Vancouver Art Gallery announces Forbidden City exhibition in 2014
The Vancouver Art Gallery revealed its plans to present the major exhibition The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China's Emperors from October 2014 to January 2015.
The exhibition will feature approximately 250 artifacts from Beijing's Palace Museum (formerly known as the Forbidden City), which organized the exhibition in association with the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. The VAG and ROM are the only North American venues to present the exhibition.
"The presentation of this exhibition will mark an important milestone in the institution's ongoing and fervent commitment to explore and present art from China and the Asian Pacific," VAG director Kathleen Bartels said at a news conference at the gallery on Monday (October 21). "Our exhibition history reflects a steadfast inquiry into the visual arts from China that goes back to 1985 with a focus that compliments the dynamic, rapidly expanding population of residents and visitors, not only in our city but in our province and this region."
Exhibition curator Dr. Chen Shen, ROM's vice-president and senior curator, explained that the exhibition "gives an up-close and personal account of life inside the Forbidden Palace…." He added that none of the objects have ever been seen in North American and approximately 80 of them have never left the Forbidden City, the seat of imperial power for Chinese emperors for five centuries.
Items will include artworks such as paintings, calligraphy, and ceramics; gold, silver, enamel, and ivory objects; musical, astronomical, and medical instruments; armour, textiles, and costumes; models, blueprints, documents, and photographs; and more.
He also explained how historically, it was impossible for the average person to enter the Forbidden City.
"Five-hundred years ago, it was accessible only to a Chinese emperor, his immediate family, and thousands of servants and limited guests," he said. "At that time, people like us would've been forbidden seeing the yellow roof, the architecture buildings, behind the red walls….People like us would be forbidden from knowing anything inside the Forbidden City unless a man volunteers to be castrated….The good news is you no longer have to take such drastic steps to get near to the Forbidden City."
Premier Christy Clark later riffed off that point to joke about the reason why the exhibition has taken so long to come to British Columbia. "Maybe it was the history of the punishment for visitors—you had to wait for a female premier who had the moxie to go visit it."
Clark also talked about how she will be leading her fourth international trade mission at the end of November and beginning of December to Japan, Korea, and China (which will include visits to Beijing and the Forbidden City).
"We are not just tied economically but culturally to China in a profound way and this is one example of how we can bring Chinese culture to bridge the ocean between us that many would see as a barrier, but instead I see as the place that connects us," she said. "It's why Minister Teresa Wat has as part of her mandate a task of bringing Chinese culture into our schools starting at kindergarten. More access to Mandarin, Cantonese, more access to history, so that every young person here grows up knowing the breadth of who we are, not just as Europeans or First Nations but also as…the most Asian society outside of Asia…and make sure we have a chance to celebrate that because it is very much who we are."
Robert Ho, founder of Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation which is the exhibition's foundation sponsor, emphasized the need to strengthen Vancouver's reputation for arts and culture internationally.
"I am confident the exhibition, in addition to opening up new horizons for my fellow Vancouverites, will also demonstrate there's a strong basis for Vancouver's unique position between east and west as a nexus for arts and culture as much as for trade and commerce," he said.
He also added the need for government to be involved in cultural endeavours such as these.
"I am encouraged by our premier and our mayor being here today because without continuous support of all levels of government, an exhibition like this one will continue to be occasional or one-off. Government needs to think more about how such a large and influential part of Canadians' multicultural society is properly reflected in our institutions."
The exhibit will run at the ROM in Toronto from March 8 to September 1, 2014, before coming to Vancouver.