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Display of Chinese Art Boosts Image of Midwestern City

February 27, 1989 GMT

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ Organizers hope an exhibition opening Wednesday of 26 centuries of Chinese art will propel this central Ohio city into the cultural major leagues.

″It’s a major statement, showing that Columbus can back its cultural exhibitions,″ said Dorothy Brownley, who helped raise more than $3.3 million for the exhibit titled ″Son of Heaven: Imperial Arts of China.″

The display of 225 pieces of Chinese art and artifacts dating to the 4th century B.C. runs through Sept. 4.

Some say the fanfare surrounding the show could generate support for other, large-scale art exhibitions.

″This city is entering into a larger arena for the arts,″ said Merribell Parsons, the exhibit’s director and head of the Columbus Museum of Art.

The show features objects from the palaces of 2,600 years of Chinese emperors and kings. They were lent mostly by museums in Beijing and eight Chinese provinces.

Included are life-sized terra-cotta horses and warrior sculptures from the tomb of China’s first emperor; 2,500-year-old cooking vessels and temple bells; delicate scroll paintings from the 15th century; and a 2nd-century jade burial suit.

Some of the items were found in recent archeological digs in China, Ms. Parsons said.

″Son of Heaven″ was China’s term for its emperors, believed to be the human link to Heaven.

″It’s a very, very important record of Chinese cultural history and its art,″ Washington University art professor Robert Thorp said recently. Thorp helped lead the collaboration of the Chinese government and a U.S. organizing committee that created the exhibit.

The importance of ″Son of Heaven″ hasn’t been lost on Columbus.

More than a week before the opening, about 85,000 tickets had been sold at $4.50 to $12.50, said exhibit spokeswoman Pat Cramer.

Columbus schoolchildren were learning ancient Chinese history to prepare for field trips, and Ohio State University added a series of ″Son of Heaven″ lectures to its continuing education curriculum.

A downtown department store since last fall has devoted a section of its first floor to ″Son of Heaven″ sweatshirts, T-shirts and mugs.

An empty downtown school was loaned by the city and converted for the show into a five-gallery, 40,000-square-foot exhibition hall. It even contains a cafeteria for visitors and a hospitality suite for donors.


Not that the arts generally go ignored in Columbus, a city of slightly more than half a million that supports a professional orchestra, ballet company, opera company and theater troupe.

But this exhibition has been compared to the ″Treasures of Tutankhamun,″ the ancient Egyptian collection that drew millions of vistors during a U.S. tour that included Chicago more than a decade ago.

The success of ″Tut″ may have helped generate support for later, major exhibits in Chicago, including a display of Pompeiian art at the Art Institute and another Egyptian show that opened at the Field Museum of Chicago last November, said that museum’s Egyptian consultant, Frank Yurco.

The Field Museum sold 47,000 new memberships during ″Tut’s″ four-month stay there in 1977, said spokewoman Barbara Scott.

Organizers in Columbus hope to capitalize on a similar wave of public interest to draw at least 500,000 visitors to ″Son of Heaven.″ Proceeds must meet an estimated $6.35 million in expenses, they say.

About 500,000 people saw ″Son of Heaven″ last year in Seattle - the show’s only other stop in the United States.

As for future projects in Columbus, who knows?

The Columbus Museum of Art is toying with the idea of trying to raise $60 million to $80 million for an expansion by the year 2000.

″It’s possible,″ Ms. Parsons said. ″After this (exhibit), I really think it’s possible.″