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Thursday, March 12, 2020, 18:12
Ancient owl lands starring role in US bronzes show
By May Zhou in Houston
Thursday, March 12, 2020, 18:12 By May Zhou in Houston

Photo taken on Feb 26, 2020 shows a Zun, or wine vessel, in the shape of an owl at a media preview of the exhibition Eternal Offering: Chinese Ritual Bronzes in Houston, Texas, the United States. An exhibition of ancient Chinese bronze artworks will be on display from Feb 29 to Aug 9 at Asia Society Texas Center (ASTC) in Houston, ASTC announced on Wednesday night. (LAO CHENGYUE / XINHUA)

An owl-shaped wine vessel more than 3,000 years old has attained star status in an exhibition of ancient Chinese bronze items in Houston.

During a preview late last month the vessel garnered the most attention and admiration from viewers, who marveled at its beauty, exquisite patterns and relatively intact condition.

It's a very special opportunity to have so many bronzes of such a wide variety, such high quality and the very good condition most (of the) objects are in 

Bridget Bray, curator and director of exhibitions at the ASTC

The exhibition, Eternal Offerings: Chinese Ritual Bronzes, is on at the Asia Society Texas Center, or the ASTC.

"It's a very special opportunity to have so many bronzes of such a wide variety, such high quality and the very good condition most (of the) objects are in," said Bridget Bray, curator and director of exhibitions at the ASTC.

"It's a combination of different positive aspects coming together."

The collection belongs to the Minneapolis Institute of Art and is regarded as one of the best collections of Chinese bronzes in the United States, Bray said.

About 100 pieces in the exhibition give viewers the opportunity to appreciate the innovations both in form and technique of bronze casting from the Shang Dynasty to the Han Dynasty (1600 BC-AD 220).

Visitors inspect a bronze celestial horse from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) at the Chinese Ritual Bronzes exhibition being held in Houston. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Speaking of the wine vessel, from the late Shang Dynasty (1300 BC-1046 BC), Bray said: "Its size, form and the execution of the object is very high on the technical level. The patina (of many bronzes) is extensive, and one can't make out exact details, but for this one you can make out each particular feather type on the surface. It helps people to understand that the artists at that time were not only interested in function but also very concerned with its aesthetic impact. They worked so hard to have the technique of bronze casting supporting this stunningly beautiful form."

Apart from the high quality of the works, the collection is outstanding in its breadth and depth.

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"There are so many different representative examples from different dynastic periods as well as different vessel types for different purposes," Bray said.

"It can become a comprehensive learning experience whether someone is a connoisseur or a complete novice."

Another aspect of the collection is that it shows the continuity of Chinese culture.

One case displays a bronze wine vessel from the early Western Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC-977 BC) and a porcelain vessel of similar shape from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

"In this instance you can see how this one from the Zhou impacted later artists and collectors," Bray said.

"The earlier form was so valued and appreciated that people would commission much later into the Qing Dynasty something in similar shape. The vessels are very similar in form, but obviously the blue and white porcelain body takes on a different life."

Visitors have been very positive about the exhibition, Bray said.

READ MORE: Cultural legacies

"The feedback is so strong and positive that I feel gratified that people seem to understand the experiment we are trying, which is helping people to think about technologies and rituals in periods very different from our own in 21st century Houston. There is appreciation for beauty."

The exhibition is on until Aug 9.

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