Container for Cowrie Shells with Seven Yaks on Lid. Dian culture, 2nd–1st century BCE. Shanghai Museum, 79112

Cast for Eternity

Ancient Ritual Bronzes from the Shanghai Museum

July 4–September 21, 2014

Cast for Eternity Ancient Ritual Bronzes is drawn from the core of the Shanghai Museum’s exceptional bronze vessels and bells dating from the late Xia through the Western Han dynasties (c. 1800 bce–c. 8 ce). The thirty-two objects in Cast for Eternity show the range of artistic expression and variety of sculptural forms realized during China’s Bronze Age. Emblazoned with remarkable decorative motifs—abstract patterns and fantastic animals rendered in bas-relief—and some with beasts rendered in full three-dimensional form, these objects invite close looking and, as a group, provide a stimulating introduction to some of the finest surviving bronzewares known.

Exhibition highlights include an early thin-wall cast three-legged food vessel (“ding”) with bas-relief cloud pattern from the late Xia dynasty (c. 1800–1600 bce); an entire set of nine bells (“zhong”) made in the early Spring and Autumn period (770–early 7th century bce); a coiled snake-pattern drum base from the late Spring and Autumn period (c. 600–476 bce); and a bird-shaped wine vessel (“he”) with an animal-shaped handle and beast’s feet from the early Warring States period (c. 450–221 bce). Most of the bronzes in the exhibition were used for kingship rituals or for preparing and serving food. Inscriptions cast into a number of the vessels identify the royalty and clans for whom they were made, while others identify the maker.

Cast for Eternity is the first in a series of cross-cultural exhibition exchanges between the Clark and the Shanghai Museum planned over the next several years.The project is the latest in a continuing collaboration with Chinese institutions initiated to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Sterling Clark’s 1908 scientific expedition to northern China.

The exhibition is designed by architect Annabelle Selldorf and will be the first installation in the West Pavilion of the Clark’s new Visitor Center. The curatorial team is led by Tom Loughman, associate director of the Clark, and includes curators from both the Clark and the Shanghai Museum.

A fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Zhou Ya, senior curator of Ancient Bronzes at the Shanghai Museum, and Liu Yang, curator of Chinese Art and head of the Department of Asian Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, accompanies the exhibition. Designed by Daphne Geismar, the book will be published by the Clark and distributed by Yale University Press. 

Cast for Eternity is organized by the Shanghai Museum and the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, and is supported by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and the Asian Cultural Council.