NARRATOR: Artist Max Weber recalled the experience of walking into a Chinese restaurant—the inspiration for this painting—in these words:
“On entering a Chinese Restaurant from the darkness of the night outside, a maze and blaze of light seemed to split the interior and its contents into fragments. The light was so piercing and so luminous, the color so liquid and the life and movement so enchanting! To express this, kaleidoscopic means had to be chosen.”
And Weber does confront us with a dazzling, disorienting sensation. The painting is like an exploded jigsaw puzzle in which you can still make out some of pieces. Notice the gold and black squares marching across the lower half of the painting. This is the linoleum on the restaurant’s floor. Look at the center of the image: can you find the shape of a brown table? Now look all around the table. What do you see in those flickering slices of black and white? Can you find fragments of people? Maybe they’re the waiters bustling around the table.
When this painting was made, in 1915, Chinese restaurants were exotic novelties in New York. The fragmentation of this image refers to another novelty, too: it calls up the techniques of cubist painting, which was all the rage in Europe. Cubism gave Weber the technique he needed to present a new world in a new way.