Showing posts with label Museums. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Museums. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"Integration: Fusion and Adaptation" at the Wuhan Art Museum

"Integration: Fusion and Adaptation" is the fourth and current exhibition for the Wuhan Ink Art Biennale at the Wuhan Art Museum. As described at the museum:
The preceding three exhibitions present a chronological sequence of perpetuation and development, transformation and innovation, in Chinese ink painting since Ming and Qing periods. "Integration" showcases the richness of contemporary ink art through works that are rooted in tradition yet present new ideas, pieces that are more avant-garde in creative concept and method, as well as pieces by foreign artists working in ink.

One piece on display features Chinese calligraphy, common at art museums in China.

Chinese Calligraphy: Excerpt from Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (2012) by Michael Cherney

Less common is the calligrapher's home country — the U.S. — and the topic of the writing, which is captured in Michael Cherney's title for the work: Excerpt from Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (2012).

South Korean Shin Young Ho's piece Liquid Drawing_4207 (2015) doesn't include calligraphy, but it does have ants.

Liquid Drawing_4207 by Shin Young Ho

Li Huichang's Groan No. 66 (2015) has neither calligraphy nor ants, but there is still much going on.

Li Huichang's Groan No. 66 (2015)

One of the more colorful pieces at the exhibition is Paradise (2008) by Huang Min.

Paradise (2008) by Huang Min

Finally, the piece I pondered most was Stop! (2015) by Liu Qinghe.

Stop! (2015) by Liu Qinghe

Like many others on display, the large piece of art is worth a closer look.

closeup of person in Stop! (2015) by Liu Qinghe

closeup of people in Stop! (2015) by Liu Qinghe

The Wuhan Art Museum has much more. One sign indicates this exhibition was supposed to have already ended over a week ago, so I am not sure how much longer it will be around. In any case, the Wuhan Art Museum is free. You just have to scan your Chinese ID card to open an entrance gate. If you are a foreigner, don't worry. You can walk around the gate — no need to stop.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Pondering the Writing Selection at a Beijing Museum

Lu Xun (September 25, 1881 — October 19, 1936), "a leading figure of modern Chinese literature", has had many fans in China, including Mao Zedong. At the Beijing Lu Xun Museum, the description of a piece he wrote less than a month before his death caught my attention in a way similar to a book I saw displayed at a Beijing bookstore.

exhibit at the Beijing Lu Xun Museum of a piece of writing by Lu Xun
On September 21, 1936, Lu Xun wrote For Future Reference III in which he chided self-deceit in Chinese characteristics, urged his fellow countrymen to see films and read books criticizing China. "We should read this, reflect and analyse ourselves to see whether he has said anything correctly or not, then make reforms, struggle and change ourselves without asking others for their forgiveness or praise. So we shall prove what the Chinese are really like."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dinosaurs in Hong Kong

If you walk down Chatham Road South in Hong Kong, you may wonder if there has been a dinosaur invasion.

large dinosaur outside the Hong Kong Science Museum
Fortunately, we all know such things are more likely in Japan.

Instead, what you're seeing is part of the Hong Kong Science Museum's current exhibition Legends of the Giant Dinosaurs. With 500,000 visitors in just three months, there can be long lines to see it, especially on weekends. I was able to go on a weekday, though, and happily entered without needing to stand in line.

On another day the line extended far away from here.

Once inside, you can watch a brief introductory video.

movie of ancient landscape with text "160 million years ago in China..."
First they told me I only needed to understand 5,000 years of Chinese history...

Then, before you know it you're gaining first hand experience with dinosaur excrement.

"Pile of Poo" with sign saying "Touch 3 weeks worth of Europlocephalus poo.
There's a lot more than what's in this photo.

Europlocephalus with poo underneath it
In case you didn't make the connection

And in the same spirit, how can one refuse the opportunity to make a Triceratops fart?

