Bowdoin College Museum of Art offered visitors a rare glimpse into the artistry, rituals, and beliefs of Bronze Age China. The exhibition featured approximately sixty magnificent bronze vessels and monumental bells that were cast in southern China in the period between 1300 B.C.E. and 221 B.C.E.
This was the first exhibition ever to focus on the regional characteristics of Hunan bronzes. Artisans in Southern China adapted with great skill the types of vessels from the Chinese Great Plains, some of which were traded to Hunan during the Bronze Age. But they did no feel restricted by their models. Animal-shaped bronzes and bells were a specialty of the south. Decoration sometimes specifically related to local animal life, as in the case of the elephant shaped wine vessel, or was made to serve regional tastes and ritual needs. A food-heating vessel for ritual that is decorated with human facemasks is unique in all of China and belongs to a small group of ancient objects classified as Chinese National Treasures. This exhibition included both, imported northern vessels that defined highbrow taste and the original and sometimes even odd creations of the regional bronze-makers of the South. Many of these unusual bronzes were only recently brought to light in excavations. They radically alter our contemporary perspectives on the art and culture of one of the cradles of the Chinese civilization.
The China Institute of New York organized the exhibition with loans from the Hunan Provincial Museum, the premier repository of archeological finds from the middle banks of the Yangzi River in southern China. Besides the China Institute, Bowdoin College Museum of Art was only other venue for this extraordinary show.