, Musee du Vivant-Agro Paris Tech, Kraemer Gallery Paris and Galerie Pierre-Alain Challier.
Also, special thanks to the exhibition tour guide who was kind enough to walk me through this exhibition with patience and tolerance (I might have asked him WAY too many questions), I’ve learnt so much about the rich and varied history of nature, science and art from these fascinating French collections.
Our first stop was this ravishing corner that resembled a classic European study from early 19th century.
“Europeans in the early 19th century liked to have everything they owned on display to show off their wealth and power,” the tour guide explained to me.
I totally get it – just imagine having the luxury of getting a gilded and well-crafted desk like this, and having a bronze statue of King Louis XIV and a crystal obelisk lying around casually in your room… Of course you’d want to show them off to every person you know. These weren’t just decorations and furniture. These were symbols of wealth and power, especially to royalty.
Before the digital era of photography, this was the “old-fashioned” (and only) way of having a picture of your face hung inside your living room. Like this portrait of King Louis XV from 18th century.
Nope, it's not a doll house or a tiny theatre for a puppet show.
This fancy little house is actually a pet house, designed for royal pets back in the 18th century.
King Louis XVI Style Dog Kennel, Wood, paint, 18th Century
Kraemar Gallery Paris
Collection of La Maison Deyrolle
Here comes my favourite part of the exhibition - this podium of exotic animals in their natural shapes and forms.
What I appreciate most is none of the animals were harmed or killed in the making of these specimens – either the animals died naturally or the corpses were donated from circuses. And thanks to Deyrolle, they have all been well-preserved and still look very lifelike. So lifelike that they look like they’re all lining up for a “class photo.”
Snake, antelope, coyote, kangaroo and – here’s my favourite one – unicorn (yes, I know, magical). The tour guide told me that, although it wasn’t a real unicorn (obviously), Maison Deyrolle recreated it with a real horsehead and a plastic spear.
Apart from exotic animals, Musee du Vivant-Agro ParisTech is also a well-known arthouse for their fascinating collection of insect specimens, like these:
Curiosity transcends borders and time – that’s why “Cabinets of Curiosities” is a playground for those who pursue science and art in both old and contemporary fashion and also across the Western and Eastern borders.
Cabinets of Curiosities: From the Natural Sciences to the Art of Nature
CityU Exhibition Gallery, 18/F, Lau Ming Wai Academic Building, Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon
25 May – 19 Aug 2018 | 10am – 7pm (Monday to Sunday)