Kid pressing a button at the Farting Triceratops display
Although I love immersive learning, I'm glad they didn't try to replicate the smell.

If you're looking for something more intense, perhaps an interactive Tyrannosaurus rex will do the trick. [spoiler alert: a "secret" about this exhibit is revealed below]

Tyrannosaurus rex
Yes, something is looking at you.

A nearby sign explaining image recognition technology asks:
Is this Tyrannosaurus watching you with the 'image recognition' system'? Reveal the secret at the Tyrannosaurus Command Centre.
When I approached the T. rex and looked it in the eye, it let out a loud snort. I'll admit I was slightly startled. It is a T. rex after all. Curious to learn about its apparently effective image recognition system, I headed to the Command Centre where I learned I should have paid more heed to the quotation marks in the sign.

boy at the Tyrannosaurus Command Centre playing with controls and looking at live video of the area around the Tyrannosaurus
The kid who "attacked" me had already fled the scene.

To top it all off, what could be better to teach your kids than how to anger a Velociraptor?

Sign reading "Let's play with Velociraptor" next to a boy poking an animatronic velociraptor with a stick.
The Velociraptor's mane reminded me of something. It took me a few minutes, but I think I figured it out.

In addition to these and other interactive exhibits, there is also an excellent collection of dinosaur fossils, many of which were unearthed in China.

Juvenile Protoceratops
Juvenile Protoceratops

Jintasaurus meniscus with a Suzhousaurus megatherioides, Beishanlong grandis, and Lanzhousaurus magnidens in the background
Jintasaurus meniscus with Suzhousaurus megatherioides, Beishanlong grandis, and Lanzhousaurus magnidens

Xiongguanlong baimoensis with a Jintasaurus meniscus and very large Daxiatitan binglingi in the background
Xiongguanlong baimoensis with Jintasaurus meniscus and a very large Daxiatitan binglingi

The well-designed mix of fossils and interactive exhibits can keep both kids and adults amused. Like the Zigong Dinosaur Museum I visited two years ago, I enthusiastically recommend a visit if you're in the area. Just make sure to catch it before Legends of the Giant Dinosaurs becomes extinct in early April.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ephemeral Laughs from Yue Minjun and Roger Angell

the laughing head of one of Yue Minjun's steel sculptures named "The Laugh that can be Laughed is not the Eternal Laugh"

Earlier today I saw the steel sculptures of laughing people created in 2009 by Chinese artist Yue Minjun now outside the Macao Museum of Art. After briefly considering them, I read an informational card and learned they share the title "The Laugh that can be Laughed is not the Eternal Laugh".

After a few moments pondering the possible meaning of the title, I found humor in it and laughed. Then, listening to my laughter, I broke into a louder laugh finding humor in the idea that my laugh could not be an "Eternal Laugh".

I suddenly went silent. Recursion. Absurdity. Eternity. For a seemingly timeless period, my mind floated.

And then I walked away to find something to eat.

Due to an unrelated recommendation, in the evening I read "This Old Man" by American essayist Roger Angell in The New Yorker. The topic of laughter appeared again, this time in Angell's personal reflections on life, death, and growing old:
I get along. Now and then it comes to me that I appear to have more energy and hope than some of my coevals, but I take no credit for this. I don’t belong to a book club or a bridge club; I’m not taking up Mandarin or practicing the viola. In a sporadic effort to keep my brain from moldering, I’ve begun to memorize shorter poems—by Auden, Donne, Ogden Nash, and more—which I recite to myself some nights while walking my dog, Harry’s successor fox terrier, Andy. I’ve also become a blogger, and enjoy the ease and freedom of the form: it’s a bit like making a paper airplane and then watching it take wing below your window. But shouldn’t I have something more scholarly or complex than this put away by now—late paragraphs of accomplishments, good works, some weightier op cits? I’m afraid not. The thoughts of age are short, short thoughts. I don’t read Scripture and cling to no life precepts, except perhaps to Walter Cronkite’s rules for old men, which he did not deliver over the air: Never trust a fart. Never pass up a drink. Never ignore an erection.

