Sun, May 25, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Old bits and pieces fail to inspire

Poor presentation and lack of context spoils what might have been an important archeological exhibition

By Jules Quartly  /  STAFF REPORTER

The National Museum of History's teahouse forms a backdrop to an uninspiring display of Eastern Zhou Dynasty bronzes.

PHOTO: JULES QUARTLY, TAIPEI TIMES

A tale of cross-strait cooperation is how the National Museum of History is publicizing its collection of bronze and jade finds from the Jia and Yi tombs of Huixian in China, presented at the Re-exploring Treasures exhibition.

Organizers say the exhibition "reflects the improved academic cooperation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait," which sounds promising. Unfortunately, the enterprise is let down by its presentation.

Though Chinese and English-language leaflets are available to help explain the historical significance of 300 pieces of brassware and items of jade from the Eastern Zhou era (around 550 BC), little other context for the finds is given and the overall impression is of some dusty pots and a few arrowheads filling up space.

For example, a collection of bits for horses, at least seven of them, are presented on a piece of felt that has seen better days. A collection of hinges, similarly laid out, is in the next display cabinet. Jade fragments are given the same treatment. There is no explanation of their use, just a label to inform the viewer what is before them and how big it is.

The viewer is left, therefore, with little idea of what to make of these things, except that they are old and mostly broken. Their significance in terms of historical development and how they were created or used, is absent and this puts the viewer into a "Yes, so what?" frame of mind.

On one of the few occasions that a framework for the pieces is given, the difference is instructive. "An appliance with two axles" is displayed with other related items such as "bridle ornaments" and "axle ornaments," underneath a picture of a horse and chariot, as it must have looked over 2,500 years ago. In this instance, it is possible to imagine the use and significance of the items on display.

The exhibition catalogue, on the other hand, is impressive. Full of information and photographs, the book presents the items better than the exhibition does.

This should be no great surprise. Clearly, this is a work of love from academics hugely involved in what they are doing.

Originally, the tombs of Hui-xian were excavated between 1935 and 1937 -- "the golden age of Chinese archeology." The artifacts were subsequently dispersed as a result of war.

Only now have researchers from China and Taiwan managed to coordinate themselves to complete research on the finds, concluding that the tomb was that of a noble couple from the Wei State in the middle to late Spring-and-Autumn period (770-475 BC).

While the organizers and academics can be congratulated for their endeavors, it would benefit the public if their ideas and conclusions were presented better.

Nevertheless, there can be no complaints at a NT$20 entrance charge, which also gives access to the Tang Tri-Color and Painted Pottery exxhibition.

Re-exploring Treasures -- Artifacts from the Jia and Yi Tombs of Huixian will be on show until June 20, at the National Museum of History (國立歷史博物館), 49 Nanhai Rd, Taipei (台北市南海路49).

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