Monday, January 24, 2011

Best historical exhibits of 2010

In Friday's review of some historical bests of 2010, I neglected to add a couple of museum exhibits that struck me as really exemplary.  Not that I get to see every museum or exhibit in the country, but in Toronto we had two excellent ones.

Doubtless seeing the Terracotta Warriors exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum was no substitute for a visit to Shi Huangdi's tomb in Xian, China.  The exhibit only had half a dozen of the thousands of the remarkable sculpted figures.  But in recompense, the exhibit offered an introduction to the times and cultures that produced the First Emperor (and his tomb) that I found brilliantly executed.  It very skillfully walked visitors through the 500 year "Warring Cultures" period that culminated in the first unification of China -- a terrific mix of text, artifacts, film recreation and film documentary that made that vast history remarkably comprehensible to this ignorant westerner.

Same success, I thought, for Maharaja, the exhibit about Indian princely societies in the period roughly 1500-1900, still on at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  It has terrific art on display, but it also sets out very effectively the complex history of a vast array of competing states and principalities -- Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, European -- over several hundred years of cultural and technological change in India  I was fascinated.  I don't know if it plans to tour, but I recommend it.

I note, of course, that neither of these exhibits was on a Canadian theme.  Cannot actually think of a museum in recent years undertaking an exhibit of comparable ambition and seriousness on any Canadian history theme.
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