I count on jokes, even jokes about death.
Angell follows with a joke he's been told 4th graders will appreciate, and then he shares another joke:
A man and his wife tried and tried to have a baby, but without success. Years went by and they went on trying, but no luck. They liked each other, so the work was always a pleasure, but they grew a bit sad along the way. Finally, she got pregnant, was very careful, and gave birth to a beautiful eight-pound-two-ounce baby boy. The couple were beside themselves with happiness. At the hospital that night, she told her husband to stop by the local newspaper and arrange for a birth announcement, to tell all their friends the good news. First thing next morning, she asked if he’d done the errand.

“Yes, I did,” he said, “but I had no idea those little notices in the paper were so expensive.”

“Expensive?” she said. “How much was it?”

“It was eight hundred and thirty-seven dollars. I have the receipt.”

“Eight hundred and thirty-seven dollars!” she cried. “But that’s impossible. You must have made some mistake. Tell me exactly what happened.”

“There was a young lady behind a counter at the paper, who gave me the form to fill out,” he said. “I put in your name and my name and little Teddy’s name and weight, and when we’d be home again and, you know, ready to see friends. I handed it back to her and she counted up the words and said, ‘How many insertions?’ I said twice a week for fourteen years, and she gave me the bill. O.K.?”
As Angel reacted when he first heard the joke more than fifty years ago, I laughed and was surprised to hear the joke in the particular context it was shared.

What does Angell, at the age of 93, believing jokes to be so important mean? What does the "The Laugh that can be Laughed is not the Eternal Laugh" mean? I'm still not sure, but where these questions lead and how they relate fascinates me.

And that I noticed a connection between Yue Minjun's sculptures in Macau and Roger Angell's essay from New York City ...

... makes part of me laugh.

the laughing head of one of Yue Minjun's steel sculptures named "The Laugh that can be Laughed is not the Eternal Laugh"

Friday, August 9, 2013

Healing and Hugs in Taipei

If you are looking to get over a failed relationship, some help can now be found in Taipei. As reported in Want China Times (via Shanghaist):
Hundreds of people flocked to an exhibition, centered on failed relationships and their ruins, in downtown Taipei Saturday to take part in a hugging event that organizers hope will heal locals who have experienced broken relationships.

The visitors, mostly young girls, held cards reading "Can I hug you?" or "Can you hug me?" during the event, in which strangers are expected to share stories about their previous relationships.

Organizers of the exhibition, titled Museum of Broken Relationships, also had an elephant mascot on standby for those who were too shy to ask for hugs from humans.
The exhibition began in Croatia and according to its website:
The Museum of Broken Relationships grew from a traveling exhibition revolving around the concept of failed relationships and their ruins. Unlike ‘destructive’ self-help instructions for recovery from failed loves, the Museum offers a chance to overcome an emotional collapse through creation: by contributing to the Museum's collection.

Whatever the motivation for donating personal belongings – be it sheer exhibitionism, therapeutic relief, or simple curiosity – people embraced the idea of exhibiting their love legacy as a sort of a ritual, a solemn ceremony. Our societies oblige us with our marriages, funerals, and even graduation farewells, but deny us any formal recognition of the demise of a relationship, despite its strong emotional effect. In the words of Roland Barthes in A Lover's Discourse: "Every passion, ultimately, has its spectator... (there is) no amorous oblation without a final theater."
If you are interested in attending, the exhibition will remain in Taipei until September 1 (details here).

The news about the hugging reminded me of an experience I had in Taipei in April. While walking around a popular shopping area, I met five friendly people.

5 youth in Taipei holding signs reading 'Free Hugs Share Your Love'

They held signs declaring "Free Hugs -- Share Your Love", and I hugged everyone. There was no mention of failed relationships. Instead, they said their goal was raising money for a children's charity.

