A bit of a change in schedule with this month’s review! I’ve pushed the promised Graphitint review back until next month (I was surprised by how they handled – more next month) to allow you plenty of time to visit this inspiring exhibition:
What: Nature’s Song; Chinese Bird and Flower Paintings
Where: National Museum & Art Gallery, Cardiff
When: Until 23/04/2017 Tuesday-Sunday 10-5
About: An exhibition showing and explaining traditional Chinese flower and bird paintings from as far back as the 16th century.
What really stuck me about this exhibition was just how thought-out and thorough it was. It was evident from the moment I stepped through the double doors into the space that whoever was behind the curation of this exhibition had passion.
Far from being what most would expect of an exhibition of paintings – walking around a space, looking at pictures on a wall, this exhibition is about becoming part of something. As you step into the space you’re immersed in a culture. You’ll initially be greeted by an information board offering introductory information, behind it a Chinese room divider, with a table offering high quality colour exhibition leaflets.
Not only are they informative, but also multilingual – another example of thoroughness, which is continued throughout the entire exhibition. Video/audio adds a whole other dimension and interest to the exhibition, with the sound of spoken Chinese and traditional instrumental music wafting through the space, accompanied by English and Welsh subtitles! This exhibition accommodates thoughtfully for their most likely visitors.
I was surprised by the size of the space too. However, the space wasn’t sparse nor jam-packed to the extent of feeling claustrophobic. Visitors could move around comfortably without bothering each other, but never be short of points of interest. A wooden bench in front of the projected video was a sensible touch, and again, a thoughtful one.
In addition to the large screen there was also a small video station situated in front of what I’d describe as an installation, showing a replica work room, displaying traditional-style furniture, paper scrolls, and tools such as brushes and holders (copies of which are available in the gift shop). This allows you to truly appreciate the process and situation in which the surrounding artwork was created, especially as the video demonstrates how the tools would have been used.
It’s hard to find fault with such a well thought-out and intriguing exhibition, however there was one aspect that I’m still on the fence about: the lighting. Whilst I can appreciate the intention behind the decision to include ambient lighting to create a certain serene atmosphere, I feel that by allowing the lighting to be a form of creativity in itself (there were also lighting effects – patterns on the floor resembling waves) it took focus away from the real beauty – the exquisite art. I feel that this should have been pared back a bit, and I personally felt I wanted to turn the lighting up to properly see the detail in each piece, though some may argue that the dim lighting reflected the delicacy of the work.
Personally speaking, ‘Nature’s Song’ proved to be one of my favourite temporary exhibitions of the past few years, and has real substance to it. For art history fans, cultural studies students, and of course artists and art appreciators, this exhibition offers not only beautiful visual aspects, but also a peek into a whole way of life and working.
In regards to child-friendliness, I feel this exhibition is more for older children, who can appreciate the art as more than just a ‘painting on a wall’. This is an exhibition to take your time in contemplative silence around. With Easter half term around the corner, it’s the perfect opportunity to keep GCSE and A-level art students immersed (and hopefully inspired) for a while. I may just go back for a second look…