Suzi (k00kaburra) wrote,

Asian Art Museum: Terracotta Warriors

This morning Seanie and I went up to San Francisco to visit the Asian Art Museum.  Their Terracotta Warriors exhibition, featuring ten of the famous terracotta sculptures from China, closes at the end of May, and I didn't want to miss it!  After all, I can't imagine that China allows the terracotta warriors to travel outside of the country very often.

When we arrived, I noticed two large metal sculptures of lions flanking the entrance of the museum.  That's odd, I thought to myself, I don't remember those.  It turns out that the two lions are new, installed on Monday while the museum was closed!  They are Japanese bronze sculptures, offered to the museum in 2011.  The statues themselves are probably over a hundred years old, and they're simply huge!  I don't think I've ever seen Japanese metal sculptures that size.

I didn't get a chance to take a picture of the newly installed sculptures, but here's an old picture from the museum's blog showing the statues as they were being restored, prior to installation.

The museum was really crowded!  By now, I ought to know better than to rush to an exhibition in its final month of display, but I never remember to get up to the city sooner.  Alas.  It was hard to see everything in the Terracotta Warriors galleries because there were people everywhere - and since the museum allowed photography, it was even worse because you'd have people stopping to take pictures and blocking the walkways every five feet or so.

But the warriors were amazing!  Each one was obviously made from a mold, but the faces and the clothing details were always different.  On one man, you could see individual braids in his hair.  On another, each individual plate of his armor was molded.  A few of the warriors still had flakes of paint clinging to them, but for the most part they were the color of clay.  The museum had vibrant, almost garish, images of what they believe the painted warriors looked like.  Much like the marble statues of Greece and Rome, I believe that the sculptures are rather improved by the loss of their color, but I'm sure the original creators would disagree with me!

Press photo of the Terracotta Warriors - note the lack of a crowd.  I wish we had been this lucky!

The original terracotta warriors were all arranged in a single gallery, which was so crowded that moving around was nearly impossible!  In two other galleries, other grave goods - mostly bronze vessels and bells, ceramic dishes and horse trappings - were displayed.  There were some beautiful bronze bird sculptures that were especially naturalistic.  They aren't as well known as the warriors, possibly because they were only discovered in 2001, but they were exquisite.

Bronze birds and a large bronze bell

One curious thing I noticed was that the exhibition never referred to the Qin emperor by his name. Labels and placards all called him "First Emperor", not Qin Shi Huang or Huang-di.  I wonder why?  I overheard one of the museum associates telling a crowd that they called him "First Emperor" because his real name was too hard to pronounce, but that just seemed facetious.  I wonder if there's a political reason for why they didn't use his name?

Anyway, it was a gorgeous show.  It was so cool to see the terracotta warriors in person, and to be so close to Chinese history like that.  It made me want to hop on a plane and visit China RIGHT NOW!  But since that isn't an option right now, I'm so glad that San Francisco was the final stop for this traveling exhibition.

There were lots of awesome things in the gift shop, too.  Replica statues, ranging from a few inches tall to life-size, were all over the place.  There was a dark chocolate warrior that I was tempted to buy, but I resisted the urge to snack.  There was also a gorgeous chess set with little terracotta figures in lieu of the standard chessmen.  It wasn't too expensive, but Seanie and I decided not to get it after rationalizing that it was a silly purchase when I already owned a perfectly good wooden chess set at home.
Tags: art, art history, asian art, china, museum

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