China’s famous Terracotta Warriors are coming to the NGV

The ancient statues will be displayed alongside works of contemporary Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang.

The terracotta army was created as part of a mausoleum for China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang (Photo: National Gallery of Victoria)

Qin Shi Huang, the first man who dared call himself Emperor of China, was known for unifying China and his taste for mercury, which he thought was the secret to immortality. But the founder of the Qin dynasty left behind a far more interesting legacy: Building a platoon of terracotta army consisting of 8,000 life-size soldiers and horses modelled in clay.

The grey-looking clay soldiers – though patches of paint hint at once brightly coloured clothes – are part of an elaborate mausoleum created to accompany Qin Shi Huang into the afterlife. A group of local farmers stumbled upon them in 1974 when they were digging a well outside of the city of Xi’an, China. So far, only 2,000 soldiers have been unearthed and reassembled.

This May, the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series at the National Gallery of Victoria will present the ancient Terracotta Warriors – 35 years after they made their international debut in the same city – in an exhibition titled Guardians of Immortality. The show will be held alongside contemporary artist Cai Guo Qiang’s The Transient Landscape.


Visitors won’t be seeing the entire army, unfortunately. Eight soldiers will be on show, each one with unique features, from their faces to their uniforms. Two life-size horses from the Imperial Army, as well as two half-size replica bronze chariots (each drawn by four horses) will be on display.

Cai's companion exhibition will not disappoint in this blockbuster double bill. Best known for his use of gunpowder in drawings, the “explosive” artist has created new works inspired by his home country’s culture and enduring philosophical traditions, including a monumental installation of 10,000 suspended porcelain birds. The birds, spiralling overhead, create a three-dimensional impression of a calligraphic drawing of the scared Mount Li, the site of the ancient tomb of Qin Shihuang and his warriors.

Cai Guo-Qiang's proposal for Murmuration, digital rendering (Photo: National Gallery of Victoria)

“They are two rivers of time separated by two millennia, each creating a course at their own individual speed across a series of shared galleries. The ancient and the contemporary – two surges of energy that crisscross, pull, interact and complement each other, generating a powerful tension and contrast, each attracting and resisting the other,” said the celebrated contemporary artist.


The Melbourne Winter Masterpieces presentation of Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality and Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape will be on display from May 24 to Oct 13 at NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Click here for more info.


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