The V&A: Working in and with China
Collections & Galleries
The V&A possesses one of the most comprehensive and important collections of Chinese art outside East Asia. The V&A acquired its first group of Chinese artefacts in 1852. Today, the Museum’s Chinese collection amounts to approximately 18,000 objects, with examples from all branches of Chinese art including ceramics, jade, metalwork, lacquer, textiles, furniture, sculpture, ivory, bamboo, rhinoceros horn, glass, paintings, manuscripts and prints.
The particular strength of the V&A Chinese collections is in the applied arts of later dynastic China, after AD 1500. Highlights are on display in the T.T. Tsui Gallery of Chinese Art and the Ceramics Galleries on Level 6. The V&A continues to collect excellent examples of contemporary art and design in Mainland China and Hong Kong and works actively with expert colleagues in leading Chinese museums to study and understand the Museum’s collections.
At the V&A
The V&A has organised a number of important exhibitions at the V&A over the last decade.
- Between Past and Future (September 2005 – January 2006): Curated by the International Centre for Photography (ICP) New York, in conjunction with the David and Alfred Smart Museum at the University of Chicago. A total of 83 works by 40 contemporary artists, the majority of whom exhibited in the UK for the first time, were displayed.
- Beauty’s Enchantment: 17th Century Chinese Porcelain (2006): The V&A worked with the Shanghai Museum and the Butler Collections to organise this exhibition. It featured 120 ceramic objects and explored the so-called ‘transitional style’ which emerged at the end of the Ming dynasty and early Qing dynasty period in the 17th century. It debuted at the Shanghai Museum in 2005 and then was shown at the V&A in 2006.
- China Design Now (March – July 2008): This seminal exhibition was presented at the V&A to coincide with the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The V&A captured an extraordinary moment of contemporary Chinese history in the making. The exhibition featured designs and artefacts by emerging and established Chinese creatives and leading international designers from three cities in China: Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen.
- Imperial Chinese Robes from the Forbidden City (December 2010 – February 2011): The exhibition showed three centuries of imperial robes worn by the emperors and empresses of the Qing Dynasty, the last ruling dynasty of China (1644-1911). All objects were on loan from the Palace Museum Beijing.
- Masterpieces of Chinese Paintings: 700-1900 (October 2013 – January 2014): The show was the first UK overview of the Chinese painting tradition since the International Exhibition of Chinese Art at the Royal Academy in 1935. It brought together over 100 of the finest examples of Chinese painting, including some of the earliest surviving Chinese paintings and other extremely rare pieces, from the greatest collection. Many of the paintings were shown in Europe for the first time, on loan from the Palace Museum Beijing, Shanghai Museum, Liaoning Provincial Museum, Dunhuang Academy and Tianjin Museum.
- Travelling to the Wonderland (2013 – 2014): To coincide with Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700-1900, artist Xu Bing’s major landscape installation transformed the V&A’s John Madejski Garden into an ethereal utopia inspired by the classic Chinese fable Tao Hua Yuan (Peach Blossom Spring).
Throughout the last decade, the V&A has also worked on a number of exhibitions with venues in China. Souvenir from Canton was held at Guangzhou Museum in 2003 and explored an impressive 208 Chinese export watercolours, and attracted 100,000 visitors. Later exhibitions have included the digital art exhibition Decode: Digital Design Sensations at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing and Indian Temple Sculpture, developed in collaboration with the British Museum at the Shanghai Museum, both in 2010; The Golden Age of Couture at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in 2009; the high-profile Vivienne Westwood exhibition was shown at Bund 18 in Shanghai in 2005 and at ArtisTree in Hong Kong in 2008-2009; and A Century of Olympic Posters in the Capital Museum, Beijing and the Liaoning Provincial Museum in Shenyang, in 2008.
- Water into Art (2012): This V&A touring exhibition was presented at the Shenzhen Museum. During this first collaboration with Shenzhen, the exhibition received over 190,000 visits. 100 works were on display and illustrated the breadth and diversity of this important V&A collection of watercolours.
