Terracotta Warriors and Cai Guo-Qiang exhibition at NGV

The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) has unveiled its Melbourne Winter Masterpiece exhibition – Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality alongside contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape. This special exhibition is showing at NGV International, from 24 May -13 October 2019.

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Terracotta Warriors and Cai Guo-Qiang

Image:  Installation view of Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality and Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape at NGV Photo © Tobias Titz Photography

Terracotta Warriors and Cai Guo-Qiang
Image: Qin Shihuang’s terracotta warriors, Pit 1Qin dynasty (221-206 BCE) (detail)© Shaanxi History Museum (Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center)and Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum

The Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality is a large-scale presentation of the Qin Emperor’s Terracotta Warriors, which was discovered in 1974 in China’s Shaanxi province, are regarded as one of the greatest archaeological finds of the twentieth century and widely described as the eighth wonder of the world. I’ve never seen the Terracotta Warriors in real life, but I’ve heard they are breathtaking. The NGV exhibition features eight warrior figures and two life-size horses from the Imperial Army, as well as two half-size replica bronze chariots, each drawn by four horses.

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Terracotta Warriors and Cai Guo-Qiang
Image: Installation view of Armoured military officer (detail) Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality and Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape at NGV Photo © Sean Fennessy

Image: Installation view of Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality and Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape at NGV Photo © Tobias Titz Photography

‘Thirty-six years ago, in 1982, the National Gallery of Victoria presented the first international exhibition of China’s ancient Terracotta Warriors only several years after their discovery. History will be made again in 2019, when the Qin Emperor’s Terracotta Army will return to the NGV for the 2019 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition series – this time in a sophisticated dialogue with the work one of China’s most celebrated contemporary artists, Cai Guo-Qiang.’ Tony Ellwood AM, Director, NGV

Terracotta Warriors and Cai Guo-Qiang
Image: Installation view of Cai Guo-Qiang’s Murmuration (Landscape) 2019 (detail) at NGV © Cai Guo-Qiang. Photo © Tobias Titz Photography
Terracotta Warriors and Cai Guo-Qiang
Image: Installation view of Cai Guo-Qiang’s Murmuration (Landscape) 2019 (detail) at NGV © Cai Guo-Qiang. Photo © Tobias Titz Photography

Presented in parallel, Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape features all-new artworks by international contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang inspired by his home country’s culture and its enduring philosophical traditions. Created especially for this exhibition, highlight works include the monumental installation of 10,000 suspended porcelain birds, Murmuration (Landscape), 2019. Spiralling over visitors’ heads, the birds create a three-dimensional impression of a calligraphic drawing of the sacred Mount Li, the site of the ancient tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuang, and his warriors.

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Terracotta Warriors and Cai Guo-Qiang

Image:  Installation view of Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality and Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape at NGV © Cai Guo-Qiang. Photo © Sean Fennessy

Drawing on Cai’s understanding of ancient Chinese culture and his belief that a dialogue with tradition and history can invigorate contemporary art, he has also created a porcelain sculpture of peonies, Transience I (Peony), placed at the centre of a 360-degree gunpowder painting, Transience II (Peony), both of which were created in Melbourne.

The history of the Terracotta Warriors

The year 246 B.C, thirteen-year-old prince, Ying Zheng ascends to the throne becoming King of Qin.
This far western territory in what is now China was surrounded by warring neighbouring states and treachery in the house was not uncommon. In this light, it is understandable that work on his mausoleum and preparation for the afterlife commenced immediately on his ascension.

A mere 25 years later, 221 B.C the King has conquered all neighbouring warring kingdoms and declares himself Qin Shi Huang Di – The First Emperor of Qin (China).

Qin Shi Huang Di standardised coins, weights, measures, legal and political systems throughout the unified land. Interlinking the states with roads and canals. He is credited with building the first version of the Great Wall.

Given the relatively lengthy reign, preparation for his afterlife grew to an immense scale with the works on his mausoleum continuing until 209 B.C. The site near the old Chinese capital Xianyang extended over 98 square kilometres.

The central tomb complex to this day remains sealed and unexcavated. Writings about the tomb describe it being filled with rivers and oceans of mercury. Containing replicas of palaces contained in the emperor’s earthbound kingdom.

Nothing was written about the Terracotta Warriors, not a word.

At the death of Qin Shi Huang Di, his son had all the artisans and labourers buried alive to prevent the location of the tomb from being discovered.

1974 – the discovery of the Terracotta Warriors

Farmers digging well-unearthed fragments of pottery. This was the beginning of the remarkable re-discovery of the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang Di.

An estimated 8,000 terracotta warriors, each unique, hand cast, standing over 2 meters tall and weighing 300 kilos were buried, ordered by rank, deep in trenches.  Patches of paint show that they were once brightly coloured, red, green, blue, pink. One of the colours known as Chinese purple was one of the first man-made colours.

The technical skill and patience required to hand make each statue, in an environment where temperatures ranged from 35 degrees Celsius to minus 10 degrees is staggering.

Date: 24 May-13 October 2019
Time: 24 May 19-13 Oct 19 – 10am–5pm daily
Special opening hours: Sun 29 Jun-Sun 14 Jul – 8am–5pm daily
Location: NGV International
Price: Adult $30, Child (5-15 years) $10, Family (2 Adults and 3 Children) $65

Book tickets

Main image: The terracotta army, Qin dynasty (221-206 BCE) (detail), Earthenware (terracotta), Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum, Xi’an

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