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Interactive, Sensory Showcases in Chinese Archaeology at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum

The Phoenix Kingdoms Exhibit Opens Its Doors at the Asian Art Museum

Featured image: Animal face mask, Western Zhou period (ca. 1050-771 BCE), approx. 1000 BCE. Excavated from Zeng tomb no. 65 at Yejiashan, Suizhou, 2011 © Suizhou Municipal Museum

“Phoenix Kingdoms: The Last Splendors of China’s Bronze Age” is an exhibition scheduled at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco from April 19 to July 22, 2024. This exhibition, set against the backdrop of China’s Bronze Age, introduces over 150 artifacts from recent significant archaeological discoveries in China, offering an interactive and sensory experience to the visitors. The exhibition is distinguished by its use of digital projections and soundscapes to create an immersive environment that encourages engagement with the artifacts and the stories they tell.

The concept for “Phoenix Kingdoms” draws inspiration from a Chinese legend about a hidden realm of opulence discovered by a villager, accessible through a crack in a hillside that could not be found again. The exhibition metaphorically opens this crack anew, inviting visitors to explore a treasure trove from a civilization long passed. Central to the exhibition is the phoenix, a mythological bird revered in the southern territories of the Zhou dynasty, symbolizing renewal and cyclicality. The exhibition leverages technology to animate these myths, with totemic avatars of phoenixes that respond to visitor movement, enhancing the narrative of rebirth and discovery.

The exhibition combines artifacts with bilingual narrations, digital displays of excavation photos, archival materials, and an atmospheric soundscape to enrich the visitor experience. Among the notable items on display are bronze bells, ceremonial drums, libation vessels, luxurious lacquerware, luminous jades, and textiles used in burials and offerings, displaying the ritualistic and otherworldly aspects of the artifacts.

Garance Marneur, the museum’s director of experience design, emphasized the exhibition’s innovative approach to storytelling, integrating interactive and immersive elements with the use of technology. The goal is to transcend traditional museum experiences, allowing visitors to engage with the past in a dynamic and personal way.

Key attractions of the exhibition include:

  • The public debut of several Chinese national treasures.
  • The display of previously too fragile artifacts, now made possible by advancements in scientific preservation methods.
  • Thematic galleries that provide insights into the aristocratic lifestyle, afterlife beliefs, and technological innovations of Bronze Age China.

The Asian Art Museum, located in San Francisco, is recognized for its comprehensive collection of Asian art, encompassing over 20,000 items that range from ancient artifacts to contemporary art installations. The museum is committed to offering dynamic special exhibitions and educational programs that foster a deeper understanding of Asian cultures and their historical contexts. “Phoenix Kingdoms” aligns with this mission by presenting a unique exploration of China’s Bronze Age, aimed at connecting visitors with the ancient past through innovative presentation and interactive experiences.

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