- Passion for Porcelain: Ceramics Masterpieces from the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum (June 2012 – January 2013): This major exhibition was organised with the British Museum and the National Museum of China (NMC) as part of the UK Now Festival in China. The catalogue was published in English and Chinese.
- Splendours of India’s Royal Court (April – July 2013): Shown at the Palace Museum, Beijing, the exhibition received over 202,000 visitors.
- Rapid Response (December 2013 – January 2014): This was a small display curated by the Architecture, Digital and Product Design section as part of the Urbanism and Architecture Bi-City Biennale in Shenzhen.
Our most recent major loans to China includes loans to the exhibition The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: Chairs for viewing the world through time at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum June-September 2014; and Taste and Essence: A special exhibition of historical tea pieces from the collections of the Palace Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum at the Macau Museum of Art, 2013-2014.
Learning and Audience Engagement
A number of V&A learning programmes are related to Chinese art and design. Arts of Asia: Middle East, South and South East Asia is a year-long course for adult learners. It runs from September to July.
- An Adventure in China, a back-pack and picnic trail for families to explore the culture and traditions of ancient China via the Museum’s galleries.
- China Teachers Resource (available to download)
- Masterpieces of Chinese Painting Teachers Resource (available to download)
- Primary Gallery Tour: V&A Voyage. Explore traditional clothes, religious objects and items used from India, China, Japan and the Islamic Middle East. (available term time, daily)
Special Educational Needs Programme
- Chinese Dragon Robes Our newly-designed boxes for students with special educational needs are packed with multi-sensory resources that use sound, smell and touch to help bring museum objects to life.
3 October, 7 November & 5 December 2014
9 January, 6 February & 6 March 2015
8 May, 12 June & 3 July 2015
We are focussing on social media activity in China and sharing our content through local platforms. The V&A has a dedicated Weibo account in China that is regularly updated and used as a platform for delivering museum news to Chinese followers.
For many years, the V&A has been enjoying an extremely good relationship with Chinese colleagues either formally (M.o.U. signed in 2010 with the Capital Museum and the Palace Museum) and at an informal level through joint research or curatorial exchanges.
- The V&A and China Merchant's Group (CMG) signed a collaboration agreement to support CMG's ambitious plan to develop a major museum of design in Shenzhen (South China). The pioneering collaboration aims to promote Chinese design to an international audience as well as present the best international design in China. The new museum, the Shekou Design Museum, is planned to open in early 2017 in the Shekou district of Shenzhen, the city designated by UNESCO as the city of design and creative industries. The development is led by China Merchants Property Development Co. Ltd., the real estate flagship of CMG who have commissioned a new museum building designed by renowned Japanese architecture studio Maki, led by Fumihiko Maki. The V&A will have a dedicated V&A Gallery within the Shekou Design Museum to show curated displays from its collections as well as space to present major V&A exhibitions. The V&A will play an advisory role in helping the new museum develop its own collections and provide training for its senior management team. Luisa Elena Mengoni, a curator from the V&A, is in a three-year secondment in Shenzhen to work as the V&A representative for the project in China. Find out more about the Shekou Project.
- Selected Records of Overseas Chinese Antiquities – V&A Volume (2014): The V&A Chinese collection was selected to feature in the first volume of a series published by the National Museum of China to present the best Chinese museum collections outside of China.
- The V&A was the chosen venue for the first UK-China People to People Dialogue (April 2012) in the top tier of UK-China bilateral exchanges. The Dialogue provided an opportunity to develop closer ties with China in areas where the UK excels, including culture, the creative industries and education. The dialogue was led by Madame Liu Yandong, State Councillor of the People’s Republic of China and Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport at the time.
- The V&A enjoys a very good working relationship with the Embassy for the People’s Republic of China in London. The V&A welcomed the Chinese Minister of Culture in October 2013.
- Martin Roth, Director of the V&A, was awarded by the Chinese Ministry of Culture the Brilliant Contribution Award of International Cultural Exchange, China, 2014 on April 2014.
