The Saint Louis Art Museum highlights Japanese textiles with “Shimmering Silks”

The Carolyn C. and William A. McDonnell Gallery at the Saint Louis Art Museum is small, but the softly lit, corridor-like space plays host to some of the most exciting exhibitions on the SLAM calendar.

In the gallery, curators take turns highlighting textiles from their areas of expertise. The most recent example, Shimmering Silks: Traditional Japanese Textiles, 18th-19th Centuries, was organized by curator of Asian art Philip Hu. He envisions it as the first of three exhibitions dedicated to the textiles of Japan, with modern and contemporary examples to follow.

“It’s a small but very beautiful show,” Hu says. “We have textiles in many different colors—it’s all very lavish, and we hope people will be entranced not only by the richness of the material but also by the incredible designs.”

The 14 textiles and two figurines on display beginning March 29 represent a wide range of what Hu describes as “fine art textiles,” including examples from and kabuki theater, Buddhist textiles used or worn in temples, ceremonial costumes, and decorative pieces used as wall hangings and wrappings. Each piece has been pulled from the museum’s archives, and no selection has been seen for at least a century. Beyond giving visitors the chance to see the pieces for the first time, hosting the exhibition has allowed the museum to catalog and photograph the pieces in detail.

“[This exhibition] brings you back in time and gives you a sense of how people lived, how people celebrated special occasions, and how people wore very fine things,” Hu says. “Silk is an amazing material. It’s a material that lends itself to beauty, to luxury, and to great design possibilities.”

Because they’ve been stored away for so long, Hu says, the pieces are in exceptional condition—still vibrant and colorful after hundreds of years. Some are embroidered and others hand-painted, featuring both abstract and figural designs representing human, mythological, and natural imagery. Hu hopes that visitors will take the time to view the pieces several times during the exhibition’s six months on display—each time taking in new details from the intricate works.

“There’s a saying that comes from architecture, from Mies van der Rohe, that God is in the details. Same thing here,” Hu says. “You really have to look closely at these textiles to get the most out of it. The most amazing parts are always in the details, so look closely and look often.”

FYI: A public opening for Shimmering Silks will be held March 29 from 4-7 p.m. On April 7, families can take part in a Family Sunday event inspired by the exhibition from 1-4 p.m.

Talking Textiles

More chances to explore textiles at the Saint Louis Art Museum

Native Artist Collaboration: Faye Heavyshield

Through May 4, 2025

In this fifth iteration of a collaboration between an Indigenous Plains artist and SLAM, First Nations artist Faye Heavyshield highlights pieces created by the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot Confederacy) people, specifically painted hide containers called parfleches—decorated with vivid geometric patterns—alongside new visual works.

Art and Imagination in Spanish America, 1500–1800: Highlights from LACMA’s Collection

June 22–September 1

This ticketed exhibition will bring some of the treasures of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to St. Louis for the first time, including paintings, sculptures, and examples of decorative arts from the museum’s large Spanish colonial collection.

Bolts of Color: Printed Textiles after WWII

November 8–March 9, 2025

Curated by associate curator of decorative arts and design Genevieve Cortinovis, this exhibition will highlight British, Italian, and American textiles from the height of the experimental screen printing era. Colorful fabrics from the 1950s–1970s, including pieces by Rockwell Kent, Lucio Fontana, Althea McNish, and Joel Robinson, are among SLAM’s growing collection of post-World War II textiles.

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