Dialogue@ZJU: With Prof. BAI Qianshen, director of ZJUMAA

2020-07-09 Global Communications

[Message from the editor: Since the opening of Zhejiang University Museum of Art and Archeology (ZJUMAA) in 2019, ZJUMAA has become one of best places to go on the campus visit to ZJU. Recently we interviewed Prof. BAI Qianshen, director of ZJUMAA, and asked some questions about the Museum and the latest exhibition.]

Q1: What is the founding purpose of ZJUMAA?

BAI: ZJUMAA is a teaching museum, designed for serving the general education of the university. The world’s top universities, such as Harvard University, Yale University, and Princeton University, all have their own teaching museums. But in China, this is yet a new practice.

As a teaching museum, our primary aim is to provide the general education of art history and archaeology to our students. For undergraduates, we provide such courses as Chinese Art History, Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and Western Art History. We aim to bring our students to the museum to see the real art objects so they can experience their real attraction, beauty, and materiality, as well as sense their weight and their trace of carving. This is not something one could feel in front of a screen, is it?

For graduate students, we hold seminars by taking out artworks directly from the storage room and discuss them in detail. Graduate students can also participate in the exhibitions curated by our faculties and guest curators.

To train professionals in art history and archeology is our mission too, who can pursue a career in working at museums or teaching at universities art history and related disciplines as archaeology, cultural heritage and preservation.

Finally, as a teaching museum, we also provide wider service by opening to the public. People of all walks can come to see our exhibitions.

Q2: On June 12 ZJUMAA puts on a special new exhibit “Grace and Gradeur: Memories of Yungang Grottoes through a century”. What is this exhibit all about?

BAI:Broadly, the Yungang exhibition includes two parts: items and literature review. The first part shows the newly excavated items from Yungang grottoes. They are open to the public for the first time. There is also a scholarly catalogue being prepared by the curators that will have research essays and entries that discuss those items. The other part is the literature review, which gives the scholarly content to the exhibition. There are the old photographs made in the early 20th century when the Japanese scholar first reported Yungang grottoes. Then we showcase the research done by Chinese and European scholars on the Northern Wei architecture. You will see the buildup of the scholarships, layer by layer, generation by generation, spanning from Japan to China to Europe. We show how scholarships have developed and accumulated. This is actually what we call a special show with scholarly content, or a scholarly exhibition. 

Q3: One of the highlights is a full-size digitized replica of one of the caves in Yungang Grottoes by using 3D printing technology. What is the significance of such a painstaking project which took six years to complete?

BAI: I want to share some of my thoughts about the digitalization of cultural relics before commenting on the digitalization and 3D printing of the Yungang Caves. The digitalization of cultural relics has two important functions. It first helps preserve objects. It is extremely hard to have cultural relics preserved to the present through natural calamities and man-made disasters across time. We use digitalization to document their time points, although one has to admit that the invention of photography had brought revolutionary changes to our documentation of cultural relics. Digitalization, however, makes documentation more accurate and more easily kept. Cultural relics erode with time, so we keep the digital documentation. This documentation can also help with our conservation of other relics like architecture if once damaged. The other function of digitalization is to use 3D printing technology to make copies of artworks. This is very important to the mobility of the objects. For example, the 3D printed Cave 12 of the Yungang show at the ZJUMAA makes the exhibit movable for travel exhibitions. Although the Yungang Caves can receive a great numbers of visitors every year, there are still many people who cannot visit the site in person given their economic or physical concerns. The movable 3D replica can thus offer a wider audience the beauty of the caves. From the two perspectives above, the Yungang Research Institute and the Zhejiang University Research Team for the Digitalization of Cultural Heritage have done very meaningful work.


The 3D replica of Yungang Grottoes now “moveable” around the world

A tour to ZJUMAA on International Museum Day 2020