Mia Opens Dramatic Exhibition Designed by Robert Wilson

Mia Opens Dramatic Exhibition Designed by Robert Wilson

The Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) has collaborated with celebrated theatre director and visual artist Robert Wilson to organize a first-of-its-kind exhibition highlighting the drama, rituals, and opulence of the Qing Empire, the last imperial dynasty of China. Wilson has created an immersive, experiential environment to display rare court costumes, jades, lacquers, bronzes, gold ornaments, paintings, and sculpture from Mia's renowned collection of Chinese art. Power and Beauty in China's Last Dynasty: Concept and Design by Robert Wilson, presented by Sit Investment Associates, is curated by Liu Yang, Mia's Curator of Chinese Art. The exhibition, which opened on February 3, will run through May 27, 2018.

During the Qing (pronounced "ching") court's reign (1644-1912), the arts flourished, rivaling that of Europe's great kingdoms. This backdrop of opulence served to affirm imperial power and prestige, and acted as stagecraft to enhance the emperor's leading role as the "son of heaven." Wilson has embraced the inherent theatricality of the court to create a series of shifting environments that imaginatively evoke the emotions of living in the royal court.

Exhibition Experience
The exhibition progresses through a series of ten galleries that lead visitors from the performative, external world of the imperial court to the intimate, interior world of the emperor. The sequence of galleries explores different aspects of imperial life, from the almost bureaucratic devotion to hierarchy and the emperor's omnipotent control of the court to the politically expedient splendor of religious devotional objects. Each gallery also features an original soundscape created by Wilson, in collaboration with sound designer Rodrigo Gava, and dramatic lighting by designer A.J. Weissbard.

"Throughout the exhibition Robert Wilson strived to create a sense of duality, creating a series of juxtapositions throughout the exhibition," said Matthew Welch, Mia's Deputy Director and Chief Curator. "Darkness gives way to brightness. Abundance yields to scarcity. The objects are cast, quite literally, in a new light."


THE MINNEAPOLIS INSTITUTE OF ART OPENS
POWER AND BEAUTY IN CHINA'S LAST DYNASTY: CONCEPT AND DESIGN BY Robert Wilson

Unique Immersive Exhibition Evokes Splendor of Qing Dynasty

Minneapolis MN, February 6, 2018 - The Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) has collaborated with celebrated theatre director and visual artist Robert Wilson to organize a first-of-its-kind exhibition highlighting the drama, rituals, and opulence of the Qing Empire, the last imperial dynasty of China. Wilson has created an immersive, experiential environment to display rare court costumes, jades, lacquers, bronzes, gold ornaments, paintings, and sculpture from Mia's renowned collection of Chinese art. Power and Beauty in China's Last Dynasty: Concept and Design by Robert Wilson, presented by Sit Investment Associates, is curated by Liu Yang, Mia's Curator of Chinese Art. The exhibition, which opened on February 3, will run through May 27, 2018.

During the Qing (pronounced "ching") court's reign (1644-1912), the arts flourished, rivaling that of Europe's great kingdoms. This backdrop of opulence served to affirm imperial power and prestige, and acted as stagecraft to enhance the emperor's leading role as the "son of heaven." Wilson has embraced the inherent theatricality of the court to create a series of shifting environments that imaginatively evoke the emotions of living in the royal court.

Exhibition Experience
The exhibition progresses through a series of ten galleries that lead visitors from the performative, external world of the imperial court to the intimate, interior world of the emperor. The sequence of galleries explores different aspects of imperial life, from the almost bureaucratic devotion to hierarchy and the emperor's omnipotent control of the court to the politically expedient splendor of religious devotional objects. Each gallery also features an original soundscape created by Wilson, in collaboration with sound designer Rodrigo Gava, and dramatic lighting by designer A.J. Weissbard.

"Throughout the exhibition Robert Wilson strived to create a sense of duality, creating a series of juxtapositions throughout the exhibition," said Matthew Welch, Mia's Deputy Director and Chief Curator. "Darkness gives way to brightness. Abundance yields to scarcity. The objects are cast, quite literally, in a new light."

Gallery 1 - Darkness
Power and Beauty begins in a dark room containing a single, illuminated object: a black glazed porcelain vase, manufactured at the royal Qing kiln. In ancient Chinese philosophy, darkness is considered complementary to brightness. Light and dark are physical manifestations of Yin and Yang, the duality at the heart of most classical Chinese science and philosophy. Before entering the rest of the exhibition, visitors are asked to allow their eyes to adjust to the darkness, to listen to the sound of one chopstick falling and embrace the simplicity and relative quiet in this beginning space.

