Monday, 3 July 2017

China's Soft Power Show at The Met

Intricately designed wine vessel of bronze and gold inlay
One of the exhibitions on now at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is called Age of Empires: Chinese Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties (221BC-AD220) until July 16.

Earthenware dancer full of movement
It features 160 objects that were excavated from imperial tombs over the years from the Qin and Han dynasties that help give us a better idea of what life was like, particularly for the privileged classes.

We tried to use the free audio guide, but the attendant somehow ran out of headphones but not the gadgets, so we just relied on the captions to explain. For the most part they were fine, giving explanations of the pieces much like how things were described in my art history class -- lots of observation and imagination.

Many of the items we saw were in very good condition, which makes you wonder about the rest of the things unearthed -- there must have been thousands of items that were crushed or so disintegrated there was nothing left to show.

A lively bronze horse with its groom
We particularly liked the sculptures of animals, both large ones like a bronze horse that looked energetic with its nostrils flared and looking confident with its groom, to an anatomically correct replica of a goose, to a small representation of an elephant and rhinoceros. All these animals were with the deceased in their journey to the underworld.

Even remnants of fabric managed to survive all these centuries, giving us an idea of the kinds of patterns and colours of the clothes they wore at the time. There were also lacquer trays and bowls -- that were even found with food on them when they were excavated. Pretty amazing.

Delicate embroidered fabrics that have survived centuries
I'd see the terracotta warriors before in Xian, so seeing a few of them on display wasn't as impressive. Nevertheless, the large bronze wine vessels with intricate designs were, along with the jade funeral suits that looked like patches of jade armour all over the body, and models of two and three-storey houses.

For the China this was an excellent exercise in soft power  -- linking this exhibition to the Silk Road -- and hence Belt and Road -- as a way to get everyone on board or at least interested, as some pieces in the show were from the Middle East to demonstrate that China didn't just conquer other people, but integrated part of their cultures as well.

A jade funeral suit connected with gold wire
Granted the exhibition is also sponsored by the likes of the Joseph Hotung Fund, the Henry Luce Foundation, and the estate of Brooke Astor to give the show more street cred with the New York and arts crowd, the major sponsor is China Merchants Bank -- a big PR coup for the state-owned bank.

Age of Empires: Chinese Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties (221BC-AD220)
Gallery 899, The Tisch Galleries
Until July 16, 2017

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