National Museum of Scotland

Ming China in Contemporary Scotland

This presentation will look at the experiences and challenges of bringing an exhibition on the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) to the National Museum of Scotland (NMS) in Edinburgh. Ming: The Golden Empire was held at the NMS from 27 June to 19 October 2014. The exhibition was very well received by both the media and the public, and it bought unique and rare artefacts from the collections of the Nanjing Museum half way across to world to a new audience in Scotland. The exhibition came to Edinburgh through an intermediary company - an exhibition and design company based in Edinburgh and Chengdu called Nomad. This company now works with a number of Chinese museums to develop and promote exhibitions internationally.

This presentation will examine some of the lessons learned from working through a third party exhibition company; the particular curatorial challenges of working with an exhibition developed on a commercial and not primarily on a curatorial or scholarly basis; as well as the challenges of marketing and making accessible the culture and history of a unique period of Chinese history to a non-specialist audience in a museum institution which is not an art museum or an Asian art museum. What in other words were the key challenges for an exhibition curator in soundly articulating and making accessible a culturally complex and nuanced historical period of Chinese history to a museum audience which may have had very little prior knowledge of or encounter with Chinese history, visual or material culture.

As a corollary of the experiences outlined above, this presentation will also seek to situate the experience of working on this exhibition project within a wider reflection on what it might mean for external museums hoping to work with Chinese museum and cultural institutions in a rapidly growing and transforming Chinese museum sector over the next five to ten years. This presentation will conclude by asking what the future might hold for external museum professionals hoping to work with and build links with Chinese colleagues, and what do Chinese museum professionals in turn hope to gain from working with external museum institutions and colleagues. And what might the future hold in developing exhibition projects with a China which now views culture as among other things a major strategic industry, and a powerful developmental force.