Press Room / Minneapolis Institute of Art and Theater Artist Robert Wilson Collaborate To Create Immersive Experience Highlighting China’s Last Dynasty

October 12, 2017

Minneapolis Institute of Art and Theater Artist Robert Wilson Collaborate To Create Immersive Experience Highlighting China’s Last Dynasty

Download PDF

Minneapolis, October 12, 2017— The Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) is collaborating with celebrated theater artist Robert Wilson to organize a first-of-its-kind exhibition highlighting the drama, rituals, and opulence of the Qing Empire, the last imperial dynasty of China. The exhibition will present objects from Mia’s renowned collection of Chinese art, including rare court costumes, jades, lacquers, paintings, and sculpture, to be displayed in an immersive, experiential environment conceived of by Wilson. “Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty: Concept and Design by Robert Wilson,” curated by Liu Yang, Mia’s Curator of Chinese Art, will be on view February 4 through May 27, 2018.

“The staging and storytelling involved in this exhibition speak to Mia’s belief in art’s ability to inspire wonder and fuel curiosity,” said Matthew Welch, Mia’s Deputy Director and Chief Curator. “Through the use of the theatrical elements of lighting, sound, and progression, we examine the layers of imperial life—from the external presentation of the court to the internal, private life of the emperor. We want the visitor to feel as though they are part of this otherworldly, intoxicating, and sometimes even dangerous world.”

During the Qing (pronounced “ch’ing”) court’s reign (1644–1912), the arts flourished—rivaling that of Europe’s great kingdoms. This backdrop of opulence served to affirm imperial power and prestige, and acted as stagecraft to enhance the emperor’s leading role as the “son of heaven.” Court costume, for example, was heavily embroidered or woven with symbolic designs to represent cosmological order. Roiling waves and faceted rocks around the hem evoke the earth’s oceans and mountains. Stylized clouds hover above, indicating the heavens. Dragons, a longstanding symbol of imperial authority and might, cavort in the clouds, suggesting the emperor’s rule of heaven and earth.

“Mia has one of the world’s great collections of Chinese art outside of China,” said Liu Yang, Mia’s curator of Chinese Art and head of China, South, and Southeast Asian Art. “Our collection of Qing dynasty textiles is one of the most comprehensive in the West, and we have many other important objects associated with the Qing emperors and their courts. It is personally very exciting for me to be able to highlight these objects in an unexpected and fresh manner by working with Robert Wilson.”

“Mia could not be more delighted to work with Robert Wilson on the creation of this exhibition,” said Kaywin Feldman, Mia’s Nivin and Duncan MacMillan Director and President. “His unique approach to exhibition design and his willingness to push the boundaries make him an ideal collaborator. His style often involves dramatic contrasts—brightness and darkness, fullness and emptiness—which bring a new perspective to these historic objects.”

The exhibition will progress through a series of galleries that lead visitors from the performative, external world of the imperial court to the intimate, interior world of the emperor. Each gallery will also feature an original soundscape created by Wilson.

Objects highlights include:

  • A ceremonial twelve-symbol jifu court robe worn by the emperor
  • A formal court robe worn by the empress
  • A 640-pound jade mountain commissioned by the Qianlong emperor
  • A multicolor lacquered and carved imperial throne
  • A meditating Buddha carved from white jade enthroned within a Tibetan-style stupa of green jade
  • An imperial portrait of prince Duo Lou
  • A carved lacquer box adorned with nine auspicious dragons and bearing the Qianlong emperor’s seal


Presenting Sponsor: Sit Investment Associates

Lead Sponsor: Nivin and Duncan MacMillan Foundation

Major Sponsor: Delta

Generous support provided by Gale Family Endowment

About Robert Wilson

Born in Waco, Texas, Wilson is among the world’s foremost theater and visual artists. His works for the stage unconventionally integrate a wide variety of artistic media, including dance, movement, lighting, sculpture, music, and text. His images are aesthetically striking and emotionally charged, and his productions have earned the acclaim of audiences and critics worldwide. After being educated at the University of Texas and Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, Wilson founded the New York–based performance collective “The Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds” in the mid‐1960s, and developed his first signature works, including Deafman Glance (1970) and A Letter for Queen Victoria (1974–75). With Philip Glass he wrote the seminal opera Einstein on the Beach (1976). Wilson’s artistic collaborators include many writers and musicians, such as Heiner Müller, Tom Waits, Susan Sontag, Laurie Anderson, William Burroughs, Lou Reed, and Jessye Norman. He has also left his imprint on masterworks such as Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, Brecht/Weill’s Threepenny Opera, Debussy’s Pelléas et Melisande, Goethe’s Faust, Homer’s Odyssey, Jean de la Fontaine’s Fables, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, and Verdi’s La Traviata. Wilson’s drawings, paintings, and sculptures have been presented around the world in hundreds of solo and group showings, and his works are held in private collections and museums throughout the world. Wilson has been honored with numerous awards for excellence, including a Pulitzer Prize nomination, two Premio Ubu awards, the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale, and an Olivier Award. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as the German Academy of the Arts, and holds eight Honorary Doctorate degrees. France pronounced him Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (2003) and Officer of the Legion of Honor (2014); and Germany awarded him the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit (2014). Wilson is the founder and Artistic Director of The Watermill Center, a laboratory for the arts in Water Mill, New York.

About Liu Yang

After completing his PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in 1997, Liu Yang served as the curator of Chinese art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. There he mounted an impressive number of major exhibitions, including shows on Chinese painting, Buddhist sculpture, jades, bronzes, calligraphy, modern prints, and Daoist art. Since joining Mia in 2011, Liu has curated exhibitions on the contemporary ink painter Liu Dan as well as on ancient ritual bronzes and treasures associated with China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang.

About the Asian Art Collection at Mia

Mia’s collection of Asian art comprises some 16,800 objects ranging from ancient pottery and bronzes to works by contemporary artists, with nearly every Asian culture represented. Areas of particular depth include the arts of China, Japan, and Korea.

Specific subsets and highlights of these collections rival the holdings of museums across the globe. For its stylistic diversity and condition, Mia’s collection of ancient Chinese bronze is typically considered one of the nation’s top collections of its kind. Important examples include a famous vessel in the form of an owl, superb silver inlaid works, and many other outstanding vessels from the Shang and Zhou dynasties (c. 18th–3rd century BCE). Mia’s Japanese collection has outstanding concentrations of Buddhist sculpture, woodblock prints, paintings, lacquer, works of bamboo, and ceramics, and is particularly rich in works from the Edo period (1610–1868).

The museum’s commitment to Asian art is also evident in the sheer volume of space devoted to its display. At present, Asian art occupies an impressive 20 percent (32,200 sq. ft.) of the total display space (161,000 sq. ft.) for art at Mia. The permanent display space for Japanese art is the largest in the Western world, with 15 galleries spanning more than 10,000 square feet.