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Tang Treasures From the Silk Road Capital - Art Gallery of NSW

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First exhibition of Tang artefacts in Australia

This exhibition is the first Tang exhibition ever to be held in Australia. The 135 artefacts on display are drawn from eleven museums and cultural institutions across the Shaanxi Province in central China, and contain an amazing variety of artefacts which demonstrate the beauty and prosperity of the Tang era. This is a must-see exhibition for anybody interested in Chinese history and art.

knocker Tang Treasures silk Road Art Gallery NSW
Pushou doorknob made of gilded bronze, circa 634 - 907, excavated from the site of the Daming Palace, Xi'an. This popular door knob design is still used in modern day China

The art from the reign of the Tang dynasty, which went from 618 - 907, is famous for its brilliance in colour and elaborate design. Because of trade along the Silk Road, there was greater interaction with foreign cultures, strong economic development, and therefore more scope to support a diverse array of art.

calligraphy Tang Art Gallery of NSW
Soaring belvederes piercing the void. Modern calligraphy by Liang Xiao Ping - this is the largest work ever created by her, and has been done in the spirit of the Tang calligrapher's traditions of following as well as reforming the calligraphy.

Trying to encapsulate the variety and scope of the art of this period in 130 pieces is a fool's mission. Instead, the exhibition attempts to give a glimpse of some of the main highlights of Tang -era craftsmanship, with examples of mural painting, sculpture, metallurgy, ceramic and jade artefacts in the exhibition, to name a few.

Kow tow figure Tang Silk Road Art Gallery NSW
Kowtowing figure, earthenware, excavated from Li Xian's tomb dated 742. At a metre in length, this is one of the largest examples of such an earthenware figure bent in this position and is quite unusual

Don't be fooled into thinking this is just a collection of ancient Chinese artefacts. It is that, but it is also a lot more. Among the pieces are a very rare earthenware kowtowing figure, carefully pieced together from a number of broken parts to reveal the whole. If you look closely, you can see the joins. The mural of females shown below also happens to be the oldest piece of art currently on display at the Art Gallery, dating back to circa 710.

mural of females
Mural of females c710 - pigments on plaster- also the oldest art work currently on display at the Art Gallery of NSW

There are also a series of delightful sculptures that show all the female hairstyles in fashion during this period - and yes, there is one that looks suspiciously like Minnie Mouse among them.

Tang hairstyles Art Gallery NSW silk road
Female figures showing the different Tang hairstyles of the era

While gold and silver were valued more highly than bronze and jade during the Tang dynasty, there are still some beautiful bronze pieces produced during the Tang era, like the dragon pictured below. It was found inside the Yongle quarter, which is believed to have been the site of the Tang poet and official Zhang Yue.

bronze dragon Tang silk road Art Gallery NSW
c700s bronze dragon with an iron core

As a tea-lover, I think my favourite objects were in the cabinet shown below, as they contained a variety of tea-related implements. Imagining grinding my own tea in the tea-grinder, or spooning tea from a tortoise-shaped container - that would certainly lend a certain cachet to my next tea-party!

tea Tang Art Gallery Silk Road
silverware - including a tea grinder, gilded basket, and tortoise-shaped container that was likely used for storing tea powder

There's a pretty cool display at the end of the exhibit which uses modern technology to enable visitors to experience a World Heritage cave in a pretty marvellous way. If it looks very Matrix/ Lawnmower Man/ Xanadu (pick the movie depending on your age), that's because it is similar. Using an I-pad, it enables you to roam around as if you were in the cave, looking through the I-pad. Better yet, it actually brings some of the images to display them in their original colours, and even animates some of them.

Mogao grottoes Dunhuang Art Gallery NSW Silk Road Tang
Immersive digital recreation of Cave 220, a Tang-era Buddhist shrine at the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Mogao Caves

I could continue waxing lyrical about the exhibition, but there are 135 artefacts on display and I think it is more interesting to actually see these for yourself rather than rely on photographs, which don't do it justice.

At this moment, the Biennale and Art Express are also on at the Art Gallery of NSW, so make a day of it and see all three. They are all worthwhile and quite diverse. While the Tang exhibition has an entrance fee and the other two exhibitions are free, I think the fee is worth it.
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Why? The first Tang exhibition in Australia
Phone: (02) 9225 1744
Where: Art Gallery of NSW
Cost: $16 adult $14 concession $12 member $8 child (5-17 years) $40 family (2 adults up to 3 children) $5 student (booked school groups) Free for children under 5
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