The Metropolitan Museum of Art will showcase some of the finest and most celebrated prints ever produced in China in the special exhibition The Printed Image in China, 8th-21st Century, opening May 5, 2012. The more than 130 works on view will be drawn from the full range of the Chinese print collection at the British Museum—one of the most comprehensive such collections outside Asia. The exhibition will survey the evolution of the art of Chinese printing, from the time of its inception around the early eighth century through its burgeoning as an artistic medium in the 17th century and its continued vitality as a medium for both popular culture and political commentary in the 20th century. Works on view will include Buddhist prints from the Silk Road, the earliest example of multiple block color printing, striking anti-war images from the Modern Woodcut Movement, and contemporary prints by acclaimed artists. As the first exhibition of this scope to survey the Chinese print, it will offer the visitor an opportunity to glimpse China’s past from a fresh perspective.
Printing on paper is believed to have been invented in China around 700 A.D., establishing China as the country with the longest history of printing in the world. Organized in roughly chronological order, the exhibition will explore various aspects of Chinese pictorial printmaking including production techniques, aesthetic principles, and cultural context.
Highlights of the exhibition will include a woodblock image of Avalokiteshvara from the ninth century that was recovered from the desert oasis of Dunhuang. Depicting the deity of infinite compassion, it is a rare example of a printed text and image with hand-tinted color. The image is framed by dark blue mounts, also printed, that make the piece resemble a hanging scroll. The first picture collection in China to be printed in color is a deluxe set of books dating to around 1633 called the Ten Bamboo Studio Collection. The British Museum edition is one of the earliest versions known. A unique feature of the exhibition will be popular prints, such as Flower Basket, that can be dated with certainty to before 1750 because they were collected by the British Museum’s founder Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753). The exhibition will also include politically charged works created by artists of the Modern Woodcut Movement. Among them is a powerful image executed by a leader of the group, Li Hua (1907-1994), entitled Struggle (1947) from his series Raging Tide; it exemplifies the iconic images Li created to bring about a more democratic China. The exhibition will also include Struggle on the Front Line (1974); created toward the end of the Cultural Revolution, this print highlights the “Red Chinese” communist party’s insistence on ever greater demonstrations of loyalty—the caption reads “The Furnace Fire is Even Redder.”
In conjunction with the exhibition, a series of education programs will be offered, including gallery talks; a special Met Escapes hands-on printmaking workshop for visitors suffering from dementia and their care partners; and a lecture on May 11 by Clarissa von Spee, curator of Chinese and Central Asian collections, Department of Asia, The British Museum, on the collection and its history.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by the British Museum.
The exhibition was organized by the British Museum with the support of the American Friends of the British Museum.
The Printed Image in China, 8th-21st Century was on display from May 6 to September 5, 2010, at The British Museum, before traveling to the Metropolitan Museum.