Review: Emperor Qin’s Terracotta Warriors at National Geographic Hall

Disclaimer: I totally love National Geographic.  You, my astute readers, will have figured that out already.

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My family and I spent the long weekend in Washington DC, enjoying a little respite from New England snow, and taking in (as one does, when one lives in a museum-mad family and works in a museum) the cultural sights.  Though I’d love to give detailed reviews of everything (kudos to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, for instance, for a fascinating exhibit design in “State of Deception: Nazi Propaganda” which I wish I’d had more time to explore), I’m going to focus on the original impetus for the visit, which was National Geographic’s Terracotta Warriors: Guardian’s of China’s First Emperor.

Sadly, there were no pictures allowed inside the exhibition, so I have no photos of my own to share.  Fortunately, they bent the rules for their own bloggers, so there are some fabulous pictures of objects in the exhibition and at least some small sense of the layout available here.   One of the things I thought they did best in this exhibit was that each element was allowed its own space: the exhibit areas weren’t over crowded, which was important given how many people were trying to view them, and where two or three statues or other artifacts were placed together, it made sense and helped advance the ideas and context which the audioguide and interpretive panels were trying to convey.  It seems like a very basic and obvious thing to get right, but it’s noticeable in the traffic flow and the overall feeling and satisfaction of the visit if artworks or other objects are placed awkwardly.

There was a lot of overlap between the text panels and the audioguide, but enough difference that for the slow-paced intent studier like myself, it was worth listening and reading both.  I appreciated the context provided regarding the period especially immediately before the rise of Emperor Qin, but thought (as I have thought about many exhibitions before, including the MFA’s Tomb 10A exhibit) that it would have benefited from a timeline somewhere early in the exhibit, possibly also including reference points to western/European events of the same time period, to provide that extra hook for those of us who had largely Eurocentric history educations. (For the record, NG does apparently have a video segment not featured in the exhibit anywhere which mentions a little of what was going on in Rome at the same time period, which I’ve embedded below.)

Overall, however, I loved it.  I thought it was fascinating, the figures themselves were stunning displays of individuality and craftsmanship and technique, and the overwhelming impression that I left with was one of a man who commanded immense power and influence, and who, like many strong rulers in other cultures, created an infrastructure that allowed the arts to flourish.  Very cool.

(Video: A reconstructed flyover of what they think the complex around Emperor Qin’s burial mound would have looked like.)

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More fun Chinese themed posts to come as we approach Lunar New Year, but for now I leave you with the events listing for Lunar New Year at the Peabody Essex Museum, which promises to be a huge amount of fun.

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