Chinese Museums Confound Western Expectations

By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 4, 2008 4:45 PM CDT
Chinese Museums Confound Western Expectations
An exhibition at a museum in Dunhuang, China.   ((c) gongfu_king)

These days China feels "both older and newer than any place on the planet," writes  New York Times art critic Holland Cotter. And nowhere is that tension more palpable than in the country's museums, which use antiquities from the millennia-old civilization in service of a rising world power. In a trip across China, the critic discovers a different approach to museum display.

Chinese museums do away with the Western distinctions of art, history, and ethnography, and they don't hesitate to include ambient sound or dioramas that American might associate with a science museum. What's more, copies often stand in for priceless originals, which wall text may or may not mention. And museums have complicated uses: beyond art displays, they're also "moral education, pop entertainment and political propaganda." (Read more China stories.)

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