By Amy Carlson Gustafson
A small army of ancient Chinese warriors is invading the Twin Cities. Opening Sunday, Oct. 28, at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, “China’s Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor’s Legacy” includes more than 120 objects excavated from the tomb complex of Qin Shihuang (259-210 B.C.), known as China’s First Emperor. The stars of the show? Eight life-size terra-cotta warriors and two of their horses.
But the exhibit organized by the MIA isn’t just about the warriors and the Qin Dynasty. Liu Yang, head of the Institute’s Asian art department and curator of Chinese art, traveled to 15 Chinese museums, including the Museum of Terracotta Warriors and Horses and the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, looking for pieces to include in the show.
“The uniqueness of this show is not only because in the past such a show only focused on the terra-cotta warriors but this has some scholarly research,” Yang says. “Not only to show the terra-cotta warriors but to show the history preceding the first emperor.”
In addition to the warriors, Yang says people who come to see “China’s Terracotta Warriors” also will get a look at four life-size bronze water birds — a crane, a swan and two geese; bronze ritual vessels; jade artifacts; gold and silver ornaments; architectural material; and pottery.
Here’s a by-the-numbers look at the exhibit:
The age at which Qin Shihuang (259-210 B.C.), known as China’s First Emperor, began his quest for immortality by planning
his burial tomb. The elaborate tomb complex took thousands of workers and 38 years to complete.
The year when farmers, who were drilling a well a mile from the First Emperor’s tomb mound in present-day Shaanxi, discovered fragments of terra-cotta figures. Chinese archaeologists quickly went to work at the site and discovered more than 7,000 terra-cotta warriors along with horses and chariots created to protect the First Emperor in the afterlife. Nearly 40 years later, artifacts are still being discovered in the area.
The number of terra-cotta warriors featured in “China’s Terracotta Warriors.” The life-size warriors that make up the First Emperor’s terra-cotta army have distinct facial features — no two faces are exactly alike — and costumes, hair and stances appropriate for their rank. The average weight of a warrior is more than 600 pounds.
“I think the uniqueness of this show in terms of the terra-cotta warriors and horses, some of them have never been to the West before,” said Yang. “For instance, there’s a kneeling archer with a green face. Of course, there are different interpretations about why it is green. Some suggested that the figure might be a military shaman, and some others said it might be a playful paint
of an individual craftsman. It’s still uncertain why it’s painted in green.”
The number of objects in the exhibit — plus some. While the terra-cotta warriors and horses are large, they make up only a small part of the show. One of Yang’s goals was to explore the artistic development of the period of Chinese history preceding the Qin dynasty (221-206 B.C.), including the Spring Autumn period (770-476 B.C.) and the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.).
That’s the approximate mileage you’d have to travel from St. Paul to China’s Shaanxi province, where more than a dozen museums house artifacts from the burial site of the First Emperor. If you don’t foresee a trip to Shaanxi in your future, you have until mid-January to see “China’s Terracotta Warriors” at the MIA, where a ticket to the show will cost $20 or less.
Amy Carlson Gustafson can be reached at 651-228-5561. Follow her at twitter.com/amygustafson.
What: “China’s Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor’s Legacy”
When: Opens Sunday, Oct. 28; runs through Jan. 20, 2013
Where: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 Third Ave. S.
Cost: Adults, $18 (weekdays) and $20 (weekends); ages 62 and older, $16 (weekdays) and $18 (weekends); college students with ID, $9 (weekdays) and $10 (weekends); students 13-17, $16 (weekdays) and $18 (weekends); ages 6-12, $14 (weekdays) and $16 (weekends).
Information: 612-870-3000 or artsmia.org
Sword blade with open-work hilt is constructed from iron and gold with inlaid
turquoise. (Courtesy of Qin Shihuang’s Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum)
(Courtesy of Qin Shihuang’s Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum)