'Italian Renaissance Drawings: A Dialogue with China’

3 September 2021 – 20 February 2022

Curated by Victor Wang, M WOODS,
and Sarah Vowles, the British Museum

The presentation of this exhibition is a collaboration between the British Museum and M WOODS Museum

Works from the British Museum Collection by:
Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Raphael, Polidoro da Caravaggio, Lorenzo di Credi, and more.

In dialogue with artists:
Hao Liang (郝量), Hu Xiaoyuan (胡晓媛), Jin Shangyi (靳尚谊), Kan Xuan (阚萱), Liu Xiaodong (刘小东), Liu Ye (刘野), Qiu Xiaofei (仇晓飞), Xie Nanxing (谢南星), Yu Ji (于吉), Zeng Fanzhi (曾梵志)

M WOODS and the British Museum (U.K.) are proud to present 'Italian Renaissance Drawings: A Dialogue with China’, the first collaborative exhibition between the British Museum and an independent, not-for-profit art museum in China.

Installation view, Italian Renaissance Drawings: A Dialogue with China, M WOODS Hutong, courtesy M WOODS, Beijing, 2021

The key focus of the exhibition is to enlighten visitors about Italian Renaissance drawings, and it will include examples by many of the great Renaissance artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian and Raphael, taken from the historic collections of the British Museum. For the first time in their history, these works will be placed in dialogue with contemporary art from China to highlight the important trans-temporal relationships between the Western Renaissance and China.

Installation view, Italian Renaissance Drawings: A Dialogue with China, M WOODS Hutong, courtesy M WOODS, Beijing, 2021

M WOODS’ Artistic Director and Chief Curator, Victor Wang, has worked closely with the British Museum’s Smirnov Family Curator of Italian & French Prints & Drawings, Sarah Vowles, to consider the possibility of a Renaissance beyond Europe, and introduce a cross-cultural global perspective on these historical works on paper.

Installation view, Italian Renaissance Drawings: A Dialogue with China, M WOODS Hutong, courtesy M WOODS, Beijing, 2021

‘Renaissance’ is the French translation of the Italian word rinascimento, meaning ‘rebirth’. It refers to the cultural and intellectual flowering that took place in Italy in the 15th century before it spread north of the Alps across Europe[1]. However, the Italian Renaissance was not only fascinated by Greco-Roman antiquity, it was also a larger exchange of ideas, techniques, and perspectives that would go on to influence other parts of the world.

Installation view, Italian Renaissance Drawings: A Dialogue with China, M WOODS Hutong, courtesy M WOODS, Beijing, 2021

From an expanded historiographical perspective on both the period and the ideas that were developed, several important relationships can be revealed between the traditional European Renaissance and the modernization of China, as both an intellectual and cultural project. Local and international scholars have discussed the influence of the Renaissance on modern China in terms of the country’s nation-building and reformational efforts, providing a framework for understanding the modernising forces of the early 20th century, a period that concluded the country’s millennium-old imperial rule, as well as the country’s cultural continuity with the Song (960–1279) and Ming Dynasties (1368-1644), which denote, amongst other things, canonical periods of high cultural tradition that are important periods of reference in the formation of China’s modern identity.  Alternatively, by situating these Italian Renaissance works within a contemporary art framework, we allow for a re-orientation and re-appraisal of these historical drawings from a different cultural context and from a contemporary non-European perspective.

Some of the themes that characterise Renaissance art are brought together in the selection of drawings, which date from between 1470 and 1580 and represent artists working across the Italian peninsula. The works in the exhibition have been divided into six thematic sections: The Human Figure, Movement, Light, Costume and Drapery, The Natural World, and Storytelling. The exhibition then explores how artists both in the Renaissance and in China brought life, form, and dynamism to their compositions through the study of these themes such as movement, light and shade, and costume. This presentation will bring together the artist’s understanding of the earlier themes into a conversation, while opening up a new space that also considers the parallels and tangents between these perspectives and histories. The work of influential Chinese scholars such as Jiang Fangzheng, Hu Shi, Liang Sicheng and Fu Lei, who were key figures in these cultural movements and national reforms, will be represented in specific archival materials, while contextual information on the importance of drawing as a conceptual and explorative tool for Renaissance artists will also be on display.

Installation view, Italian Renaissance Drawings: A Dialogue with China, M WOODS Hutong, courtesy M WOODS, Beijing, 2021

[1] ‘Introduction: Drawing in the Italian Renaissance’, Italian Renaissance Drawings, (London: British Museum Press, 2010), p. 9.

Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum said, “The British Museum is delighted to be working with M WOODS on this exciting collaborative project. The Museum is absolutely committed to sharing the collection as widely as possible with museums across the world. Our exhibition partnerships in China have always proved very popular with audiences and I will be fascinated to see how audiences in Beijing respond to the show.”

Wanwan Lei, Founder of the M WOODS Museum said, "It is of great significance for us to launch this collaboration with the British Museum in the year of 2021. The global covid-19 crisis has made us aware again of the public responsibilities that a museum should take on under the contemporary context. At this moment, tolerance, communication and cohesion has become especially important. Through this collaboration, M WOODS will not only bring more excellent artworks to the Chinese audience, but also, as a private museum, explore the possibility of working with prestigious art institutions worldwide. The works of the Chinese artists that we will present in this exhibition, will offer a new art historical perspective in the global context."

Installation view, Italian Renaissance Drawings: A Dialogue with China, M WOODS Hutong, courtesy M WOODS, Beijing, 2021

Victor Wang, Artistic Director and Chief Curator said, “Every year M WOODS aims to collaborate and build bridges with different institutions internationally in order to provide a diverse range of programming for our local audiences. As the first independent, not-for-profit museum in China to collaborate on an exhibition with the British Museum, this partnership takes on an important significance as we rethink the function and role our museum can play within the context of China. We are excited to work with the British Museum’s curators and exhibitions to engage with their collection, and to further expand on the narratives and histories within it.”

The British Museum

Founded in 1753, the British Museum was the first national public museum in the world. From the outset it was a museum of the world, for the world, and this idea still lies at the heart of the Museum’s mission today. The collection tells the stories of cultures across the world, from the dawn of human history, over two million years ago, to the present. Objects range from the earliest tools made by humans and treasures from the ancient world to more recent acquisitions from Africa, Oceania and the Americas, the Middle East, Asia and Europe, as well as the national collections of prints and drawings, and coins and medals. In addition to work in London, the Museum takes part in an extensive programme of loans and tours, both across the UK and throughout the world. Touring exhibitions draw on the expertise of world-class curators, conservation experts, scientists, project managers and many other Museum professionals who are able to support the exhibition at every stage of development. britishmuseum.org

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