Yesterday, as a birthday present to Young Son, Hubby and I took him to the Terracotta Warriors exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). To say we were impressed is putting it mildly. Our tour was at 3:30. The exhibit was so popular that tours had to be scheduled in advance and good luck getting tickets at the last minute. We arrived early and by the time we were allowed in to the Target Gallery, a long line had formed. The place was so packed that at times it was difficult to get close to the cases to read the labels.
The large exhibit labels did a great job of explaining the reign of the First Emperor of China and the Terracotta Warriors he had constructed to guard his tomb. The warriors were discovered in 1974 by a farmer who was trying to dig a well. He kept running into pieces of pottery, one of which was in the shape of a head, if I remember correctly. He went to the authorities and the First Emperor’s tomb, which is basically a large hill, was discovered, along with long underground hallways leading to the tomb that were guarded by thousands of Terracotta Warriors.
Archaeologists have been excavating for over 30 years and have been so busy with the warriors that they haven’t even come close to excavating the First Emperor’s tomb yet. Each warrior is a distinct piece of art, the construction and realism of the statues considered a huge leap forward for the time period.
Only an emperor, and one with a giant streak of megalomania, could command the workforce and resources necessary to create a tomb of city-sized proportions. The First Emperor was very concerned with his immortality and leading the good life in the Great Beyond. He took care to protect the tomb, shutting all the artisans inside upon completion so they wouldn’t reveal the location. (What is it with dictators killing artists? Daughter wrote a paper about the music of Cambodia in which she discussed Pol Pot having all the musicians, artists and intellectuals put to death. Artists ought to be a protected class. Sheesh!) The First Emperor also had crossbows set up to fire should anyone try to break into the tomb.
Obviously, he didn’t want his burial site disturbed, but without the human propensity to bury stuff and dig it up later, exactly how immortal would the First Emperor be? Through the Terracotta Warriors and this exhibit, people today have tangible proof of an important aspect of his life. A documentary on the Terracotta Warriors said that it would have taken 87 master artisans, each leading teams of 10 people, at least 8 years to construct 8,000 life-size warriors. The First Emperor spent a lot of time thinking about his death, which occurred in 210 BC. He wanted to be remembered. His wish has been granted.
The MIA exhibit includes 8 figures from the Terracotta Warriors excavation, including 2 horses, which are just marvelous sculptures. My favorite among the warriors is the General. He has one hand covering another at waist level, with one finger raised. His expression is so commanding that you just know his underlings jumped at the mere flick of that finger. (He can be seen on this page of the MIA’s website.)
After going through the exhibit, Hubby, Young Son and I wandered through the MIA’s permanent Asian exhibit rooms. It was about 15 minutes prior to closing before we headed for the exit and the building was still packed. It’s a state most museums wish for … no one wanted to leave.
If you want to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibit at the MIA, you don’t have much time left. The exhibit closes January 27, 2013.