Capital scores coup with art treasures

23:01, Mar 21 2014
shi dan
Shi Dan, daughter of exhibition artist Shi Lu, with her father's most famous work, Fighting in Northern Shaanxi, a work later taken as a criticism of Communist leader Chairman Mao.

Exhibitions showcasing China's distant and recent past have made a rare stop on foreign soil.

Te Papa's newest collections, Throne of Emperors and Shi Lu: A Revolution in Painting sourced from the National Museum of China in Beijing, open today.

Many of the treasures have never been seen outside China, with the National Museum rarely sending its artworks overseas. Both collections are exclusive, with Wellington the only stop the artefacts will make.

The first exhibition, Throne of Emperors, sketches out 2000 years of ancient Chinese history. Curators at the National Museum carefully selected the relics, balancing out the centuries-old pieces' ability to travel with the need to map out the most important phases in history.

Seven emperors and the achievements of their dynasties in particular were highlighted, National Museum curator Chen Keshuang said. Some rulers advanced militaristic aims, like Genghis Khan, while others oversaw great cultural and artistic developments.

"New Zealand visitors will have a glimpse of the long history of ancient China," he said.


Calligraphy and painting collection Shi Lu: A Revolution in Paint then covers one of China's most tumultuous times, the Cultural Revolution.

The artist, who died in 1982, fought for the Communist Party, and was chosen to create a number of commemorative paintings for the anniversary of the revolution. Yet his works were taken as a criticism of leader Chairman Mao, and he was imprisoned for four years in 1965.

Daughter Shi Dan said the history of the country could be seen clearly in the shifting of her father's style. "The difficulties my father faced were the same difficulties that China faced," she said.

"Especially difficult was 10 years during the Cultural Revolution . . . he lost the freedom to do and paint whatever he wanted."

The Shi family were extremely generous, donating a number of items such as sketches to the collection, Te Papa curator Rebecca Rice said. "They've provided the brushes he used and the special travel case . . . These really add to a sense of the artist."

The opening weekend will also feature special activities including dragon dancing, tea tasting and calligraphy demonstrations. Both exhibitions will run until June 22.

The Dominion Post