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Seattle Asian Art Museum's new exhibit takes a page from Cliffs Notes

Nine clay pots sit on pedestals of varying heights. Each one is painted in a different bright color with another color dripping down from the top. In the background is an image of naked bodies laying on top of each other and above that is the name of the exhibit; "Beyond the Mountain."
Grace Madigan
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KNKX
Ai Weiwei's brightly colored vases question China's history and traditional values by desecrating artifacts with bright paint. Whether or not the pots are actually artifacts though is unknown.

A new exhibit at the Seattle Asian Art Museum features the works of five contemporary Chinese artists. "Beyond The Mountain" explores the themes of protest, culture, nature, and urban living using traditional Chinese art forms.

Included in the exhibit is a piece from activist and artist Ai Weiwei. His piece entitled "Colored Vases" features real clay pots that appear like they could be old artifacts, but are dripping in bright colored paint. By desecrating the pieces, Weiwei is questioning China's history and values.

Visitors learn about this context from an explanation displayed on the wall at the beginning of the exhibit, a sort of Cliffs Notes summary of the show. The idea for this cheat sheet to help understand the exhibit came from University of Washington students.

Museum curator Foong Ping taught a class at UW about curating Chinese art in the spring of 2020, right at the start of the pandemic.

"They gave me one week to change my class from in-person class to completely Zoom class. So I was thinking, okay, what can I do to make it interesting for these undergraduate and graduate students and as together to make it interesting for them?"

Ping came up with the idea of asking her students to create their own shows using the pieces from the exhibit, that are now on display. As a part of the project, students researched each piece thoroughly allowing them to develop the Cliffs Notes.

"That idea of creating a Cliff Notes within the gallery...I found that to be incredibly powerful way of telling somebody, okay, this is how these works hang together. Never occurred to me," Ping said.

In one of the rooms of the exhibit, an animation is projected on a wall. Black and white paintings of protests from around the world are set against music. Chen Shaoxiong's work connects the "global language of today's street protests" by using the traditional art form. The simplified explanations of the different themes in the exhibit make the work more accessible.

"Beyond The Mountain" is on display through June 2023 and will feature another artist as works are set to be rotated starting in January.

Raised in Western Washington, Grace Madigan has contributed to the International Examiner, KEXP, and Sip Northwest. She previously served as director for The Evergrey, a newsletter for Seattle locals. She likes to play and watch soccer, cook dumplings and create playlists.
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