Gallery 2 - Prosperity
Emptiness gives way to abundance and dark gives way to light to create an immediate and heady contrast. In this gallery, a display of more than wo hundred works in various media conjures the emperors' insatiable appetite for art. At the empire's peak in the 1700s, there was unprecedented prosperity and political stability, which allowed the decorative arts to flourish. The Forbidden City in Beijing, where the emperor's court was based, became a center of artistic production, and the emperors commissioned workshops to create opulent objects for their palaces. A joyful song from Puccini's opera Turandot, which is set in China, serves as the soundscape, further strengthening the festival-like atmosphere of the gallery.

Gallery 3 - Order and Hierarchy
A rigid social hierarchy-with an omnipotent emperor who answered only to the heavens above-ensured the stability of the empire. This hierarchy was rigidly enforced by a strict dress code, which denoted a noble's title, rank, and social status through color, symbolism, and accessories. In the center of the gallery, eight imperial robes are arrayed by rank. Only the highest-ranking members of the royal family could wear robes decorated with the 12 imperial symbols: the sun, moon, mountain, constellations, dragon, axe, cups, flame, bat, grain, pheasant, and waterweed. And only the emperor himself could wear yellow. In addition to the rigid display of dragon robes, the grey carpet and the sound of wood blocks striking underline the rigid and severe imperial bureaucratic system. Straw thatch mounted on the walls, which evokes the lower classes the emperor ruled, serves as a foil to the delicacy and exquisiteness of the silk.

Gallery 4 - The Common Man
This gallery forms the core of the exhibition. Within a space of equal size to the previous few galleries, a single object, a tiny bronze human figure from the 5th to 4th century BCE, is on view. Cast in fine detail, the figure stands formally posed with arms held out and fingers curled to form a socket, which would have held the shank of an object. The single human figure from China's Bronze Age suggests the ancient Chinese philosophy of governance. The right to rule was divinely granted, but if an emperor was cruel and oppressive, it was said that he would lose the Mandate and be toppled. Alone in the center of a gallery with emerald green walls and a soundscape of the pure and innocent voice of a child singing, the bronze figure from around the time of Confucius faces the formidable imperial authority represented in the adjacent gallery.

Gallery 5 - Fearsome Authority
In this gallery, where the walls are covered in gold foil, an imperial throne is placed on a raised platform with stairs on three sides and surrounded by four large pillars (also covered with gold foil). The emperor's imperial throne conveys his fearsome authority. Gold lacquer dragons adorn the seat. Scrolls are carved into the sides, back, and legs, suggesting clouds and the emperor's heavenly mandate to rule. The Chinese believe that China was at the center of the world. The throne embodies this concept. It was in fact was at the center of the Forbidden City in a Throne Hall elevated about 26 feet above the surrounding square. Placed there, it was as though the emperor could survey his entire kingdom. The soundscape of ceremonial music is intermittently interrupted by a hair-raising scream.

Gallery 6 - Buddhist Art
Flanking the throne room is a gallery devoted to Buddhist art. Amid the chants of a Buddhist sutra (scripture), five Buddhist statues stand on high pedestals, demanding visitors look up to see them. Religion and politics were often intertwined as rulers engaged in religious devotion and patronage of the religious arts in order to reinforce their reign. Buddhism was a major catalyst for monumental sculpture, painting, printing, and architecture. The Buddhist monk Faguo expressed this link in the early fifth century when he equated the emperor with the Buddha, explaining, "the Buddhist law would be very difficult to disseminate if it did not rely on imperial power and influence."


Gallery 7 - Daoist Art

Flanking the other side of the throne room is a gallery devoted to Daoist paintings, accompanied by the sounds of Daoist texts being read. During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Daoism flourished alongside Buddhism. Its roots can be traced to the sage Laozi (c. 571 BCE-c. 471 BCE), who wrote the classic textDaodejing (The Way and Its Power). Six centuries later, Daoism emerged as an organized religion with a supreme god known as Tianzun (Heavenly Worthy), a canon of scriptures, temples, priests, and a practice modeled on traditional Chinese popular religion. Its influence extended to Chinese art and culture, and, like Buddhist art, was used by rulers to legitimize their rule. The walls and the floor are covered with earthen plaster.

Gallery 8 - Court Ladies and Noble Women
In male-dominated Chinese imperial society, and within the principle of Yin and Yang, women were considered the counterpoint to men-existing only in relation to them. In this gallery, objects associated with noblewomen suggest the palace's inner quarters-a counterbalance to the public court life visualized in gallery three. The Qing period saw unparalleled production of gold and silver jewelry and the development of sophisticated technology for clothing manufacture, creating a remarkable material culture of garments and adornments for noblewomen. Placed irregularly, works in different media with different functions are juxtaposed. The aluminum-foil wallpaper suggests a voluptuous and extravagant lifestyle, but the soundscape, which is a melody with bitter and sad tones performed on an erhu (a two-stringed instrument) counterpointed by a woman giggling intermittently, conveys the life and destiny of Chinese women in the imperial period.

