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Renovation of four Chinese galleries at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art complete
Ritual Disc (Bi) Warring States period (475–221 b.c.e.) or early Western Han Dynasty (206 b.c.e.–9 c.e.), 3rd–2nd century b.c.e. Jincun, Luoyang, Henan. Jade (nephrite). Diameter: 6. inches (16.51 cm). Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 33-81.

KANSAS CITY, MO.- The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City has completed renovation on four of its Chinese galleries, and they will be opened to the public at the start of the Museum’s Chinese New Year celebration, which begins at 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 27. The main Chinese gallery and the Temple Room re-opened in 2010 and involved a complete re-organization of displays, along with the addition of a number of important pieces that have been off display for decades, including a 6th-century stone tomb gateway and three-color-glazed Tang dynasty tomb figures. Lighting has been added to the coffered ceiling in the Temple Room, where Guanyin of the Southern Seas majestically sits, so visitors can now see the intricately carved dragon pattern in the concentric gilded wood framework.

Linked to the main Chinese galleries are two newly renovated galleries that explore the mysterious world of ritual and ancestors in ancient China, as well as tombs. Tombs were repositories for valuables such as jade carvings, lacquered vessels and ceramic sculptures.

“Luxury items were commonly placed in tombs in ancient China,” said Colin Mackenzie, senior curator of Chinese art. “Limitations of space forced us to choose only items of the highest quality, so we were very selective as we looked through our early Chinese art collection, which is extensive.”

The luxury items include a jade ritual disc with openwork dragons that is world renowned and a pair of spectacular gilt bronze and glass-inlaid fittings comprising interwoven dragons and birds complete with small monkeys seated on top. Also on view are a magnificent gilt bronze ring door handle in the form of a dragon face, lacquer drinking cups and an exceptional bronze mirror on a gilt bronze stand.

“The ritual bronze vessels used in ceremonies to offer food and alcohol to ancestors were supreme symbols of communication between the rulers and the ancestors,” said Mackenzie. “The vessels became the embodiment of religious power.”

The vessel type known as jia is comprised of soaring tripod legs, a wasted body with a large handle and pillars rising from the mouth rim. A grain vessel with a round bowl and large handles has a hollow, square base from which hangs a small bell. Music was important in the rituals and the exhibition includes a large, bronze bell that emits two tones, a unique characteristic of ancient Chinese bells.

“I have admired these objects from afar for most of my life,” said Mackenzie. “Now I have the honor of examining and truly appreciating their exceptional artistic qualities. It has been a great privilege to work on this renovation.”

There are also ceremonial weapons in jade and bronze, as well as an axe that was used for decapitating prisoners. Many of the objects in the renovated galleries are included in widely published standard books on Chinese art.

In addition to the opening of the new galleries, the museum is celebrating completion of a richly illustrated catalogue of 27 works of art from the collection: Masterworks of Chinese Art: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The book highlights masterpieces from the museum’s world-renowned collection of more than 8,000 works. The catalogue is authored by Mackenzie, with contributions by Ling-en Lu, assistant curator of Chinese art. Masterworks of Chinese Art is available in the Museum Store for $29.95.

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