- As part of the 2015 UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange, Luisa E. Mengoni (Curator, Asian Department) participated in a panel on British creative industries during the GREAT Festival in Shanghai (2-4 March 2015) organised by UKTI. She also participated in a roundtable organised by the Ministry of Culture and the British Council in Beijing (23 March 2015) and gave a presentation at the Training Scheme for museum professionals hosted by the Chinese Academy of Cultural Administration in Beijing (24-25 March 2015).
Because of its unique links to the Great Exhibition of 1851, the V&A was active in marking Shanghai Expo 2010. Designs for the British Pavilion were displayed at the V&A in 2009. The Museum worked with the Shanghai Expo Bureau, Shanghai Museum and the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) towards two exhibitions for the Shanghai Expo. The magnificent oil painting by Henry Courtney Selous, The Opening of the Great Exhibition (1851) was among over 30 loans to the Shanghai Expo Museum which, to the end of August 2010, had received 1,620,000 visitors.
Bodies of Planned Obsolescence (Digital Team, Learning department) – 2015
As part of the V&A Digital Programmes, the V&A has been in Hong Kong doing research on electronic waste with a group of artists, designers, theorists and scientists and took part in a symposium with policy makers on e-waste issues. This project was funded by the AHRC. In late June 2015, there will be a relevant Digital Futures event with participants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Nigeria and London.
London Design Festival 2015
As 2015 is the UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange, an event with British and Chinese designers is currently being planned for the events programme for the London Design Festival in autumn 2015.
In 2010, the Travel with the V&A programme organised a trip to China. Led by V&A curators, Museum supporters, visited sites in Beijing, Hangzhou, Xi’an and Shanghai, meeting Museum peers, collectors, artists, designers, and cultural figures. This visit helped strengthen and build relationships with Chinese organisations and individuals, and to raise awareness of these important relationships with V&A supporters. The trip also helped support China related acquisitions and a display.
Kuwayama Corporation has achieved excellent distribution through Chinese jewellery specialist Chow Sang Sang. Sales are through its stores in Hong Kong and Greater China.
V&A publications on Chinese themes are extremely diverse and include a study in Chinese of early collectors of Chinese art, a translation into Chinese of the Vivienne Westwood exhibition catalogue, and a collaborative volume on medieval textiles from Central Asia in the Stein collection. Chinese Export Ceramics, Chinese version, co-authored by the V&A’s Rose Kerr, Luisa Mengoni and Ming Wilson will be published by the Shanghai Guhua Chubanshe.
- Rose Kerr and Luisa Mengoni, Chinese Export Ceramics, Chinese version (Shanghai: Shanghai Shuhua Chubanshe, 2014)
- Zhang Hongxing, Masterpieces of Chinese Painting: 700-1900 (V&A, 2013)
- Katherine Coombs, British Watercolours 1750-1950, Chinese version (Beijing: Heritage Press, 2013)
- Anna Jackson et al, The Splendour of India's Royal Courts, Chinese version (Beijing: Palace Museum, 2013)
- Rose Kerr, Luisa Mengoni, and Ming Wilson, Chinese Export Ceramics (V&A, 2011)
- Ming Wilson, Imperial Chinese Robes (V&A, 2011)
- Yueh-Siang Chang, V&A Pattern: Chinese Textiles (V&A, 2010)
- Stacey Pierson, Chinese Ceramics (V&A, 2009)
- Zhang Hongxing and Lauren Parker, eds., China Design Now (V&A, 2008)
- Zhao Feng, Helen Wang, Helen Persson, Frances Wood, Wang Le and Xu Zheng (eds.), Textiles from Dunhuang in UK Collections (Shanghai: Donghua University Press, 2007)
- Claire Wilcox, Vivienne Westwood, Chinese version (2005)
- Verity Wilson, Chinese textiles (V&A, 2005)
- Rose Kerr, Song Dynasty Ceramics (V&A, 2004)
- Ming Wilson, Chinese Jades (V&A, 2004)
- Ming Wilson and Zhiwei Lin (eds.), with a foreword by Mark Jones and Andrea Rose, Souvenir from Canton: Chinese export paintings from the Victoria and Albert Museum, Chinese version (Shanghai: Shanghai Classics Publishing House, 2003)