5 April 2019

Chinese art and tradition on show in landmark exhibition at NMA

| Ian Bushnell
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A Battle in the Wild, 1995, by Xiao Lang. Photo: National Museum of China.

A free Australian-first exhibition from the National Museum of China (NMC) exploring the grand historical sweep of Chinese art and calligraphy traditions has opened at the National Museum of Australia (NMA) in Canberra.

Featuring exquisite artworks that have never previously been seen in Australia, The Historical Expression of Chinese Art: Calligraphy and Painting from the National Museum of China features a sweeping 14-metre-wide animated digital experience, which brings historical figures to life in intricate moving detail.

The exhibition consists of more than 100 objects from China and showcases the breadth and traditions of these art forms through the works of three Chinese modern artists – Wang
Naizhuang, Xie Yun and Xiao Lang.

The Canberra exhibition follows the hugely successful 2018 show at the NMC in Beijing of Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists, featuring one of the NMA’s signature collections. It was the most significant collection of Aboriginal barks to tour China.

NMA director, Dr Mathew Trinca, said he was proud to partner with the National Museum of China to bring major works to Australia for the first time.

“This is an historic day which brings two great cultural institutions together and builds on the cultural ties between Australia and China,” Dr Trinca said.

“Australian audiences will be both enchanted by the sweeping animated experience at the heart of the show, which brings historical figures to life before their eyes, and be delighted by the vitality and beauty of ink painting today, with its connections to centuries-old traditions of calligraphy.”

The Last Peony, 1985 by Xiao Lang ink and colour on paper. Photo: National Museum of China.

Deputy Director of the National Museum of China, Mr Shan Wei, was pleased the partnership enabled the National Museum of China to share artistic culture with Australia.

“Through this exhibition, we hope to share with the Australian audience the artistic interpretation of Chinese painting and calligraphy on history and life, the aesthetic concept contained in it, the spiritual pursuit embodied in it, and the philosophy of life of Taoism and nature,” Mr Shan Wei said.

The NMA is the first venue for the exhibition, which also features a rare high-quality 20-metre long-replica of the first scroll in the beautifully painted series, Emperor Qianlong’s Southern Inspection Tour, considered one of the jewels in the NMC’s collection. Emperor Qianlong was one of China’s most influential rulers.

The exhibition features a mesmerising animation of this scroll, in which the historical figures, including Emperor Qianlong and his entourage, come to life across a massive digital screen.

It explores the traditions of Chinese calligraphy, and the ways Chinese artists continue to draw on ancient symbols and scripts, through the stunning and diverse paintings of artists Wang Naizhuang, Xie Yun and Xiao Lang.

Intricate Chinese symbols painted with majestic strokes, golden fish jumping from crystal clear ponds, sweeping mountainous landscapes, blooming cherry blossoms and grand historical narratives feature in the stunning artworks.

The exhibition also explores the strong Chinese-Australian connection through the NMA’s own stunning Harvest of Endurance Scroll. The scroll is an artistic representation, in magnificent colour detail, of two centuries of Chinese contact with, and migration to, Australia.

A total of eight metres from the 50-metre Harvest of Endurance Scroll will be on display in the exhibition. This will be the first time this much of the scroll has been on display at once and for an extended period of time.
The exhibition includes more than 70 treasures of calligraphy and painting from the National Museum of China, plus brushes, inks and other calligraphy tools on loan from the late artist Xiao Lang’s family.

The Historical Expression of Chinese Art: Calligraphy and Painting from the National Museum of China will be on display at the NMA from 5 April until 28 July 2019. Entry is free.

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