I highly recommend going to see Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty at the Minneapolis Institute of Art before it closes next month. The incredibly well-curated and beautifully designed exhibition explores different facets of imperial life during China’s last dynasty, otherwise known as the Qing dynasty, which spanned more than 250 years (1644-1912). I loved the experiential aspect of this exhibit; rather than reading about the artwork on small placards, you actually experienced different sights, smells and sounds that corresponded with the theme of each room.
After being immersed in total darkness when you first enter the exhibit, you eventually walk into a bright white room filled with colorful vases, plates, bowls and other decorative objects from the peak of the Qing dynasty. The occasional sound of breaking glass from the speakers overhead makes you pause and quickly double check that you didn’t accidentally knock something over. Moving through the exhibit, you frequently see examples of imperial power on display, such as the intricate robes worn by the emperor and the top members of the royal family as well as the formidable imperial throne. Religion also played a major role in the Qing dynasty, which you will see represented by the Buddhist monk statues on display in an industrial-looking room and the Daoist artwork hanging in a dim, cave-like room with a light perfume of frankincense floating overhead. The intricate robes on display in the room lined floor-to-ceiling with crinkled reflective foil that gave the impression of shattered glass were incredibly detailed and ornate and reserved for the noble women at court. In the final galleries in the exhibit, you will find an impressive jade mountain, which is usually on display year-round in the main museum, along with other stunning jade carvings and painted scrolls.
I would love to see more exhibits like this in the future. I feel like I took away so much more from this curation than I would if I had walked around reading a bunch of signs about the individual pieces. The mood, the sounds, the smells, the feelings—all of these things will stick with me and remind me of the awesome beauty and power of the Qing dynasty.
Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty closes Sunday, June 10. You won’t want to miss this one! Let me know what you thought of the exhibit in the comments! // www.artsmia.org/power-and-beauty