China's ancient artworks in the international frame

Collection on display at Venice Biennale inspired by project to compile and catalog cultural treasures

By DENG ZHANGYU | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-04-22 07:15
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Contemporary artworks based on the book project are on display at China's National Pavilion at the Venice Art Biennale, including Wang Zhenghong's Symphony of Birds (left) and Qiu Zhenzhong's Status Series sculptures (right). CHINA DAILY

First viewings

High-resolution versions of many classic paintings in the collections of overseas institutions have been shown to the public in their entirety for the first time. For instance, Five Old Men of Suiyang, a group portrait that was divided into several sections that now belong to the collections of different museums abroad, has once again become a complete scroll through digital imaging.

In 2021, the project began touring China to give the public a full overview of ancient paintings. The biggest exhibition was held at the National Museum of China in Beijing in 2022, and featured 1,700 paintings from the project. It was very well attended, attracting about 4 million visitors over the course of a year, making it the most popular show so far held at the museum, according to Wang Xiaosong, who is also in charge of the touring exhibitions.

Apart from Beijing, the project has been exhibited in many other cities, including Ningbo and Jiaxing in Zhejiang province, Shijiazhuang in Hebei province, and Shanghai.

"We combine each city's unique culture with our project. That's why these shows are so popular with the public," Wang said.

In Ningbo, a port city on the ancient Maritime Silk Road, the exhibition displayed art centering on silk, exported goods and prosperous port scenes. In Jiaxing, a city that has a long history of making clothes, the show included a section focusing on the development of Chinese clothing through paintings.

Wang said that the number of visitors to the show at Shijiazhuang peaked at 20,000 a day. "You know the city's population is just several million," he added.

"The attraction is that one can see all these precious pieces from different museums and spanning 2,000 years in a single day in high-resolution versions; it's very convenient."

Wang said that the book project also serves as a good academic archive for the use of scholars, experts and researchers.

Wang Shu, a Pritzker Architecture Prize winner, said that he often visited museums abroad to see ancient Chinese paintings to find inspiration for his architecture, but seldom had the opportunity to inspect them at close quarters. Now, the project allows him to see the paintings clearly in a high-fidelity print without the need to travel.

"It's really a meaningful and great job. It's like a painting library. And art needs this kind of compilation," said Wang Shu.

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