A Blogger's Guide to Beijing

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Beijing’s Best Art Museum?

It has to be one of the best art museums … if not THE best … in Beijing. Tsinghua University’s art museum only opened in 2016, but already it gives all the others a run for their money.

With an overall floor space of 30,000 square metres, and 9,000 square metres of exhibition space, it was designed by Swiss Architect Mario Botta, who is perhaps best known for his design of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in the U.S. The over 13,000 items in its collection include 1,400 paintings and calligraphy works, 2,700 ceramic components, 4,600 pieces of weaving embroidery, and 140 items of furniture.

Spread over four floors, it contains both permanent and temporary exhibitions. In common with most museums in China, it is often a good idea to start at the top and then to move down as you tour the building.

On this, my first visit, the first gallery has a temporary exhibition called Americans Abroad – Landscape and Artistic Exchange 1800-1920.

If truth be known, I am not that excited by what’s on display. I usually tend to wonder what would look good on my wall at home, and though many of these pictures are beautifully executed, I don’t think I’d want to stare at any of them every day.

But next door, there’s a permanent exhibition of porcelain, some of it dating back to the Ming dynasty. I’m not that big a fan of porcelain normally, but I certainly wouldn’t mind tucking in to a plateful of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon off a plate like this one from the Qing dynasty from the time of Emperor Kangxi.

Another temporary exhibition – this one called Autumn Charm of Miu Pusun – features 100 paintings of Chrysanthemums.

Without exception, they are all gorgeous and beautifully painted on silk, which somehow brings out a lustre that other bases would be hard put to match.

On next to another permanent exhibition – this one called “Built to Suit”. It features a mix of nice looking furniture and not-so-nice looking furniture – some dating back to the Ming dynasty. Here, for instance, is what is labelled as “Huanghuali wood official’s hat armchair with four protruding rounded ends - Qing Dynasty”.

Particularly nice in this gallery is a display of many of the wooden joints used in making the furniture – which is somewhat reminiscent of a display of joints used in constructing houses and palaces that can be found in the Ancient Architecture Museum.

Maybe the best (permanent) exhibition is the one titled “The Art of Chinese Ink and Brush”. With 90 pieces on display, it contains works by some of my favourite Chinese artists such as Zheng Banqiao, Qi Baishi and this one (Warhorse Whining) by Xu Beihong.

Here’s one of two on display by Qi Baishi, called Reed Crab and Chickens.

Next up is a permanent exhibition of selected silk embroidery. As you walk into this gallery the first thing that you simply can’t fail to notice is a massive rug in the middle of the floor…

It’s a Kesi Buddha with “Infinite Life Buddha” patterns, dating back to the Qianlong Period of the Qing Dynasty. At 695cm long and 385cm wide, it is divided up into different layers – so on the top layer is the sun and moon, on the third are Trikalea Buddhas, on the fourth are 18 arhats and four heavenly kings, and so on.

Most of the cabinets in this gallery feature some snazzy looking waistcoats made of silk or satin – such as this sky-blue satin waistcoat with embroidered edges and Pipa jin from the Qing Dynasty. Can you imagine wearing that to a Saturday night party? Magic!

And here’s a typical bellyband made for children to wear during the Dragon Boat Festival. Surrounded by rocks, the main character, we are told, is a “ferocious” tiger fighting a red snake and a toad. (Actually he looks kind of cute to me.) Apparently it is meant to ward off evil and demons…

Another temporary exhibition is my next port of call. Since 2000, ‘From Lausanne To Beijing’ – an ‘International Fibre Art Biennale’ – has been successfully held 10 times with a strong showing in China, viz. in Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Zhengzhou, Nantong and Shenzhen. Apparently there are 68 pieces on show… not really my cup of tea, to be honest, though there are some nice pieces and some quite out of the ordinary.

But my favourite gallery has to be one featuring old magazines going back to before the middle of the last century. It matters not if you don’t understand most of the Chinese. The design of the covers themselves makes for some good viewing…

… my favourite of which is this old radio magazine. The incongruity of a massive antenna towering over the Temple of Heaven is not lost on someone who used to listen to the shortwave broadcasts of Radio Peking back in the 1960s when the highly regulated broadcasts used to start with a quotation from Chairman Mao and use all the clichéd words that were synonymous with what we used to regard as a state gone insane. (But who’s laughing now!)

All in all, then, a visit worth making. New exhibitions are put on regularly. Well worth the effort to go and see!

Take Line 13 to Wudaokou. Leave from exit A and walk due west for a couple of minutes before turning right up Zhongguancun Dong Lu. Walk in a straight line for 5 minutes before turning right and then left onto Guanghua Lu.