An atlas for beauty

China questions its Legacy between past and present
by Fabio Marzari

In the pavilion at the Arsenale, a philology of the image unites the past and present art of a country with a millennia-old tradition that has made travel a motif of eternal appeal.

The Chinese National Participation to the Biennale presents Atlas: Harmony in Diversity, an exhibition divided in two sections: Union and Legacy. Union is a collection of documents taken from an ancient Chinese art collection, comprising 100 paintings from different collections, most of them outside China. The art belongs to the Comprehensive Collection of Ancient Chinese Paintings, a compilation of now 12,405 artworks. Legacy is composed of art by seven modern Chinese artists and the work they created based on the Comprehensive Collection.

The artists studied the Collection’s pictorial elements – architecture, landscape, shapes, flowers, birds – and worked on a form of harmonious combination of modern and ancient art. The whole project took inspiration from Mnemosyne Atlas, an idea of twentieth-century German art historian Aby Warburg. The method pairs sets of images and cross-references them with global imagery, thus forming a bi-directional relationship between China and foreign countries and between the ancient and the modern. The awareness of belonging to a culture that has deep roots helps to show the daunting work of re-appropriation and systemization of vast cultural legacy.


Featured image: A Comprehensive Collection of Ancient Chinese Paint-ings Project Team / Team del progetto Collezione completa di antichi dipinti cinesi

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