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Arts This Week | December 20, 2018

Arts This Week: 'Corncobs to Cosmonauts' and 'Empresses of China's Forbidden City'

Arts This Week - December 20, 2018
A New Year's tree on display at the Museum of Russian Icons.
Howard Powell /WGBH News
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Arts This Week | December 20, 2018

This week, Jared Bowen celebrates the holidays Soviet-style at the Museum of Russian Icons and reviews a sprawling new exhibition exploring the Empresses of the Qing dynasty at the Peabody Essex Museum.

“Corncobs to Cosmonauts: Redefining the Holidays during the Soviet Era,” on view at the Museum of Russian Icons through Jan. 27.

Corncobs to Cosmonauts: Redefining the Holidays during the Soviet Era
"Corncobs to Cosmonauts: Redefining the Holidays during the Soviet Era" at the Museum of Russian Icons
Howard Powell /WGBH News

After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Bolsheviks discouraged decadent holiday traditions and festivities in the USSR. That sentiment would not last, and Russia eventually reintroduced the holiday season with their own state-sponsored twist, co-opting seasonal celebrations by changing their dates and traditional names.

With “Corncobs to Cosmonauts: Redefining the Holidays during the Soviet Era,” The Museum of Russian Icons features more than 150 cards, ornaments and toys from the USSR on display alongside New Year’s trees and figures of Russia’s Grandfather Frost — not to be confused with Saint Nicholas.

“Grandfather Frost links back to an ancient Slavic figure, a god of winter and ice and snow,” Laura Garrity-Arquitt, the museum registrar, said. “He could conjure up these things to either protect the good or punish the bad. And as history grew in Russian culture, he did become a gift giver.”

Discover how the Soviet Union, after initially banning Christmas, gradually reintroduced the holiday with a panoply of propaganda, promoting themes including the agriculture and the space program.

“Empresses of China’s Forbidden City,” on view at the Peabody Essex Museum through Feb. 10.

Empresses of China's Forbidden City
A portrait of Empress Dowager Cixi by Katharine Carl
Howard Powell / WGBH News

An expansive new exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum is the first to take a deep dive into the often overlooked lives of the empresses from China’s last dynasty. In “Empresses of China’s Forbidden City,” visitors can examine almost 200 works from the Qing dynasty, including imperial garments, jewelry and portraits as well as decorative art, ceramics, and sculptures. Discover how the empresses and empresses dowager were stewards of these artifacts and influenced the royal court through the objects that surrounded them.

“When the empress was recruited and was brought into the Forbidden City, she would be loyal only to that institution,” curator Daisy Wang said. “All the things she used, surrounding her, were considered part of the court property.” Celebrating the 40th anniversary of US-China diplomatic relations, many of the works on display are on loan from the Palace Museum in Beijing and have never been shown in the United States.

What were some of your favorite holiday shows this year? Tell Jared about it on Facebook or Twitter!

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