Both events were remarkable to me since Taiwan was a bit more "conservative" regarding hugging when I first stayed there over 10 years ago. So even when the The Museum of Broken Relationships leaves Taipei, a variety of opportunities may remain for hugs in Taipei. Finding an elephant to hug might be harder though.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Partial Yet Telling Story: The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Two days ago, March 16, was the 45th anniversary of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. In commentary about the republishing of an important story in LIFE magazine, Ben Cosgrove revisited the horrific tragedy:
Two simple syllables, My Lai (pronounced “me lie”), are today a reminder of what America lost in the jungles of Vietnam: namely, any claim to moral high ground in a war often defined by those back home as a battle between right and wrong. For the Vietnamese, meanwhile, the March 1968 massacre in the tiny village of My Lai is just one among numerous instances of rape, torture and murder committed by troops — Americans, South Vietnamese, Viet Cong and others — in the course of that long, divisive war...

On March 16, 1968, hundreds (various estimates range between 347 and 504) of elderly people, women, children and infants were murdered by more than 20 members of “Charlie” Company, United States’ 1st Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment. Some of the women were raped before being killed. After this mass slaughter, only one man, Second Lt. William Calley, was convicted of any crime. (He was found guilty in March 1971 of the premeditated murder of 22 Vietnamese civilians, but served just three-and-a-half years under house arrest at Fort Benning, Georgia.)
In another recent article deserving attention, David Taylor for BBC News reported on tapes revealing important context for some of the decisions made in the U.S. during the Vietnam War:
Declassified tapes of President Lyndon Johnson's telephone calls provide a fresh insight into his world. Among the revelations - he planned a dramatic entry into the 1968 Democratic Convention to re-join the presidential race. And he caught Richard Nixon sabotaging the Vietnam peace talks... but said nothing.
Both of the articles were especially poignant for me not just because I'm in Vietnam at the moment, but also because they reminded me of a visit earlier this month to the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. The museum is undoubtedly a one-sided portrayal of the brutalities committed during the Vietnam War -- something reflected in the name of the museum's earliest incarnation, Exhibition House for U.S. and Puppet Crimes. I am not going to wade into debates about whether all of the claims made there are accurate, whether certain displays are better described as history or propaganda, and whether some photos are unfairly not representative. Regardless of these issues, the museum effectively communicates at least some of the inhumanity and hypocrisy which occurred during Vietnam War. I also found it notable that several displays highlighted the opposition to the war found even within the U.S., and most of the English text did not contain the same style and degree of rhetoric I have often seen at similar museums in China.

I will share some photos of what I saw there and also share some thoughts about one display which particularly caught my attention. Like the museum itself, the following will not necessarily be a fully representative overview.

Poster with the English text, "'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.' (The U.S. Declaration of Independence adopted on July 4, 1776).
First display in a room labeled "Aggression War Crimes"

man viewing war photos

next to a photo of victims of a napalm bomb English text reading "'My solution to the problem would be to tell them (the North Vietnamese) frankly that they've got to draw in their horns..., or we're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age'. Curtis Lemay, Commander of the Strategic Air Command, U.S. Air Force Chief of staff, 25 November 1965)."
English caption to the photograph: "Little Phan Thi Kim Phuc burned by U.S. napalm bomb (Trang Bang, Tay Ninh Province in 1972)."

woman looking at war photos

woman looking at photos of children with deformities.
In an exhibit about the effects of chemical weapons such as agent orange

English caption: "Dan Jordan's family: he was officially acknowledged as an agent orange victim. His son has congenital deformations on his hands. Jordan and other veterans took the lead in the class action against chemical companies that settled with $180 million in 1983."

