Out and About: Terracotta Warriors

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A guest post from the curatorial team about their trip to see the Terracotta Warriors

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Left to right: Dmitri, Rachel, Steve, Campbell, Andrea, David and Bryan in Liverpool.

Earlier this year several curators visited World Museum Liverpool to see their current show, China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors. The hype surrounding the exhibition owes as much to clever marketing as to the popularity of the subject. The Terracotta Warriors stand at the pinnacle of public expectations of a ‘wow’ show, to which only King Tut’s treasures can compare. World Museum achieved a publicity coup by introducing an extra object – a stunning gilded horse – into the exhibition to coincide with the Grand National in mid-April, garnering further press and public attention. Inspired marketing, making a virtue of the necessity of a late arrival.

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The exhibition itself is dramatic. After a managed queuing area for timed ticketed entry, visitors can view a short but immersive orientation film about China. Projected on a multi-angle screen, the experience is not simply a cinematic one – but offers a different perspective before doors at the far end of the space theatrically open to reveal the first of the warriors and the introduction to the exhibition.

The show covers some 1400 square metres and displays 180 objects. Security is, naturally, a concern but the decision to place the major terracotta sculptures behind only a low glass partition allows an immediacy that makes them feel far more real than if they were in cases. Most stone sculpture is suitably robust for open display; terracotta pieces are usually judged too sensitive. Conservation concerns will be shared with our own new exhibition hall, and require serious consideration.

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High ceilings support innovative audio-visual material by a local Liverpool animation company, and impressive banners carrying both imagery and text. The staging is such that small objects – such as fine pieces of jewellery – are not lost amidst the scale of the exhibition. Back-lit projection allows the most impressive group of several warriors to be seen against a recreation of both their geographical context and enlarged details of the sculptures – emphasising the variety in the form of the warriors.

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An affordable yet richly illustrated exhibition catalogue, authored by guest curators, accompanies the show and, unsurprisingly, has sold swiftly. This is proof, if any were needed, of the real expectation and demand for quality printed souvenir material from visitors. While the political sensitivity surrounding some aspects of relations with China is not mentioned, the exhibition is an impressive and full-realised package, and is an object lesion in ambitious exhibition planning and execution.

We also took the opportunity of being in Liverpool to visit WML’s new Egypt galleries with curator Ashley Cooke, and the Singh Twins’ show ‘Slaves of Fashion’ at the Walker Art Gallery. Each provided great ideas to take on board as we develop our own, more ambitious exhibition ideas in the future.

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