GREAT MUSEUMS of the WORLD
GREAT MUSEUMS GOES GLOBAL WITH A 2008 OLYMPIC SPECIAL:
CHINA: WEST MEETS EAST AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART

“There is no better method to penetrate into the Chinese frame of mind than through its art.”
Philippe de Montebello, Director, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

(June, 2008) As excitement builds for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, Great Museums presents “CHINA: WEST MEETS EAST AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART,” a one-hour High Definition public television tribute to Beijing’s Cultural Olympiad theme, “One World. One Dream.” The special —narrated by actor BD Wong—premieres on national public television in June 2008 and features the encyclopedic Chinese art collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, from Neolithic to Modern times, spanning over 5,000 years of changing political dynasties, varying religious influences, as well as the influx of ideas and techniques from abroad.

“We wanted to hit on the pulse of the global cultural scene as it’s happening at the moment,” observes Marc Doyle, Executive Producer, Great Museums.  “Through our relationship with the Met, we were able to gain access to one of the most important – and timely – collections in the art world today to explore the various artistic stepping stones that serve as the ultimate cultural backdrop to the Beijing Olympic games.”

As one of the world’s premier art museums, The Met is home to the finest collection of Chinese artistic masterpieces of any museum outside of China. Its collection features pieces from every period of Chinese history and includes precious porcelains and jades, ancient bronzes, lacquers, painted silk scrolls and wall hangings, calligraphy and monumental Buddhist sculptures, and more.

“Throughout its history and into today, art is not a separate thing in China,” explains Philippe de Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “There is something about the Chinese mind, the Chinese sense of time, the Chinese sense of culture that makes it an integral part of daily life. And so, understanding Chinese art and culture is a wonderful shortcut to understanding the Chinese mind.”

In “CHINA: WEST MEETS EAST AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART,” museum director Philippe de Montebello, along with curators from The Met’s Asian Art Department, helps viewers access a culture that has had a 5000-year head start by showcasing Chinese artistic accomplishments spanning 50 centuries.

As the Great Wall attests, China has not always welcomed outside influences, but Chinese culture has always been shaped by them. The show begins with the story of Chinese export porcelain, which in a way is the story of China’s relationship with the world. As early as 1000 AD, Chinese porcelain exhibited foreign decorative motifs and by the 14th century, when Kublai Khan and the Mongol invaders were ruling China, exporting porcelain was big business. In the 18th and 19th centuries, so much “Chinaware” was exported to the U.S. and Europe, that Chinese porcelain became synonymous with Chinese art. 

As the program progresses, we see masterworks from the Neolithic or Stone Age, the Great Bronze Age, and the Han, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties—everything from lavish examples of Chinese decorative arts in jade, carved lacquer, marble, gold, silver and rhinoceros horn to monumental Buddhist cave sculptures carved out of the living rock as acts of piety.

Going behind the scenes into The Met’s Asian Conservation Studio, we see fragile paintings and calligraphies on silk, satin and paper being painstakingly restored. Some are more than a thousand years old. In this special room, no shoes are allowed.  Neither is the public. Here, Mike Hearn, the Douglas Dillon Curator of Chinese Painting, takes us through the anatomy of a Chinese painting, explaining that the Chinese painted on scrolls, not canvases, and that these works were meant to be unrolled, appreciated and then put away until the next viewing. Like an early form of blogging, viewers were invited to pen their comments and impressions directly on the painting.

At the heart of The Met’s Chinese Art Collection is a Chinese Scholars’ Garden–the Astor Court—modeled on a 17th century Ming dynasty garden court in Southern China. It reveals one of the principals of Chinese architecture – a garden that is open, but enclosed. Passing through the circular “Moon Gate,” visitors enter another world and become instantly meditative, transfixed by the trickling water and the irregular rock formations. Once inside the court, natural rock thresholds mark a further divide between manmade architecture and the realm of nature. To ensure authenticity, the Astor Court was constructed by modern day Chinese craftsmen, who were brought in for the project through a special agreement between The Met and the Chinese government. 

“I don’t want to downplay the idea that China’s culture is very different from our own,” says curator Mike Hearn, “But China, in the long run, its philosophy, its sense of poetry, its sense of history and its sense of reverence for the individual really resonate with the deepest values in the West.” Great Museums’ writer-producer Chesney Doyle adds, “Through ‘West Meets East’ and The Met’s spectacular collection, we hope viewers gain a new way of looking at the world.” 

Narrator BD WONG made his Broadway debut in M. Butterfly, creating the role of Song Liling, for which he won the 1988 Tony Award for Best Actor. He is the only actor to be honored with the Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Clarence Derwent Award and Theater World Award for a single role. The San Francisco native is also widely recognized for his performances in the box office hits, Father of the Bride and Jurassic Park. Wong was a regular cast member on the HBO series OZ and currently appears as Dr. George Huang on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Emmy® award-winner and a multiple Emmy®-nominated composer, MICHAEL WHALEN has created a passionate and evocative score for “CHINA: WEST MEETS EAST AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART,” his second project for GREAT MUSEUMS. Whalen’s public television credits include the acclaimed four-hour public television series Slavery and the Making of America, as well as projects for American Experience, American Masters, and NATURE. Commercial credits include projects for Discovery, National Geographic and the familiar and uplifting opening theme to the ABC News morning show Good Morning America.

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