poster reading "'Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why.' Rober S. McNamara, former U.S. Defense Secretary, confessed error in his memoirs 'In retrospect - The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam'."
Smaller English text: "Robert S. McNamara, former U.S. Defense Secretary, confessed error in his memoirs 'In Retrospect -- The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam'"

various medals with a plaque reading "To the people of a united Vietnam: I was wrong. I am sorry."
English caption: "These are some rewards to a U.S. Veteran for his service in Vietnam. The medals were offered to the War Remnants Museum on June 1, 1990 as protest against the Vietnam War. From William Brown, Sgt. 173rd Airborne Brigade, 503rd Infantry.

two young people being photographed in front of a U.S. tank
An outdoors exhibit area

At one moment during my visit to the museum I was reminded of a painting by Cambodian Vann Nath which I saw several years ago at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia:

drawing of man with a covered face tied down and having water poured on his face

Vann Nath was one of only seven prisoners who left the Khmer Rouge's S-21 "security prison" at Tuol Sleng alive. The above painting was amongst many others, all of which Van Nath drew to depict acts of torture committed at the prison. The act in the painting sure looked like water boarding -- a point not lost on a reader of Andrew Sullivan's The Dish.

And here is the photo I saw in Vietnam that caused me to think about Nath's painting:

man with a cloth covered face being held down by U.S. military members

The English caption for the photo:
"They decide on a water torture. A rag is placed over the man's face and water is poured on it, making breathing impossible". Members of the 1st Air cavalry use water torture on a prisoner 1968.
It was another chilling reminder of a torture method recently used by the U.S.

I'm glad I visited the War Remnants Museum. So much in the museum deserves consideration for what it says about America's past actions or about Vietnam today. Although the museum suggested to me that Vietnam has yet to fully come to terms with its own past, as an American I was most focused on what it indicated about my own country. In a later post, based on my own experiences I will partially address a related question I have been asked, often indirectly, by Americans who have not been to Vietnam: What are Vietnamese attitudes towards Americans today?

Finally, as I wrote this post at a small cafe in Ho Chi Minh City, a friendly Vietnamese waitress with whom I have had several pleasant conversations peered over my shoulder and looked at the above photo. After a few moments of silence, with a sadness in her voice she slowly said, "My country."

I glanced back at the photo and replied, "Mine too."

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Old War Movie Posters in Melaka

The other day I spent some time at Melaka's Democratic Government Museum. I haven't seen any museums dedicated to this topic in China, so it seemed like a good change of pace. While there, I noticed a series of posters for older Western-produced war movies involving Malaysia. I couldn't find any commentary, but they were placed near a display about Japan's occupation of Malaysia during World War II. Below are photos of the posters for the movies Malaya (1949), Uppdrag i Malaya (1957), Operation Malaya (1953), Outpost in Malaya (1952), and The Rape of Malaya (1956).

The posters first caught my attention because of their visual style. But it was some of their words that made the biggest impression. Maybe phrases similar to "In Malaya, you kiss a girl with your eyes wide open and a gun in your hand!" could be found on movie posters today. But there is much to consider about the choice of words in "They were women.. and they were white... at the mercy of the Japs who knew no mercy!"

Anyways, maybe I will later watch at least one of these movies. Any recommendations?

Movie poster for Malaya

Uppdrag i Malaya movie poster

Operation Malaya movie poster

Outpost in Malaya movie poster

The Rape of Malaya movie poster

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dinosaurs in Zigong, China

Since the theme of this week here has been inspired by my yet to reappear post, it seems to be the perfect moment to share my experience regarding something that has been missing for a much longer time: dinosaurs.

About the same time I was starting to wonder about my missing post, there was an article by Tania Branigan of the Guardian about China's numerous dinosaur discoveries (see here).  She focuses on the discoveries and museum in Zhucheng, Shangdong province and highlights a few species that may not be known to those who aren't dino-experts.

