Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty: A Visit to the Minnesota Institute of Art

Last Friday I had a chance to visit one of my favorite places in Minnesota: the Minnesota Institute of Art (or as everyone I know calls it, MIA).

This was my fourth or so visit to this museum, and it never gets old. If anyone comes to Minnesota and asks me one place they should visit, I wouldn’t tell them the Mall of America or The Science Museum. No, I would tell them MIA.

The best part of the institute is it’s actually free! Of course, you can give donations and I usually do, but if you are strapped for money it’s also a great way to experience history for free.

However, I did not go this time just to browse through Ancient India and ignore the hideous modern art (can you tell I’m biased?). No, I actually went there for the special exhibit MIA is hosting from February 3 to May 27, 2018, called Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty: Concept and Design by Robert Wilson.

While these extra exhibits do cost $20 per adult, I got in free, as I am a member (membership is also free, btw) and I went on a member day (when it’s free for members). So I spent no money.

I’m going to share a bit about this exhibit and my thoughts about it, and then go onto the rest of the museum in general.

Keep in mind, the Qing dynasty (pronounced Ching), which lasted from 1636 to 1912, is the last dynasty of China. Though I am definitely more familiar with previous eras (I’m currently studying the Qin dynasty—pronounced Chin—from which we get the terracotta warriors and the Great Wall of China), I did have limited knowledge going into this exhibit.

There were ten rooms. The first one, dubbed Darkness, was a pitch black room where you sit for five minutes meditating. I did not take any pictures in here because, well, it was too dark.

The second room was called Prosperity, in which this horrid music was being played and all these artifacts were inside chained boxes. This room was meant to signify the wealth of China, but for me the music really threw me off and I didn’t quite understand why the objects needed to be behind caging instead of glass.

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The third room, called Order and Hierarchy, showed five Qing robes. The walls were lined with straw, smelling like an old barn (I love that smell) and a gong played above. The lighting changed too. This was probably my second favorite room.

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The fourth room was a bit disappointing, called Common Man. Except it only had one tiny figure in the center of the dark room. I think it was supposed to imply that common man was second to the wealthy, but if you actually study the Qing dynasty, you’ll find tons of imagery about farmers and servants, both in art and pottery. So I’m not quite sure I get the point of this room.

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The fifth room was called Fearsome Authority, holding merely a single throne surrounded by a painted dragon. I love red, so I loved this room. It’s point was talking about the power of the emperor.

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The next two rooms represented two of the main religions in China (Buddhism and Daoism—also spelled Taoism). Confucism was kind of skipped over. The sixth room was called Buddhist Art. I loved this room. The haunting light of Buddha statues contrasted with the dark walls perfectly.

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The seventh room was of Daoist art, with only contained three scroll paintings, showing the Three Purities. This room was really dark, so I only got one good picture.

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The eighth room, and probably my favorite, was called Court Ladies and Noblewomen, which was filled with furniture and clothing worn by women during the Qing dynasty. It was beautiful, though the tin foil walls were super weird and did not fit at all.

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The ninth room was called Mountains of the Mind. It demonstrates China’s obsession with mountains and their belief that mountains were where deities descended on earth and were the best places to become a hermit. Again, this room was really dark, but it had some cool objects inside.

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The last room paralleled the first, being really light and empty but for a single vase in the wall, symbolizing yin and yang. I did not take any pictures inside, mostly because my eyes were burning from the bright light.

So, what are my general thoughts of the exhibit? It was okay. I got in free, so I enjoyed it, but it definitely isn’t worth $20 per person.

My problems with it had to do with the focus. It was all about your feelings towards the objects and had little emphasis on learning. There were many times when I wondered what was what. Although it was self-guided, there was a guide in every room who you could ask questions. However, it would have been better to have a plaque explaining what the objects were, because you couldn’t go to the guide every time to ask little questions. It would waste your time and theirs.

I liked this exhibit, but I left it knowing nothing more than I already did upon entering. It is something fun to go to, but not half as good as the rest of the museum. Before I end, I’ll show a few pictures I took of the rest of the museum.

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I might have gotten a bit carried away with taking pictures. But it was so much fun. The exhibit wasn’t great, but I still love MIA! If you come to visit Minnesota, I highly recommend you check it out.

Best wishes on your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

7 thoughts on “Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty: A Visit to the Minnesota Institute of Art

    1. She is beautiful! She’s known as the Veiled Lady by Raffaelo Monti (Italy, c. 1860). She’s one of my personal favorites! Monti uses trompe l’oeil (meaning “to fool the eye”) to make us think we are looking at a sheer veil when we are looking at pure marble.

      Liked by 1 person

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