Museums Celebrate Chinese New Year

By Richard Moss | 29 January 2003
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The weekend of February 1 sees UK galleries and museums gearing up to add a little cultural colour to this year's Chinese New Year celebrations.

Shows an artist's impression of Chinese fire artist Cai Guo-Qiang's Fire Dragon snaking across Thames before leaping into the sky above the Turbine Hall.

Right: a quintessential Chinese creature - the dragon. Chinese fire artist Cai Guo-Qiang will launch his spectacular Chinese Fire Dragon at 7pm on the banks of the Thames © Tate

Possibly the biggest and most spectacular event to usher in the year of the sheep is at Tate Modern on Friday 31 when Chinese fire artist Cai Guo-Qiang launches his Chinese Fire Dragon.

This feast of fire and light will twist its way across the Thames via Blackfriars Bridge before snaking along the river on its way to the top of Tate Modern's chimney. It is scheduled to take little over a minute to execute so don't blink or you'll miss it.

Apart from being incredibly spectacular, the event also marks the launch of Tate & Egg Live - a series of live world premieres bringing together visual arts, music, theatre, film and dance, based at Tate Britain and Tate Modern.

Shows Chinese dragons dancing

Left: Chinese Dragon Dancing © BBC.

The Museum of East Asian Art in Bath seizes the Chinese New Year celebrations as an opportunity to commemorate its first decade. The first in a long series of exhibitions, Scales, Feathers and Fur: Animals in Chinese Art acknowledges the importance of creatures in the Chinese Zodiac by looking at the many representations of animals in the gallery's impressive Chinese collection.

Opening on February 4, it features a wealth of treasures ranging from Imperial dragon dishes from the Ming (1368-1664) and Quing (1664-1911) dynasties as well as pink coral elephants, jade monkeys and bronze cormorants.

Shows a detail of the fuzzy raptor fossil on display at the Natural History Museum, London.

Right: fuzzy raptor (detail). For the New Year weekend you can check out this little fella, get fortune cookies and a two for one deal at the Natural History Museum. Picture © Natural History Museum.

The Natural History Museum is currently giving an airing to the 'Fuzzy Raptor', one of its most precious and famous Chinese fossils, until May 5. Twelve similar fossilised remains, on loan from the Geological Museum of China, are currently on display with the 'dinobird', proving the 'missing link' between birds and dinosaurs.

Shows a woodcut of the Chinese Kitchen God

Left: the Kitchen God is a common sight in Chinese Kitchens. He keeps an eye on you throughout the year. © Museum of Asian Art.

For the Chinese New Year weekend, admission to the exhibition is available as a two for one offer. Weekend visitors will also be treated to fortune cookies, and there will be a special Chinese menu available in the restaurant. A Chinese calligrapher will also be on hand as well as Chinese lion dancers. The museum staff are also getting into the spirit of things with a special handling session to encourage children to examine sheep skulls in this, the Chinese year of the sheep.

At the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, a museum that has already won awards for its excellent Chinese Painting Gallery, an exhibition entitled The Four Seasons: An Exhibition of Chinese Painting, runs until May 25.

Shows a family enjoying Chinese New Year

Right: fun for all the family - Chinese New Year sees workshops and events to appeal to kids of all ages. © BBC.

The show is complimented on Saturday February 1 by the traditional lute, fiddle and flute playing of Lisha Li and Ming Li between 1 and 2pm. There will also be family and adult gallery talks focussing on the twelve creatures of the Chinese Zodiac and a dragon and lantern workshop for the kids in the afternoon.

Staying in Oxford, the Pitt Rivers Museum has a curiously Chinese flavour to events with their family dragon hunt. Boasting one of the finest anthropological collections in the country they should be able to turn up a surprising thing or two.

Shows Chinese landscape art by Chen Shaomei

Left:the calming effect of the seasons in Chinese landscape art - Chen Shaomei at the Ashmolean. © Ashmolean Museum.

Manchester has the second biggest Chinatown in the UK, so it's fitting that Manchester Art Gallery, which borders the city's Chinatown, is hosting a series of special events over the Chinese New Year Weekend.

On Sunday February 2 there will be a selection of oriental offerings including a calligraphy workshop, performances of Chinese songs and a Chinese Lion Dance featuring local school children. Artist Ruth Choo Northall will also be unveiling her specially designed window hangings in Education Studio 2.

The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester is launching a Myths and Monsters exhibition on February 8, with a lion dance parade complete with a blessing ceremony, and performances to celebrate Chinese New Year.For more information, contact the museum on 0161 832 2244.

shows the work of artist Lisa Cheung, who has created an exclusive installation for the Chinese Arts Centre

Right: to celebrate Chinese New Year, artist Lisa Cheung has created an exclusive installation for Chinese Arts Centre

shows Lisa Cheung's work, which explores notions of locality and our perception of the spaces that surround us.

Left: Lisa Cheung's work explores notions of locality and our perception of the spaces that surround us.

A similar contemporary theme is dealt with at the Chinese Art Centre with the remarkable lantern creations of artist Lisa Cheung. Made from found objects, the lanterns offer an interesting and challenging take on the abundant traditional decorations of the Chinese New Year.

Later in the month the gallery stays with the Chinese theme when it hosts the first UK exhibition from Xie Nanxing, one of China's foremost contemporary artists, opening on February 25.

Shows the entrance to Manchester Art Gallery.

Right: Manchester Art Gallery is well placed to partake in the New Year festivities © Manchester Art Gallery.

In Bournemouth the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum hosts 'Made in China' until March 9. This touring exhibition organised by the Chinese Arts Centre profiles the very best of contemporary design by artists, who were born and are currently practising, in mainland China.

An excellent permanent holding of Chinese objects and art can be found at the Oriental Museum of the University of Durham . It's a great place to celebrate and luxuriate in all things from the Orient and is the only museum in the UK entirely devoted to art and archaeology from oriental cultures.

Shows traditional Chinese lanterns

Left: traditonal Chinese lanterns.© BBC.

Elsewhere, Hertford Museum is holding a children's Chinese decoration workshop on February 1 from 2 'til 3.30pm and Abbey House Museum at Kirkstall near Leeds has a similar theme to their workshops on February 2 from 1 'til 3pm.

The Junior Museum Club at Hastings Museum will also be indulging in a spot of mask making and other Chinese New Year goodies on Saturday. There will be similar antics at the Saturday club of Greenwich Borough Museum, where kids will be celebrating the New Year in style with a Chinese arts and craft workshop.

But whatever Chinese New Year means to you, and it could be mah-jong, museums, firecrackers or fiery dragons, we wish you a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year.

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