Chinese exhibits seek wider reach

A Yuan dynasty hat top ornament from the Royal Taste: The Art Of Princely Courts In 15th-Century China exhibition at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida.
A Yuan dynasty hat top ornament from the Royal Taste: The Art Of Princely Courts In 15th-Century China exhibition at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

US museums are putting on more oriental-themed exhibitions to attract a Western audience

NEW YORK •Standing majestically along the sculpture trail at the National Museum of Wildlife Arts in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, are a dozen bronze zodiac heads, each more than 3m tall - the work of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

When the museum's curator, Mr Adam Duncan Harris, first saw them at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, he recalled thinking "they would look great in a rural setting". Ai ultimately agreed and although the museum does not track how many visitors walk the trail, Mr Harris said attendance at Circle Of Animals: Zodiac Heads has been strong.

In Jackson Hole, as elsewhere in the United States, museums are increasingly offering Chinese- themed exhibitions. The displays are not just in places where Chinese tourism is booming, such as New York, where the Guggenheim Museum is planning three Chinese- themed shows, and Boston, where the Museum of Fine Arts will open Megacities Asia in April.

Last month in Sarasota, Florida, for example, the Ringling Museum of Art opened Royal Taste: The Art Of Princely Courts In 15th-Century China. The number and wide dispersal of such exhibitions reflect that Westerners, and not necessarily Chinese, are the target audience.

Dr Alexandra Munroe, senior curator of Asian art at the Guggenheim, said Chinese certainly would go to standout Chinese-themed exhibitions, but that "the majority of Chinese tourists in the US and Europe are on group tours, whose aim is to see as many iconic spots as possible".

But museum directors say they expect these exhibitions to attract their share of Chinese visitors, since they will remain a dominant force in tourism. It has gotten easier for Chinese visitors to navigate Western museums with Chinese- language audio guides and guidebooks.

In addition, museums are likely to try to attract the support of rich Chinese patrons who have settled in the West or are doing business here often. Among backers of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Chinese-themed efforts this year were Wendi Deng Murdoch, former wife of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and Hong Kong-based businessman Silas Chou.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2015, with the headline 'Chinese exhibits seek wider reach'. Print Edition | Subscribe