Cabinet of Curiosities takes its inspiration from the earliest museums, dating back to the Renaissance. The noble elite, artists and scientists, driven by the humanistic ideals of the era, would collect items to showcase their interests in men and nature, like clothing, animal or plant samples, medicine, glassware, precious stones, or anything else that suited the taste of the curator. Like 14th century magpies.
In this case, the exhibition resembles one of those "curiosity cabinets." There's a whole bookshelf full of Kewpie, the Japanese salad dressing brand. Scenes from childhood nightmares abound: wicked clowns stuffed inside old Victorian-style cupboards, or upright porcelain dolls in Victorian-style dresses locked behind two glass doors, gazing out with blank faces. "Annabelle" coming to life. Or a little light sacrilege, like Monkey King and Tang Sanzang from Journey To The West with a plump and sensual female gladiator riding their white horse.
There are also numerous pieces of original works curated from independent artists, displayed in the Mixed-Media Doll Gallery.
There are a lot of dolls in "Dolls." The diversity in styles is obvious. Terrifying voodoo dolls made from wood, linen and feather; gooey stuffed figures in girly pink, hanging in the air like mutated earthworms; giant wooden doll heads with the crown of the head chopped off, displaying densely arranged pine cones, crystals, or Bodhi seeds. It's intensely interesting, and intensely creepy.
One of the most memorable pieces is a bowl of human-faced ginseng fruit place on a narrow wooden table, set against a painting mimicking ancient ink works, with Chinese calligraphy announcing "consuming one ginseng fruit will extend your life for thousands of years."
The exhibition is similar to the haunted houses: the atmosphere doesn't really come through in pictures. It needs to be experienced.
On the way out, stop by the pop-up shop of European and American antiques, which normally only operates in distant Jiading. The shop owners are two Shanghainese gentlemen with an encyclopedic knowledge of their assorted knick-knacks. Llike a pair of 21st century magpies.
Cabinet of Curiosities: An Exhibition About Dolls runs until March 8, 2020. Entry is 80rmb, or 50rmb until November 3 in honor of Halloween (6.30-9pm). More details here.