Melbourne Winter Masterpieces: Terracotta Warriors | Cai Guo-Qiang

CHINESE The terracotta army Qin dynasty
CHINESE The terracotta army Qin dynasty (221-206 BCE) (detail) earthenware (terracotta) Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum, Xi’an

MELBOURNE—In a dual presentation of Chinese art and culture past and present, the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series at the National Gallery of Victoria will present China’s ancient Terracotta Warriors alongside a parallel display of new works by one of the world’s most exciting contemporary artists, Cai Guo-Qiang, at NGV International, May 2019. 

Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality is a large-scale presentation of the Qin 

Emperor’s Terracotta Warriors, which, discovered in 1974 in China’s Shaanxi province, are regarded as one of the greatest archaeological finds of the twentieth century and widely described as the eighth wonder of the world. The exhibition will feature eight warrior figures and two life-size horses from the Imperial Army, as well as two half-size replica bronze chariots, each drawn by four horses. 

These sculptures will be contextualised by an unprecedented Australian presentation of more than 150 exquisite ancient treasures of Chinese historic art and design lent by leading museums and archaeological sites from across Shaanxi province. These include priceless gold, jade and bronze artefacts that date from the Western Zhou through to the Han dynasties (1046 BC – 220AD). Illuminating more than a millennium of Chinese history, the exhibition will showcase the magnificence and authority of the once-entombed figures and reveal, through the intricate display of accompanying objects and artefacts, the sophistication that characterised the formative years of Chinese civilisation. 

Cai Guo-Qiang Artist’s renderings of 10,000 birds installation, 2017.
Cai Guo-Qiang Artist’s renderings of 10,000 birds installation, 2017. Renderings courtesy Cai Studio

Presented in parallel, Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape, will see contemporary artist, Cai Guo-Qiang, create all new art works inspired by his home country’s culture and its enduring philosophical traditions, including a monumental installation of 10,000 suspended porcelain birds. Spiralling over visitors’ heads, the birds create a three-dimensional impression of a calligraphic drawing of the sacred Mount Li, the site of the ancient tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuang, and his warriors. Cai will collaborate on the exhibition’s design, creating breathtaking immersive environments for the presentation of both his work and the Terracotta Warriors. 

Drawing on Cai’s understanding of ancient Chinese culture and his belief that a dialogue with tradition and history can invigorate contemporary art, he will also create a monumental porcelain sculpture of peonies, placed at the centre of a 360-degree gunpowder drawing. 

Tony Ellwood AM, Director, NGV said: ‘Thirty-six years ago, in 1982, the National Gallery of Victoria presented the first international exhibition of China’s ancient Terracotta Warriors only several years after their discovery. History will be made again in 2019, when the Qin Emperor’s Terracotta Army will return to the NGV for the 2019 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition series – this time in a sophisticated dialogue with the work one of China’s most celebrated contemporary artists, Cai Guo-Qiang.’ 

Of the parallel presentation, Cai said: ‘They are two rivers of time separated by two millennia, each creating a course at their own individual speed across a series of shared galleries. The ancient and the contemporary – two surges of energy that crisscross, pull, interact and complement each other, generating a powerful tension and contrast, each attracting and resisting the other.’ 

Jeff Xu, Founder and Managing Director, Golden Age Group said: ‘This exhibition will inspire Australian and international audiences to delve deeper into the many rich and diverse facets of China’s heritage. As Principal Partner, Golden Age is pleased to support such an ambitious world- exclusive showing in Victoria, demonstrating our commitment to Melbourne as the cultural capital. We believe this exhibition will leave a lasting impression on this city for decades to come.’ 

This exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, in partnership with Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau, Shaanxi History Museum, Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Centre, and Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum of the People’s Republic of China. 

The Melbourne Winter Masterpieces presentation of Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality and Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape will be on display from 24 May 2019 – 13 October 2019 at NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, Australia.

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