Once again I took my wife along with me to visit the exhibit and we’ve certainly turned my weekly museum visit it into our cultural Sunday outing. Also, same as my last visit to a museum (AMNH), I felt like I was coming into an area of the museum that I have visited numerous times, with new, more critical eyes.
As with any exhibition, the information posted at the entry way aims to set you up for what you are going to see. (Wonder if there is another, more interesting way of doing this?) I have visited this area in the museum before, but to be honest, I was never really aware of what I was walking through! I would often time just cruise through the entryway and poke around and head straight for the Astor Court garden at the center of the exhibit. That has to be one of my favorite places in the museum. I love the rock formations and natural lighting as well as the recreated sitting room (think that was what it was called).
Back to the exhibit … the pace and flow of the exhibit was pretty straight forward and easy to navigate. The screen with the short movie projected on it at the end of the space was a little distracting as I made my way though. When you are in a room of static objects and images, something bright and moving will always grab your attention.
Considering this was a display of the Qianlong Retirement Garden I found the exhibit to be less than airy and a lost opportunity to reflect some of the serenity that the real palace has. For example, I found displays like the central glass display case to be rather heavy and abrupt while many structures throughout the real complex felt light and integrated. The lighting was also a little low but I assume that had something to do with preserving some of the sensitive objects on display. Upstairs, where Chinese art from the 18th and 19th centuries was displayed, I found the space to be less cluttered and airy. The lighting was also much better.
On a side note, I love the color combinations used on many of the artifacts in the Chinese art area. Wooden books with green pigment used for the writing; the multiple combinations of red, black and white used in ink rubbings; model calligraphers incorporating yellow, black and red … the graphic designer in me can’t help commend these earlier artisans who were very ambitious and adventurous in their color choices.
An aficionado of rocks
I was really drawn to the rock formations on display in and around the exhibit. I found the emperors interest and overall Chinese connoisseurship of rocks fascinating. It is putting nature on display. And to compare rock collecting to calligraphy and painting really made me want to explore subject more. There were a few other rocks on display but, unfortunately, there was not much more information on them.
Some anecdotal observations:
-The blown up images at the entrance to the exhibit are incredibly pixelated.
-The models and satellite image we very helpful to give some sense of scale and show the layout of the Emperor’s private paradise.
-What’s with the accordian blinds in many of the exhibit displays? Were these put in on purpose to accomodate objects to be placed higher up in the display in the future?