Coincidentally, I happened to be in Zigong, Sichuan province -- very far away from Zhucheng.  It, too, is famous for the numerous fossils in the region and boasts its own museum aptly named the Zigong Dinosaur Museum (not to be confused with another famous museum in Zigong, the Historical Museum of the Salt Industry).  I took a taxi to the outskirts of Zigong to check it out.

On arrival one is faced with the uniquely designed building seen here:

entrance building somewhat in the shape of a dinosaur
I believe this building is supposed to look a bit like a dinosaur.
At least the building was air-conditioned.  One of the signs for the park claimed:
"Covering an area of 8.7 km2, the Dashanpu Dinosaur Fossil Site Scenic Area, which is a core protected area with the most abundant dinosaur fossils in the geopark has the largest burial site for watching on-spot protected dinosaur fossils in the world.  From the excavated area of 2,800 m2, more than ten thousand specimens belonging to over 200 dinosaurs and other vertebrates have been unearthed, and 23 genera and 27 species, including 12 new genera and 24 new species, have been identified.  This kind of the site with such abundant and completely preserved dinosaur fossil of the Middle Jurassic is rare in the world."
With that in mind I was very excited and upon entering the park a worker guided me in the proper direction.  One of the first things I saw was this:

several small models of dinosaurs that are in various states of decay or knocked over
The models look like they're about to become extinct, too.

OK.  Admittedly this was not what I was expecting.  There were many other similar scenes to be found that included even more decayed examples of miniature dinosaur replicas.  Oh well...  But onward I went to the main museum building which proved to better meet expectations.

It housed several very large fossils, including this trio:

These are 3 wonderful specimens of the Shunosaurus (type species Shunosaurus lii).  In front of the display was a sign which read in part:
"Warm family: Three family members of Shunosaurus lii are walking and feeding leisurely.  What a warm and romantic scene!"
While I appreciated the Shunosaurus fossils I must admit the romanticism wasn't what I first noticed.  Maybe I was being shunned.

Several of the other fossil displays were certainly not romantic and had a strikingly violent tilt to them.  For example:

larger dinosaur picking up much smaller one with its mouth
Dinner time

I question whether such a scene ever played out quite like this but I appreciate the drama it provided.  This one also had a bit of drama to it:

two dinosaurs attacking another
A bigger dinner

While the fossils such as the ones above were impressive and introduced me to several species I had not been previously aware of, what most impressed me was the very large partially excavated fossil pit enclosed in the museum:

large partially excavated fossil pit
Lots of fossils

several fossils in the fossil pit
Close-up view of one section of the fossil site

It was incredible to see so many fossils as they would be found during an excavation.  Both the density and variety were easy to notice.

The other sections of the park were closed for renovation.  Given the condition of the many dinosaur models outside this may be a positive sign and I am hopeful the future holds more promise for the park surrounding the main museum building.  Regardless, the museum in Zigong, like the one in Zhucheng, provides an important picture into a long ago age that captures the minds of so many today.  If one is around Zigong I recommend a quick trip to the museum -- the large fossil pit seals the deal.

And who knows, maybe you'll better appreciate the romance to be found there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Size or Truth: What Matters Most for a Renovated Museum in China

I want to share some excerpts and thoughts on an article at The New York Times about the renovated National Museum of China in Beijing.  They highlight how the Chinese Government's desire to impress China's citizens and the world can trump any desire to share the full truth.

