Visit the National Gallery of Victoria's newest showcase of ancient Chinese art with a contemporary twist
The National Gallery of Victoria has long been displaying the absolute best artwork from a range of contemporary Chinese artists, while also frequently hosting exhibitions that delve into the country's ancient culture. But for the gallery's latest major showcase, they might have just outdone themselves. Running until Sunday October 13, you'll be able to get up close and personal with one of the greatest archaeological finds of all-time, the Terracotta Warriors. But that's not all, as this ancient finding is presented in a dual exhibition with Cai Guo-Qiang, one of the most exciting contemporary Chinese artists working today. When you stay at Fraser Place Melbourne, you'll be easily within touching distance of the National Gallery of Victoria, as well as the rest of Melbourne's world-famous arts precinct.
The Terracotta Warriors
Definitely the most unique element of this dual exhibition, the Terracotta Warriors are widely considered to be one of the most important ancient discoveries. Dating back to 221-206 BCE, this monumental collection of sculptures was created for the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. But it wasn't until 1974 when farmers in today's Shaanxi province unearthed what would become celebrated as a truly special find. As the dig continues today, so far about 2000 of an estimated 8000 Terracotta Warriors have been excavated from the massive site situated in Xi'an, China's ninth largest city.
With the huge finding serving the purpose of accompanying the emperor into the afterlife, at the NGV you'll be able to see numerous elements from the gigantic terracotta army, as well as a range of other priceless possessions. Throughout the exhibition, you'll find eight of the ancient warriors, plus an astounding selection of items that have been loaned from numerous Shaanxi museums and galleries. Widely considered to be the eighth wonder of the world, the Terracotta Warriors represent a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see them in-person outside of China.
Featured inside the exhibition are the so-called Armoured Military Officers, which are undoubtedly some of the most impressive works here as their uniforms remain immaculately preserved since being buried over a thousand years ago. You might be surprised to learn that each of the 2000 soldiers removed from the site each has their own hairstyles and uniforms, leading some experts to believe that each of the crafted soldiers could actually represent a real-life person from Qin Shi Huang's actual army.
Also found at the NGV's exhibition are the Kneeling Archers, another special kind of warrior. It’s widely believed that these soldiers are the best-preserved discoveries to date as their remarkably true to life facial expressions and clothing are thought to have been paid extra close attention by the ancient craftspeople. Look carefully as you can still see the individual stitches on their shoes and hidden inside their armour plating.
The findings at Xi'an might have included a huge array of warriors, but that's not all Emperor Qin took with him into the afterlife. In fact, there are thousands of other items that he also deemed important enough to take along for the ride. Some of the beautifully crafted items found throughout the dig include figurines of singers, acrobats and strongmen, plus a variety of animal statues, bronze cranes and a mix of buildings and offices that reflect Emperor Qin's imperial palace.
The NGV is fortunate enough to be able to show many examples of these, while the exhibition is further contextualised with a selection of 160 ancient treasures drawn from the gallery's own collection of ancient Chinese art and design. Produced from priceless jade, gold and bronze, these masterpieces date back hundreds of years from the Western Zhou dynasty all the way through to the golden age of the Han period.
Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape
Presented alongside the Terracotta Warriors is one of China's most exciting contemporary artists, Cai Guo-Qiang. His exhibition titled 'The Transient Landscape' finds parallels with its ancient counterpart as there's a wealth of specially created installation works, gunpowder paintings and exhibition design to explore across this immersive space. Throughout his extensive career, Cai's work has focused on finding links between history and rituals, while looking for ways in which these interact with culturally significant contemporary art.
There are many artworks to consider throughout this section of the NGV's showcase, but there aren't many more impressive than Cai's combined work of Transience I (Peony) and Transience II (Peony). Frequently found in Chinese art over the last few centuries, blooming peony flowers have become a symbol of royalty, honour and wealth. However, their profound beauty only lasts for a brief time as after about a week they begin to wilt and eventually die.
Across many of Cai's famous gunpowder works, the artist is best known for drawing massive sketches on premium quality paper before adding plants and other experimental elements. He then layers his drawing with gunpowder – in this case, vibrantly coloured – before lighting the fuse and watching the artwork come to life in a glorious blaze. For the NGV, the peony artwork includes an enormous 360-degree gunpowder silk painting that depicts the flower in its four stages of life: budding, blooming, wilting and eventually decaying.
Meanwhile, Murmuration (Landscape) saw Cai create 10,000 porcelain starlings to produce a spellbinding large-scale installation. Portraying the fascinating phenomenon known as 'murmuration', where flocks of birds move seamlessly together, the beautiful artwork also reflect the undulating hills of Mount Li, the sacred spot where Emperor Qin buried his huge army.
How to get to the National Gallery of Victoria from Fraser Place Melbourne
Visiting the National Gallery of Victoria and its latest exciting exhibition is made easy by staying at Fraser Place Melbourne. Just a seven-minute drive or taxi ride from your accommodation, it's also a pleasant stroll past Russell Street's shopping and dining spots before crossing the Yarra River and making your way down St Kilda Road. Alternatively, the nearby Number 6 tram will take you straight to the NGV as it travels down Swanston Street.