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Indepth Arts News:

1999-09-19 until 2000-01-02
National Gallery of Art
Washington, DC, USA United States of America

The Golden Age of Chinese Archaeology: Celebrated Discoveries from The People's Republic of China, a landmark exhibition of the most important archaeological discoveries of the region from the last forty years, will be on view at the National Gallery of Art, East Building, 19 September 1999, through 2 January 2000. This survey will provide a unique opportunity to see masterpieces dating from 5000 B.C. to the tenth century A.D. (the Neolithic through the Early Imperial periods). There are more than 200 works presented in the show, most of which were excavated between the late 1970s and the present, a period considered by many scholars to be the golden age of Chinese archaeology. Many of the objects were found in tombs and were probably created for use during the lifetime of the deceased as well as for the afterlife. Representing the earliest and best for each medium or type, many have never before been shown in the United States or outside of China.

The exhibition is sponsored by Eastman Kodak Company.

After its showing at the National Gallery, the exhibition will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 13 February through 7 May 2000, and The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 17 June through 11 September 2000.

The works exhibited here represent great achievements in Chinese archaeology. The study of these works has made possible the reconstruction in far greater detail than ever before the cultural meaning of ancient works of art in their own time, said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. We are extremely grateful to Eastman Kodak Company for its generous support of the exhibition.

All great exhibitions open windows on the past, said Kodak Chairman George Fisher, though in Western eyes, two or three hundred years seems a long time. But here we discover themes and motifs that thread themselves through 60 centuries of unbroken visual culture. Through their remarkable works, we encounter people as committed to their craft as anyone alive today. Kodak is pleased and honored to sponsor this exhilarating record of a golden age.

The Golden Age of Chinese Archaeology is a sequel to the exhibition of archaeological finds from China shown at the National Gallery of Art in 1974. The current exhibition, which encompasses a great range of ancient Chinese cultures, shows that Chinese civilization and art did not originate at a specific time or place, as previously believed, but developed from the interaction and assimilation among various cultures that flourished concurrently all over China.

Recent archaeological discoveries in the exhibition include sculpture, ritual objects, furniture, coffins, textiles, and decorative objects made of clay, jade, stone, bamboo, ivory, lacquer, gold, silver, bronze, glass, and silk. Late Prehistoric China (c. 5000-2000 B.C.) shows works from several cultures including painted pottery and jade ritual objects and ornaments. Among works in Bronze Age China (c. 2000-771 B.C.) are stylized human figures, which were buried for reasons unknown, and oracle bones inscribed with divinations for the ruler. Chu and Other Cultures (c. 770-221 B.C.) includes hand-embroidered textiles, with their colors remarkably vivid even after more than 2,000 years; mysterious lacquer monsters decorated with antlers; and a chime of twenty-six ritual bells, with a range of more than four octaves. Along with other works of art, Early Imperial China (221 B.C.-924 A.D.) features terra-cotta soldiers from the burial complex of the First Emperor; two jade burial suits for royalty; Buddhist sculpture with much of its original paint and gilding; and an elegant pair of painted marble reliefs of an orchestra and attendants.

The guest curator for the exhibition is Dr. Xiaoneng Yang, curator of Chinese art at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, who has worked closely with scholars and archaeologists in China to select the works of art included in the exhibition.

A fully illustrated catalogue written by leading scholars of early Chinese art and archaeology will be published by the National Gallery of Art. Yale University Press will distribute the hardcover version. An introductory essay traces the development of Chinese archaeology. Essays about the excavation sites and cultures are followed by brief descriptions of each work's historical and artistic significance. The catalogue will be available in mid-September in hard and softcover at the National Gallery of Art Shops. To order by phone using a credit card, call (301) 322-5900 or (800) 687-9350.

A sixteen-minute film, produced by the National Gallery and narrated by author Amy Tan, will show recent excavations and explain how they have changed our understanding of ancient China. The film will be shown continuously in a theater adjacent to the exhibition.

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, in cooperation with the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and Art Exhibitions China, The People's Republic of China.

Additional support has been provided by The Henry Luce Foundation. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. The catalogue is supported by a grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.

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