Follow VMFA on trip of a lifetime for Terracotta Army

Alex Nyerges, Director, Photo: Katherine Wetzel © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

By Alex Nyerges, VMFA Director

If someone gave me a plane ticket today to go anywhere, I’d immediately hop on a plane to China, probably without even pausing to pack a suitcase. Of course, I’d bring along my lovely wife, my son, and my new daughter-in-law to share in this experience halfway around the world.

I’d want to take as many art and archaeology lovers as I could, because I’ve yet to find a place on earth that offers anything comparable to the deep, rich history and culture of China.

My international and domestic travel is shaped largely by my commitment to bring compelling, thought-provoking exhibitions to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Right now, I’m en route to China for a trip organized by VMFA in support of our current major exhibition, Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China, which opened on November 18 and runs through March 11.

Joining us for this two-city tour are several Greater Richmond journalists, who—through what we expect will be poignant reports and breathtaking imagery— will help us tell the Qin story and what makes this a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition for Virginians. Granted, part of my job is to promote new installations, but I promise you’ll be blown away by this exhibition, which traces the development of the Qin culture from about 2,200 years ago, First Emperor Shihuang’s ascension to power after unifying China, and, ultimately, his quest for immortality.

At the centerpiece of this exhibition—and what’s generated a lot of excitement across the Commonwealth and beyond—are 10 life-size terracotta figures that are on display at VMFA. As I think about the effort that went into developing this exhibition with more than a dozen Chinese museums, archaeological institutes and other cultural partners, I must credit VMFA’s own Li Jian, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Curator of East Asian Art, for her negotiations to secure this important exhibition.

The discovery of these terracotta figures is one of the greatest archaeological findings of the 20th century. Many people, who made the journey to see them in China, have remarked on how impressive it is to see them in person. Our exhibition offers that opportunity to people who might not be able to travel overseas. For those who have travelled, our installation offers a unique opportunity for a closer look.

Like the exhibition, this trip has been designed to bring together different chapters in the Qin story. We’ll visit galleries which have artifacts that illustrate this rich culture and help explain why the First Emperor was such an important political and cultural innovator. We’ll speak with our partner agencies about how ancient Chinese cultural history fits in with world civilization. And, as one of many trip highlights, we’ll visit the Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum to see the burial pits, where archaeologists continue to work and  learn more about this fascinating culture and its lasting impact on our contemporary world.

While I wish each of you could join us on this journey to China, we hope you’ll travel along virtually as we share behind-the-scenes stories about Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China. We’ll provide blog updates, as well as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts, so I hope you are following all of our social channels. Plus, we’ll hope to give snapshots of the sights and sensations of a week in China, from the food and architecture to the landscape and people we meet.

I hope you will join us virtually on this amazing journey. And, to experience the next best thing, you can purchase your tickets now­­­­—always free for VMFA members—to see Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China. 

For additional information about the exhibition: Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China.