In a previous post, I shared Hong Kong writer Chung Wah Chow's comment that many museums in China strictly followed a single template for their design -- often leading to uncreative results (and in my opinion a few too many ineffective dioramas).  According to the NYT article a broader range of experts was apparently consulted for the National Museum of China's renovation.  Unfortunately, it may have had more of an impact on ensuring the museum would be the biggest than the museum presenting Chinese history truthfully and proportionally.  A European museum director recalls his conversations with those involved in renovating the Chinese museum:
“I got a call asking how many square meters is the Louvre,” recalled Martin Roth, director of Dresden’s state museums and an informal consultant to the museum for a decade. “Then 10 minutes later another call asking how many square meters is the British Museum. I said, ‘You guys are sitting with the architects and are figuring out how to be the biggest, right?’ They laughed and said yes."
“We feel we had a lot to show and need the space,” Mr. Tian said. “It’s not about being the biggest, but China does have 5,000 years of culture so it’s not inappropriate to be the biggest.”
Size being important for a project in China is not so surprising.  Yet, all that space, all that history, and:
Officials rejected proposals for a permanent historical exhibition that would have discussed the disasters of early Communist rule — especially the Great Leap Forward, a political campaign and resulting famine that killed more than 20 million. Some organizers also wanted a candid appraisal of the Cultural Revolution, a decade-long attack on traditional culture and learning, but that effort was squashed. 
One professor in China voiced his displeasure with the newly renovated museum:
“It ignores the conflicts, which real history shouldn’t do,” said an archaeology professor at Peking University who asked to remain anonymous because of the issue’s delicacy. “This is why I would not call this exhibition real history but propaganda.”
This brings to mind an incredible series of posts by Xujun Eberlein about the search for truth regarding America's involvement in China in the post-WWII years (I highly recommend reading it).  In part, it shares how propaganda can persist in China -- both in people's minds and at historical sites -- even when some experts in China know the truth.

I've commented in the past that my more positive impression of an art museum in Hanoi, Vietnam than of many similar city art museums in China may have been reflective of the choices of the museums' curators.  The NYT article highlights the value of curators in a quote about the National Museum of China:
“What they need are passionate curators to go into those bronzes and textiles and find new interpretations,” Ms. Murck said. “Because a great museum depends on a great curatorial staff.”
However, even if China has great curators it might not always matter.  For example, the National Museum of China curators and other experts had their suggestions overruled by various Chinese officials, including those in the Ministry of Culture.

For now, the Chinese Government seems most concerned that one of its showcase museums is the biggest in the world and paints a rosy picture of China.  It is ironic that in its quest to improve its image in the world with a renovated museum, China has effectively highlighted one of the issues which cause many around the world to perceive it negatively in the first place -- China's inability in many situations to provide a balanced and accurate account of its history and current events.

When China can more openly confront its warts, its genuine achievements will be better recognized and appreciated by the world.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Templates and Dioramas - The Banes of Museums in China?

[Note: This was originally posted March 2, 2011.  It has been re-posted to a date one day later in response to link spamming.]

Yesterday, I suggested that my impressions of the content of art and history museums in China may be influenced by a pattern of museum curators' choices and styles.

Chung Wah Chow, a "Hongkongese" writer covering a variety of topics and an author for the Lonely Planet guidebooks for China and Hong Kong & Macau, wrote to me:
"Being revolutionarily fervent is not the only problem in history museums in China. After visiting a dozen of those museums in China I found one thing in common among them. The way they display and tell the stories of respective provinces or... regions are exactly the same. I do not mean the contents are the same but the sequence, the story-telling techniques as well as the use of multi-media and dioramas to create certain effects are almost identical in all history museums in China. They just follow one formula or template and what the curators need to do is just to fill in the blanks. Where did they borrow the formula? If you come visit the Hong Kong History Museum you’ll know the answer."
In a later discussion Chung Wah explained more.  To paraphrase:
"What I was told is the former curator of the Hong Kong History Museum, after his retirement, was hired as a consultant to oversee museums in China.  That is why China is using the Hong Kong History Museum formula for their museums.  The curators in China organized study teams and visited the museum numerous times between 1998-1999 to "study" how to do a museum.  The result is they brought the whole template back to China.  So those brand new provincial museums in China all look the same...  I think you will only notice that if you see a dozen of museums in two weeks."
So, maybe I can add "strict use of a template" to my list of possible explanations for why many Chinese museums have underwhelmed me.  What Chung Wah said is consistent with some of my impressions of many Chinese museums.  It also seems plausible in terms of how "design" sometimes works in China.  The strict use of a copied template touches on what many claim is a problem for China - a lack of creativity in many domains.  I plan to further discuss creativity, "revolutionary fervor", templates, and other Chinese museum related issues later.

