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TO JULY 15
What exactly does one of China’s classic “Four Beauties” have to do with canned milk? Nothing, yet there Yang Gui Fei sits on a 1935 calendar distributed by Milkmaid Brand sweetened condensed milk (pictured). Every culture, it seems, employs attractive young women to its sell products. Wearing period costume, the favorite concubine of the Tang emperor Xuang Zhong sits in a room where Chinese interior decorating meets art deco design—polished black lacquer furniture, flat red wall panels, a high-gloss floor worthy of a Busby Berkeley set piece. Perched above Yang’s head is her poetry-reciting white parrot, Lady Snow Gown. Something feels just a bit off in this frozen tableau; it nags at you as much as David Lynch’s depictions of small-town America. This strangeness is part of what makes the Robert Brown Gallery’s current exhibit of early 20th-century Chinese advertising posters so intriguing. Some odd images resulted when the East adapted the Western advertising poster: A woman in a traditional qipao sports a flapper’s bobbed and permed hairstyle; scenes from ancient Chinese folk tales share space with skyscrapers and sugar refineries. Rarely do the graphics have anything at all to do with the advertised item. In fact, identical images reappear in ads for completely different products and companies. And although the brightly colored prints are clearly Chinese in origin, they are often bound within Western-looking stylized art deco borders. It is only here, superimposed upon the geometric designs, that the products themselves are finally displayed, along with the requisite short word from our sponsor. On view from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, to Saturday, July 15, at the Robert Brown Gallery, 2030 R St. NW. Free. (202) 483-4383. (Mark W. Sullivan)