World's Biggest Museum Opens in China


Friday, April 01, 2011

Confucius statue, China's National Museum A 30-foot statue of Confucius at the entrance to China's National Museum (Jocelyn Ford)

"That is one mother of a Confucius!"

Beijing-based reporter Jocelyn Ford is not prone to hyperbole, but that was her uncensored reaction this week when she visited China's National Museum on Tiananmen Square. On April 1, the museum opens to the public after a three-year expansion and renovation. A giant statue of the ancient Chinese philosopher greets visitors at the entrance and it's a pretty good tip-off that everything inside is just as grandiose. The corridors are so long that one visiting curator carries an extra pair of shoes with him. Officials have proclaimed it the world's largest museum (the second largest—New York's Metropolitan Museum—has about 20,000 fewer square feet).

Ford has spent a decade reporting from Beijing and has watched China slowly open up. She tells Kurt Andersen that the renovations and reopening of the National Museum reflect the new ways the government is experimenting with how they want China to be seen on the world stage. Take the choice of German architects for the expansion and renovation: gmp worked with Chinese architects to turn a once dark and dingy space into a world-class museum. It was the first time ever the Chinese government hired foreign architects to design a national building.

On the occasion of the re-opening, several German museums and their curators were invited to create programming and exhibitions on the art of the Enlightenment: a survey of artifacts from an era of European creativity, scientific progress, and openness of thought. The irony is inescapable given China's bumpy relationship with individual rights and open dialogue. (Just this week, the Chinese government arrested a human rights advocate in Sichuan. And since mid-February, lawyers connected with the free speech movement have been detained in what the New York Times calls "an extralegal vacuum.")

Ford spoke with former museum head Su Donghai, who insisted there is no political message in the exhibit. But Michael Kahn Ackerman, the head of the Goethe Institute, Germany’s cultural arm in Beijing, told her "the intention of the exhibition makers was to stir up debate."

The exhibit is up for a year, and it will be interesting to see the reaction of the Chinese public and media. Admission is free, but your plane ticket to Beijing might cost you a little more.

Michele Siegel

Slideshow: The National Museum of China Reopens

National Museum of China, soldier
Jocelyn Ford

The National Museum of China, grandly situated on Tiananmen Square, reopens on April 1, 2011, after three years of expansion and renovation.

National Museum of China
© CABR Architectural Design Institute, GMP International

At 2.07 million square feet, officials call the renovated National Museum of China the world's largest museum building.  (The second largest — New York's Metropolitan Museum — has about 20,000 fewer square feet.)

National Museum of China, communist iconography
Jocelyn Ford

Communist iconography adorns the front of the National Museum of China.

National Museum of China, Confucius Statue
Jocelyn Ford

An outsized welcome: at 30 feet, this statue of Confucius at the museum's entrance hints at the enormity of the space within.

National Museum of China, Interior
Jocelyn Ford

The museum's interior — once drab and dark — is now filled with natural light.

Gottlieb Schick, Portrait of Heinrike Dannecker, 1802
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, photo: Jörg P. Anders

Gottlieb Schick, Portrait of Heinrike Dannecker, 1802

"The Art of the Enlightenment," the first international exhibit at the reopened musuem, is a cooperative venture. It was jointly organized by three German museums and the National Museum of China.

© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, photo: Hans-Joach im Bartsch

Robe à l’anglaise, around 1770

The exhibit is as ambitious as the museum. Nearly 600 loaned items display a wide spectrum of the arts of the Enlightenment, including masterpieces in painting, sculpture, drawings, and prints, as well as crafts and fashion.

© Bayerisch e Staatsgemäldesammlungen Munich, photo: Bruno Hartinger

Julius Caesar Ibbetson, George Biggin’s Ascent in Lunardi’s Balloon, around 1785 - 1788

In Enlightenment fashion, a series of dialogues and salon discussions is planned to run for the duration of the exhibition.

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Jocelyn Ford

Produced by:

Michele Siegel

Comments [2]

katie in salina, ks

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is still missing after being held by Chinese police -

Apr. 04 2011 08:07 PM
Sallie from Massapequa, NY

What a wonderful program Studio360 is!

Apr. 02 2011 06:42 PM

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