Posts Tagged ‘museums’

Li Lanqing, British Museum

Posted 19 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Art, Reviews, Share

I called in at the box of delights which is the British Museum on my way to meet some friends in London last week. I like picking a theme when I go, as it’s otherwise impossible to choose where to go, and you end up stumbling from room to room in a kind of nostalgic daze, feeling progressively smaller and smaller as the treasures increase in scale. This time I decided to head to the Americas before anything else, and meandered through the Aztecs, the Arctic and the North American collections.

Before long I found myself predictably off-piste and gazing at a small temporary exhibition in the Far East rooms, 5 or 6 small cabinets containing a collection of of contemporary Chinese seals by Li Lanqing.


Li is an engigmatic figure in modern Chinese politics; he served as Vice Premier of the State Council of China from 1993 to 2003 and played a crucial role in both the opening up of the State economically and the development of national education. Since his retirement from politics he’s turned his energy to the promotion of his two passions – classical music and seal-carving. The latter, one of the four traditional chinese art-forms (along with calligraphy, painting and poetry) is a truly ancient art, and Li’s interest illustrates the dichotomy present in his personal politics; he is a deeply modern man who is simultaneously respectful of tradition. Consequently his seals, which look at first to be deeply conventional, display a great deal of depth – often international in outlook, often witty and wise, always imbued with his passion for life, and very much of the twentieth and twenty first centuries.

His passions shine through; there are stunningly beautifully wrought expressions and aphorisms (the tiny, contained ‘Eat like an ant’ and the wide, spare ‘My heart calm as the water’), and tributes to great figures like Dickens, Goethe and Cervantes. His ‘Opera Disc’ seal, with its use of the English language subverts the geographic specificity of his usual work.

One seal, Baiting Roast Duck Restaurant (Bad Officials are Examined by an Illiterate Person), provides a great example of Li’s playfulness. Featuring some strokes carved to print in red and some in white, the seal mimics a malfunctioning neon sign with half it’s lights out. Moreover, each colour’s message reads differently; the white a traditional advertisement for a famous Beijing restaurant, the white a critique of hapless officials.

It’s a lovely small exhibition, and a little, light-filled window into a big, powerful, slow-changing, subtle China.

The joy of toys

Posted 16 May 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Observations, Share

I might compile a list of the places in Brighton that I feel ashamed of having never visited, and just get them all done. It’s utterly ludicrous that I could have lived here all those years and never, until Friday, visited the Brighton Toy and Model Museum, which is an absolute treasure trove of joy and pseudo-nostalgia. Not only was the Muesum, as part of the Festival season, open late specially, but the marvellous 0 and 00 guage train set was up and running.

Me, Sam and Dan circled it hungrily, wanting to reach out and touch, while Laura looked tolerantly on and scribbled in her notebook. I like the furniture best, I decided, the level crossings, roadsigns and brick red pillar boxes. Through one window I admire a model landscape more reverently than I do the rolling downs on my daily commute.

I hear Sam talking loudly. He and Dan have stopped by a cabinet containing a model helicoper. “Why does it have twin rotor blades?”, Dan is wondering. And Sam is off. “Well actually”, he says, “the vast majority of Soviet helicopters had twin rotors. The second was introduced to counteract the effects of torque on the single blade…”. I can’t bear it. I don’t care if Sam is right or not. I denounce him as a bullshitter, loudly. Behind him a couple of children, who were listening attentively, look disappointed. Sam is now a pariah in their eyes.

They eye him angrily.

Our enthusiasm for the toys is not infectious. After a while – when we’re on our third lap of the exhibits – Laura announces that she’s going to head off and leave us to it. She does. The men are left to their toys. We grin at each other.

“Pub?”, we muse.

“Pub”, we agree.