Terracotta Army to Occupy Art Museum

A preview of Cincinnati's Visual Arts in 2018

Jan 3, 2018 at 10:25 am
click to enlarge Terracotta warrior figures in excavation site in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, China - PHOTO: ©Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum
PHOTO: ©Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum
Terracotta warrior figures in excavation site in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, China

Move over, Fiona.

The baby hippo — now almost 1 year old and more than 600 pounds — was Cincinnati’s new arrival of the year in 2017, enchanting and exciting zoo visitors with her unusualness, mysterious beauty and compelling survival story.

In 2018, the warriors of China’s legendary Terracotta Army may fill Fiona’s role. Some 10 of these life-size, crafted earthenware warriors — including a general, a horse and standing and kneeling archers — will be coming to the Cincinnati Art Museum from April 20 to Aug. 12, part of the 120-object Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China exhibition.  

“I think it’s a very exciting selection,” says Dr. Hou-mei Sung, the museum’s curator of Asian art.

The Terracotta Army — some 8,000 figures of humans and horses — is roughly 2,200 years old and is an amazing yet haunting human accomplishment. China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, ordered them to be created to guard a vast mausoleum complex where his tomb would be, near the city of Xi’an in Shaanxi Province. It’s estimated some 720,000 workers spent almost 50 years building what CAM curator Sung calls “almost an underground city” and others have labeled a necropolis.

The site was basically forgotten by history until recent times — 1974 — when villagers digging a well discovered it. That started a massive, still-ongoing excavation project. China built the Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum to showcase recovered and restored objects. The area is now protected and a worldwide travel destination.

All this alone would qualify the army as a wonder of the ancient world. But there’s more: The warriors are modeled on actual people. “We jokingly say we can identify which soldiers come from the south or north (of China),” Sung says. “They have different facial features, different armors, all kinds of details.”

This raises the delicate question of what happened to all those who helped create the army and the emperor’s necropolis. “We don’t know for sure, but typically ancient Chinese rulers liked to keep their tomb sites a secret,” Sung says. “So people say they were persecuted to keep the site a secret.” 

The emperor’s tomb itself, which might reveal more information, has not been excavated, she says.

Since everyone can’t go to China, the nation has long been letting its warriors tour the world. But its conditions are strict — no single exhibition can have more than 10 of them or be out of China for longer than a year. So the warriors are received like rock stars — or, maybe, baby hippos — wherever they appear. Especially in cities, like Cincinnati, that haven’t hosted them before. (Warriors have come to regional museums previously.)

The exhibition coming here, Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China, has been at Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts since Nov. 18, 2017 and will be there through March 11. A Cincinnati Art Museum spokesperson says it’s on track to draw more than 100,000 visitors there. (There is also a different exhibition, China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors, in Liverpool, England for much of this year.)

All the objects in this show come from Chinese art museums and archaeological institutes, and the exhibition’s overall aim is to chart “the birth of the Qin empire and cultural diversity in ancient China; the First Emperor and unified China; and the quest for immortality,” the museum says. 

The exhibition will occupy both of the second-floor Western Southern Galleries used for special exhibitions, and will have timed, ticketed admissions — $16 for non-member adults and $8 for students, seniors and children. Cincinnati and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts are collaborating on a catalog. More info is available at cincinnatiartmuseum.org.

Beyond the Terracotta Army, there are other promising shows and events coming here during the first half of 2018, as museums complete presentation of their 2017-18 schedules and galleries program for the new year. Here are just a select few: 

Reading by Kathy Y. Wilson and Lecture by Dr. David Pilgrim // 1 p.m. Jan. 14, Fifth Third Bank Theater, Aronoff Center for the Arts: In connection with the Weston Art Gallery’s current exhibition by Wilson, Sanctuary: Kathy Y. Wilson Living in a Colored Museum, she will discuss the show and read from her monograph about the exhibit. Pilgrim is founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum, an 11,000-piece collection of racist artifacts located on the campus of Michigan’s Ferris State University. Tickets required. cincinnatiarts.org.

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection // Feb. 17-May 27, Taft Museum of Art: Cincinnati Art Museum’s 2017 Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light exhibit, featuring windows and lamps from New York City’s Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, was a huge hit. Now comes this show from Chicago’s Driehaus Museum that features some 60 decorative objects, including windows, lamps, vases and more. This is also a timed, ticketed show. taftmuseum.org.

Ragnar Kjartansson: The Visitors // March 30-June 17, Cincinnati Art Museum: Kjartansson, an Icelandic artist, produced this multi-channel video installation in 2012 and it has become an immensely popular museum presentation. Inside and on the grounds of a faded mansion in New York’s Hudson Valley, he and seven other musicians, located in different rooms, repeat a beautiful song fragment. Different screens focus on different people. Over the course of an hour, they slowly come together as a group, a community. The Visitors is a merging of the utopian ideal with the repetition of Minimalist artists and composers. cincinnatiartmuseum.org.

•  Mark deJong // April 20-May 20, Contemporary Arts Center: The Dutch-born, Cincinnati-based deJong is finishing up Swing House, his years-long transformation of a three-story Camp Washington home into a breathtaking, open-space art installation/living quarters that has a big, graceful swing in the middle of it. The CAC is planning an on-site show of deJong’s work and also will be sponsoring artist-led tours of Swing House. contemporaryartscenter.org.

There’s much more coming — including the 2018 FotoFocus Biennial in fall. Follow CityBeat for ongoing coverage of the visual arts.