WU Hang 吳蘅
Nanjing Museum

International Museum Collaborations: More than Traveling Exhibitions

Exhibitions are a major channel for museums to conduct international collaborations. In the past, a quite usual approach for Chinese museums to conduct international exhibition collaboration was to loan objects. In this way, Chinese objects are interpreted in a western narrative, which sometimes may deprive them from the meanings, contexts, and discourse they originally contain. Another frequently adopted model was to loan an entire exhibition. In this way, the stories are often told in a way that has no appealing to the local audience.

Nanjing Museum has been exploring new approaches to conduct international exhibition collaboration. For example, the Treasures of China exhibition, which was held in Colchester Museum in UK in 2012, invited ten school students from UK to China to pick their favorite objects from Nanjing Museum's numerous collections. Based on their choice, museum curators added other objects to form the whole exhibition. This approach introduced an audience view in the exhibition curation. Moreover, the opportunity provided by this exhibition to travel to China to encounter with Chinese culture has become a great life experience for these students. Encouraged by this success, we are now extending the project - next February, a group of ten Chinese students will travel to Essex, UK to select their favorite artefacts from Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service's collection to form an exhibition to be held in Nanjing Museum.

To get help from local media to warm up the local audience of the exhibition venue seems a good practice. Nanjing Museum loaned an exhibition on the Ming Dynasty to Die Neuwe Kerk in Amsterdam in 2013. The local audience had very little knowledge about Chinese history and culture. Except for the blue and white porcelain, they knew nothing about the Ming. Our solution was to have a group of journalists from local media to come to Nanjing to see the collection, the museum, the city, and the culture with their own eyes. After their return, the local audience in Amsterdam was able to access the information and knowledge about the Ming, the theme of this exhibition before the opening.

The ideal approach, but also a more challenging one, rather than to loan just objects or an entire exhibition, is to employ co-curation. Curators from both sides work together on theme selection, exhibits picking, and exhibition development. An effective way to initiate such collaboration is to find a common point in mutual interest, for example the similarities in collection, or the link in time period.