Arts + Culture

Fowler Museum to display new donation of Cambodian shop signs

'Fowler in Focus: Cambodian Shop Signs: A Gift to the Fowler Museum from Joel G. Montague' opens Dec. 2

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Charming hand-painted signs for local businesses appearing in the streets of Cambodia's cities in the 1990s marked the beginning of a new era of private economic activity in the war-torn country.
 
"Fowler in Focus: Cambodian Shop Signs: A Gift to the Fowler Museum from Joel G. Montague," on display at the Fowler Museum at UCLA from Dec. 2 through March 31, 2013, features 25 excellent examples of the genre, most of them recently donated to the Fowler by Massachusetts-based collector Joel Montague.

Under the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, Cambodia's cities were systematically emptied of their populations, commercial activity ground to a halt and even the use of currency was prohibited. This genocidal reign was finally brought to an end by the occupation of Cambodia by Vietnamese military forces, who instituted a state-controlled economic system that continued to severely limit private commercial activity.
 
Only with the implementation of the United Nations Transitional Authority in 1990 did private commercial activity begin to revive. Remarkably, Cambodia's re-populated urban environments came alive with hand-painted signs advertising myriad small businesses and personal services.

Painted on sheets of metal by commercial artists in tiny makeshift studios and storefronts, the signs bore lively representations of everyday goods or services — car parts, foodstuffs, tailored clothing, medical and beauty services, musical performers, and more. Today, these signs provide a window into the brief period when private enterprise bloomed but had not yet come under the sway of international business interests and mass-produced advertising.
 
"Fowler in Focus: Cambodian Shop Signs: A Gift to the Fowler Museum from Joel G. Montague" is curated by Roy Hamilton, senior curator of Asian and Pacific collections at the Fowler Museum. The exhibition will be on view in the Fowler in Focus gallery, the central space within the long-term exhibition "Intersections: World Arts, Local Lives." Fowler in Focus is dedicated to rotating installations of new acquisitions, sub-collections and particular artistic genres in the Fowler's permanent holdings.
 
The Fowler Museum at UCLA is one of the country's most respected institutions devoted to exploring the arts and cultures of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Americas. The Fowler is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The Fowler Museum, part of UCLA Arts, is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. Admission is free. Parking is available for a maximum of $11 in Lot 4. For more information, the public may call 310-825-4361 or visit www.fowler.ucla.edu
 
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