NGV: Terracotta Warriors & Cai Guo-Qiang – Exhibition Review

For this year’s Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series, The National Gallery of Victoria have a dual presentation of past and present Chinese culture and art in ‘Terracotta Warriors & Cai Guo-Qiang’.

The exhibition displays ancient Chinese artefacts dating back centuries alongside contemporary art by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. Individually called Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality, half the exhibition is a large-scale presentation of the Qin Emperor’s terracotta warriors which were discovered in 1974 in China’s Shaanxi province and are regarded as one of the greatest archaeological finds of the twentieth century.

For the artefact part of the exhibition, the National Gallery of Victoria features more than 150 historic treasures of Chinese design and art which include two life-sized horses, two replica bronze chariots and eight terracotta warriors from the Qin dynasty (221-207 BCE). The exhibition also includes priceless gold, jade and bronze artefacts dating from the Zhou dynasty (1050 – 256 BCE) through to the Han dynasty (207 BCE – 220 CE).

I found this half of the exhibition fascinating. I have always wanted to travel to China to see the terracotta warriors. I never thought that they would ever come to visit me.

The other half of the exhibition is Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape which consists of works by contemporary Chinese artist, Cai Guo-Qiang. Cai Guo-Qiang exposes traditional Chinese materials; paper, porcelain and silk to gunpowder explosions to create his artwork pieces. Drawing on his understanding of ancient Chinese culture and his belief that a dialogue with tradition and history can invigorate contemporary art. Cai Guo-Qiang creates an immersive environment which marries both his work and Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality seamlessly.

My favourite piece of the exhibition was from Cai Guo-Qiang’s half, ‘Murmuration (Landscape)’ which is an installation of 10,000 porcelain birds. Not only are birds my favourite animal, but these white porcelain birds were exposed to gunpowder to create their colour effect and are scattered throughout the gallery in a way that you follow the birds through the exhibition. The view of the enormous feature not only looks incredible, but if you look at the installation from a certain angle, you can see the birds form a mountain, Mount Li. According to ancient Chinese philosophy, Mount Li is an important meridian in the region, leading Qin dynasty emperor Quin Shihuang to select it as the location for his tomb and his terracotta army.

As a Chinese-Australian, I am so thankful that this exhibition is in Melbourne to provide the city with Chinese art and culture that we would otherwise need to travel overseas to view. It is an honour to have these ancient Chinese relics alone visit our country. Terracotta Warriors & Cai-Guo Qiang is both educational and enchanting.

The exhibition officially opens at the National Gallery of Victoria on Friday the 24th of May, 2019 and will be in Melbourne until the 13th of October, 2019. I strongly recommend visiting this exhibition as soon as possible as it is not only amazing, but will be popular and not one to miss.

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