For now, I will highlight one of techniques Chung Wah referenced - dioramas.  I'll share just a few photos of the mannny dioramas I've seen in history museums across China.

Here is a scene that particularly "impressed" me at the Mazu (Matsu) Musuem in Shanwei, Guangdong:

In the Mazu (Matsu) Museum in Shanwei, Guangdong

This diorama at the somber 9.18 Museum in Shenyang, Liaoning is in my opinion one of the better I've seen:

In the 9.18 Musuem in Shenyang, Liaoning

And not my least favorite, a scene from the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Hebei (which I should add was one of the relatively better museums I've been to in China - diorama notwithstanding):

In the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Hebei

Very different content in the 3 museums above but all made ample use of dioramas.  Many museums have dioramas that fall somewhere between the styles and level of execution shown above.  At the very least, I'm sure the above photos could make for interesting caption contests. 

I'll save the topic of what Chinese (excluding Hongkongers) think of such displays for another day.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Impact of How and What We Share - Some Impressions From Visting Vietnamese & Chinese Museums

A couple of days ago I visited the Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi, Vietnam and was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed the collection.  What particularly struck me was how I felt I could connect with it more than similar museums in China.

I am not trying to make a blanket statement comparing art in Vietnam and China (which certainly has much in common).  I am only trying to puzzle through my reaction to the museum in Hanoi and whether it reflects any deeper issues.  I do enjoy much Chinese art and I believe it has made some important contributions.  It wasn't that any individual piece in the Hanoi museum couldn't necessarily have been matched in brilliance by one in China - I just had never previously reacted so positively to any comparable collection of art at a museum in China as I did to the one in Hanoi.

At one point I wondered if it could be due to a possible influence of French art since Vietnam was colonized by France for a period of time.   However, that explanation seemed less likely as I was already aware of the feeling prior to viewing any art from the colonial period or afterward.  As I spent further time in the museum I began to wonder whether my more positive feelings for the collection were not reflective of Vietnamese art in general, but instead of the choices of Vietnamese museum curators.  Museums curators are typically faced with many decisions about which pieces of art to display and each decision could lead to very different experiences for the visitor.  Maybe my "tastes" were more consistent with what the Vietnamese curators thought was best to display.

The suspicion this was true was heightened when I later noticed that I was able to enjoy some of the history museums in Hanoi more than many I've visited in China.  I, similar to many other non-Chinese, have found that history museums in China, particularly those covering events of the past century, can leave an over-the-top "revolutionary fervor" feeling -- sometimes to the point of being a distraction to the actual history being described.  The Hanoi historical museums I visited did not overly impress me but I felt less of the "revolutionary fervor" and found it easier to immerse myself in the presented material.

I wondered if my impressions of the art and history museums in Vietnam and China were examples of the impact what is chosen to be shared and how it is shared can have on one's impressions of a culture and how much those decisions themselves are yet another piece of the culture.

I recognize my exploration of Vietnamese museums - both art and historical - is very limited and it is difficult to really appreciate any selection criteria of the Vietnamese and Chinese museums without seeing what didn't "make the cut".  Also, my impressions may change as I visit more museums in Vietnam.  And...  maybe they were just the effects of the strong Vietnamese coffee.

For now, I'll wrap up the post with a handful of photos of pieces in Hanoi's Fine Arts Museum.  They aren't all of my "favorites" as some pieces weren't under suitable lighting for sharing though a photograph.  I also wouldn't say they are representative of the entire collection, but I did try to pick a variety of styles and time periods.  You can see what impressions you have of this small sample of the collection which so fascinated me.

[Added note: see follow up comments here]