Taipei, Taiwan, September 26, 2005 – Taiwan’s National Palace Museum – home to the world’s most extensive collection of Chinese art spanning 8,000 years – is celebrating its 80th birthday with a massive $21.4 million renovation. Phase one will be completed in October 2005, and when the final stage is finished in June 2006, visitors will be able to see many more of its exceptional treasures including delicate celadon bowls from the Sung Dynasty, extraordinary bronzes from the 4th century B.C. Mid-Warring States Period, prized jade carvings, lyrical landscape paintings and scrolls of intricate Chinese calligraphy. This Asian island nation’s top attraction for tourists, the museum currently draws two million visitors annually and tourism officials are predicting that more will come when three exhibitions of rarely-seen works open next year.
When the expansion is completed, 25% more of the 650,000 works: outstanding bronzes, jade, ceramics, rare curios, paintings, calligraphic works, unusual books and invaluable documents will be displayed. The largest part of this vast collection comes from the court of the Ch’ing Dynasty (1644-1911) which was amassed from the Sung (960-1279), Yuan (1279-1368) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties. Fashioned from a single piece of jadeite, an exquisite, seven-inch bok-choy cabbage has subtle gradations from deep forest green to a pearly lime and is topped off with tiny grasshoppers. Part of the Royal Concubine Chin’s dowry, the work is symbolically auspicious as the cabbage symbolizes purity and virtue with the insects denoting fertility. An intricate olive-stone carving of a boat complete with tiny sailors has a 300-character poem inscribed on its base. Jade artifacts from the Hung-shan culture dating back six thousand years to Neolithic times include carvings decorated with bears and tigers as well as mythological creatures like the “Saw-toothed animal-mask pendant.” In China, the earliest bronzes – many ceremonial vessels – date from the Er-li-t’ou culture around 2,000 B.C. Later they reached their height in the Shang (16-12thcenturies B.C.) and Western Chou (12-8th centuries B.C.) dynasties. The National Palace Museum has 5,982 bronzes including nearly 500 which carry inscriptions – early writings from these two dynasties – illustrating the evolution of ancient China. The “Mao-kung ting food vessel” with its 500-character inscription has the world’s longest example of text on a bronze. The production of stoneware goes back to 3,000 B.C. in China with porcelain dating from the T’ang period (618-907 A.D.) With more than 25,000 pieces, the collection includes many notable Sung ceramics. The Sung dynasty oversaw an era of booming industry and vibrant artistic creativity. One masterpiece from the period, “White-glazed pillow in the shape of a recumbent child” would have been cooling to the head in hot summer months. In painting, while Northern Sung landscape artists were known for their monumental mountains, Southern Sung painters skillfully depicted misty, atmospheric scenes. Calligraphy holds a unique place in Chinese culture and the museum’s collection has some 8,000 representative works –– from virtually every renowned painter and calligrapher.
The exterior of the Ming Dynasty-style building – based on the original Imperial Palace in Peking – with its ochre colored walls and blue tiled roofs trimmed in orange will not change dramatically. “The National Palace Museum has long been considered one of the top five museums in the world. The improvements are designed to bring the main building into the 21st century and make it easier for visitors to learn about the cultures that produced these remarkable objects,” explained Michael Chang, Ph.D., director of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau in New York. The entrance hall and outdoor plaza are being expanded outward to create a large lobby, several public areas and a meeting room for 150 persons. Natural light will stream into the exhibition areas thanks to a new three-story, glass-roofed atrium which will also serve to distinguish the east and west wings. A tunnel for vehicular traffic, under the front of the building, will bring visitors to a new weather-protected entrance with escalators transporting them up to the lobby. The outside plaza on the second floor is also being expanded, creating more open-air public areas. ”Most of the interior work consists of modernizing the 80-year-old building by improving the lighting and display cases, widening staircases and adding elevators for wheelchair access and strengthening the structure’s earthquake-proof features to withstand vibrations,” continued Dr. Chang.
During the renovations, the museum remains open with about 800 to 1,000 works on display. Normally, up to 4,000 are on view with the pieces being rotated on a regular basis. Some current exhibitions running through January 2006 are: “Astonishing Heaven: Ceramics, Jades, Ivory, Carving and Curio Boxes,” “The Casting of Religion: An Exhibition of Mr. Peng Kai-dong’s Donation,” “Carvings from the Ming and Ch’ing Dynasties,” “The Seal of the Emperor” and “A Special Exhibition of Sung-hua Inkstones.”
To mark its 80th anniversary, the museum has scheduled three “Grand View”
exhibitions from July to September 2006:
“Painting and Calligraphy of the Northern Sung Dynasty” (65 works)
“Ju Ware from the Northern Sung Dynasty” (20 objects)
“Sung Dynasty Printed Rare Books” (30 titles)
The collection traveled a long – and often harrowing – road to its home in Taipei and safety. The history of the National Palace Museum (NPM) begins in 1914 in an outer courtyard of the Forbidden City where the first Ancient Artifacts Exhibition Center was established. The last Emperor left the Forbidden City in 1924 and the NPM was formally established a year later. When the Japanese invaded Manchuria in September 1931, the Republican government ordered the artworks from the palace moved to the south. Five huge shipments arrived in Shanghai joining the collections of the Imperial Summer Palace and the Imperial College – about 20,000 crates in all. Later they were stored at a Taoist monastery in Nanking. In June 1937, the Japanese attacked Peking and when the city fell a month later, the pieces were divided up and moved west to Kweichow and Sichuan. With the defeat of the Japanese in 1945, the Nationalist government returned the scattered works to Nanking. Three years later with the fighting worsening between the Nationalists and the Communists, the most valuable pieces were moved to Taiwan for safekeeping. By 1965 the priceless collection was once again on display in the newly opened National Palace Museum.
The National Palace Museum is open every day of the year from 9 AM to 5 PM. Admission is about $3.05 or 100 New Taiwan Dollars (NTD), and for groups of 20 or more, the cost is about $2.45, or 8 NTD per person. Seniors and young children are admitted free of charge. To thank visitors for their patience during the renovations, the museum is issuing special “memorial entrance” tickets that allow another visit at any time through December 31, 2006. Located at No. 221, Section 2, Chih-Shan Road, Shih-lin District, Taipei, 11143, the museum can be contacted at: 011-866-2-2881-2021 by fax: -001-866-2-2882-1440 or go to: www.npm.gov.tw. For more information about Taiwan and its attractions, please contact the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, One East 42nd Street, New York, NY 10017, 212-867-1632 or log onto www.taiwain.net.tw or www.go2taiwan.net.
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