“China: 5,000 Years”

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York

It isn’t easy to mount a terrible show in which each piece of art is absolutely fantastic. But until one has confronted the reality of “China: 5,000 Years,” one cannot imagine either how good the material or how bad every curatorial decision (assuming that there were some curatorial decisions) could be. There are some successes here: the museum staff have done an able job, for example, with the lighting of the show; and no fair-minded review could skip mention of the handsome display cases made specifically for the exhibition. It’s a shame, though, that “China: 5,000 Years” is incoherent, misleading, patronizing of the culture it ostensibly celebrates, politically expedient, and hypocritical.

To understand the context of the Guggenheim’s survey, one must go back a couple of years to another exhibition. In 1996, after a decade of planning, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened an exhibition

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