Gallery 9 - Mountains of the Mind
A display of two and three-dimensional depictions of mountain landscapes represents the ruler's and scholar- officials' fascination with nature. Steeped in centuries of religion, history, literature and folklore, China's mountains are seen as divine realms and endowed with myriad sacred associations. Emperors and courtiers alike dreamed of retreating from society into a life of seclusion in the mountains-an escape that remained hypothetical. Instead, they cultivated the concept of chaoyin ("recluse at court"), a belief that one could engage with the world while preserving an internal sense of seclusion, remaining spiritually remote and uncontaminated by public life. The walls of the gallery are clad with an ink-painting of a mountain created by contemporary Chinese artist Yang Yongliang, while at the center a large mountain carved from jade celebrates a drunken poetry writing contest.

Gallery 10 - Lightness
Dark is forever balanced by light. In ancient China, the Yin and Yang forces that make up all aspects and phenomena of life are traditionally depicted as the light and dark halves of a circle. Here, the darkness of the first room is complemented in this final room by glowing walls lit from within, a white floor, and a Mughal-style pale green jade vase commissioned by the Qing court. The sound of waves against rocks suggests the wave pattern (lishui) along the borders of imperial robes, a final reference to the power and beauty of Qing, China's last dynasty.

Support
Presenting Sponsor: Sit Investment Associates
Lead Sponsor: Nivin and Duncan Macmillan Foundation
Major Sponsor: Delta Air Lines Inc.
Generous support provided by Gale Family Endowment

About Robert Wilson
Born in Waco, Texas, Wilson is among the world's foremost theater and visual artists. His works for the stage unconventionally integrate a wide variety of artistic media, including dance, movement, lighting, sculpture, music, and text. His images are aesthetically striking and emotionally charged, and his productions have earned the acclaim of audiences and critics worldwide. After being educated at the University of Texas and Brooklyn's Pratt Institute, Wilson founded the New York-based performance collective "The Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds" in the mid?1960s, and developed his first signature works, including Deafman Glance (1970) and A Letter for Queen Victoria (1974-75). With Philip Glass he wrote the seminal opera Einstein on the Beach (1976). Wilson's artistic collaborators include many writers and musicians, such as Heiner Müller, Tom Waits, Susan Sontag, Laurie Anderson, William Burroughs, Lou Reed, and Jessye Norman. He has also left his imprint on masterworks such as Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, Brecht/Weill's Threepenny Opera, Debussy'sPelléas et Melisande, Goethe's Faust, Homer's Odyssey, Jean de la Fontaine's Fables, Puccini's Madama Butterfly, and Verdi's La Traviata. Wilson's drawings, paintings, and sculptures have been presented around the world in hundreds of solo and group showings, and his works are held in private collections and museums throughout the world. Wilson has been honored with numerous awards for excellence, including a Pulitzer Prize nomination, two Premio Ubu awards, the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale, and an Olivier Award. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as the German Academy of the Arts, and holds eight Honorary Doctorate degrees. France pronounced him Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (2003) and Officer of the Legion of Honor (2014); and Germany awarded him the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit (2014). Wilson is the founder and Artistic Director of The Watermill Center, a laboratory for the arts in Water Mill, New York.

About Liu Yang
After completing his PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in 1997, Liu Yang served as the Senior Curator of Chinese art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney. There he mounted an impressive number of major exhibitions, including shows on Chinese painting and calligraphy, Buddhist sculpture, jades, bronzes, Daoist art and modern prints. Since joining Mia in 2011, Liu has curated exhibitions on the contemporary ink painter Liu Dan as well as on ancient terracotta warriors and treasures associated with China's first emperor, Qin Shihuang.

About the Asian Art Collection at Mia
Mia's collection of Asian art comprises some 16,800 objects ranging from ancient pottery and bronzes to works by contemporary artists, with nearly every Asian culture represented. Areas of particular depth include the arts of China, Japan, and Korea.

Specific subsets and highlights of these collections rival the holdings of museums across the globe. The museum's holdings of ancient textile, lacquer wares and hardwood furniture comprise one of the largest and best collections in the West. For its stylistic diversity and condition, Mia's collection of ancient Chinese bronze is typically considered one of the nation's top collections of its kind. Important examples include a famous vessel in the form of an owl, superb silver inlaid works, and many other outstanding vessels from the Shang and Zhou dynasties (c. 17th-3rd century BCE). Mia's Japanese collection has outstanding concentrations of Buddhist sculpture, woodblock prints, paintings, lacquer, works of bamboo, and ceramics, and is particularly rich in works from the Edo period (1610-1868).



Related Articles

View More Minneapolis / St. Paul
Stories   Shows



More Hot Stories For You

Before you go...

Like Us On Facebook
Follow Us On Twitter
Follow Us On Instagram