The VMFA / Forbidden City

2014-10_Forbidden-City_yellow_SLDR104_Returning to the Capital, Emperor Kanxi's Tour of the South © The Palace Museum 02_Horse Zizaiju © The Palace Museum 09_Emperor Qianlong Questioning Antiques © The Palace Museum

This isn’t the first time I’ve sung the praises of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on our blog. After all, the VMFA is a world-class art museum that’s right in our own backyard. Whether taking a quick stroll through the sculpture garden or sneaking off to one of the galleries, a trip to the VMFA is always a rewarding experience. On my most recent visit, I had the opportunity to view the museums’ latest special exhibition, Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures from the Palace Museum, Beijing.

The VMFA’s dedication to empowering our city through art is remarkable. In recent years, the museum has hosted a diversity of special exhibitions including pop artist Tom Wesselmann, American glass sculptor Dale Chihuly and 176 significant works of Pablo Picasso. Forbidden City is part of an unprecedented partnership between the VMFA and the Palace Museum that began in 2011 and continues the legacy of bringing awe-inspiring art to Richmond. The Palace Museum is the largest art museum in China and the largest palace in the world.

Nearly 200 works of art are on display that spans 500 years of China’s imperial past. This includes sculptures, paintings, decorative arts and furniture. The exhibition’s curator, Li Jian, began the process of cultivating Forbidden City in 2010. According to Jian, embracing cultural diversity is the central theme for the exhibition. Within Forbidden City, there are many objects with Tibetan and Mongolian sensibilities, and even a few with Western influences. This speaks to the cultural exchange of ideas and tastes that swept through China during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties.

To celebrate the opening of this special exhibition, our friends at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery collaborated with the VMFA on a special beer, Forbidden Beer. This is a Belgian white ale that is infused with Asian dragon fruit and several eastern and western ingredients. Forbidden Beer is now available at the VMFA’s Best Café and Amuse Restaurant, Whole Foods, and several local vendors.

I had the fortune of visiting the Forbidden City while I studied abroad in Asia several years ago. It’s an experience that still remains with me. The scale of the massive complex is unparalleled. Enclosed by a 26-foot-high wall, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 180 acres. Touring the Forbidden City was a way to gain a better understanding of China’s history and culture. Although nothing can compare to the full experience, the VMFA gets us as close to this as possible without a plane ticket and the requirement of a 16-hour travel time.

Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures from the Palace Museum, Beijing will be at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts until January 11, 2015.

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