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EXPERT ADVISORY: CHINESE CULTURAL HERITAGE

June 11, 2008

The approaching 2008 Olympics in China casts the spotlight on the country’s people and rich cultural heritage. As you prepare your China coverage, consider the following story ideas and experts from the Getty:

The China Principles
Relative isolation meant inconsistent conservation approaches resulting in varying states of decay for precious cultural sites.  Now the Getty’s new collaboration with the Chinese Government turns back the clock.
China has had no consistent national plan to save its rich cultural tradition which extends back some 5,000 years. As the nation emerges from fifty years of relative isolation, rapid economic development, social mobility, changing mores, increasing tourism—both local and international— and general decay pose challenges to these sites. The Getty Conservation Institute, working with China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage and the Australian Heritage Commission, has helped to develop The China Principles, a set of guidelines which document approaches to conservation and management of cultural heritage sites within a Chinese context now being put into practice at selected sites in China. 

Mogao Grottoes
An ancient set of painted cliff caves containing the largest body of Buddhist art in China are finally seeing the light of day, thanks to the work of Getty conservators and others who have uncovered and conserved some of these precious paintings depicting the pageant of Chinese life.

The Mogao Grottoes, a World Heritage Site on the Silk Road, is located near the ancient town of Dunhuang in northwestern China. Dating from the fourth to the fourteenth centuries, the ancient Buddhist site contains 492 decorated caves temples excavated into 1.6 kilometers of cliff face. The site includes some 45,000 square meters of wall paintings that capture the pageant of Chinese life and customs spanning a millennium, as well as more than 2,400 polychromed sculptures, comprising the largest body of Buddhist art in China. When the wall paintings began to seriously decay, the Getty Conservation Institute, collaborating with The Dunhuang Academy in China, began to work to identify and understand the causes of deterioration of the wall paintings and to design conservation strategies across the site.  That work means some of these paintings are now being seen clearly for the first time in hundreds of years – and will now be saved to be seen by future generations.

Imperial Mountain Resort at Chengde
A Qing Dynasty Imperial Resort perched in the Mountains of Chengde could have been lost to history, but a successful partnership between the Getty and local heritage officials has meant new discoveries in saving historic painted surfaces on wooden architecture.

The Imperial Mountain Resort at Chengde, the summer resort of the Qing dynasty emperors located north of Beijing in Hebei Province, includes Shuxiang Temple, a largely unrestored Buddhist shrine.  Decorating the inside of imperial wooden structure are deteriorating layers of plaster and fiber painted with colorful patterns and motifs. These crumbling paintings represent a rare example of period architectural painting. After decades of neglect, The Getty Conservation Institute, in collaboration with the Chengde Cultural Heritage Bureau and the Hebei Province Cultural Heritage Bureau, is working to save them and developing a broad approach to the conservation of architectural decorative painting.  The conservation of historic painted surfaces on wooden architecture is a relatively new field in China, and the findings at Shuxiang will have implications for other cultural heritage sites throughout the country.

Experts:
Jeffrey W. Cody, Getty Conservation Institute
Expertise:  20th Century Architectural/Urban History of China, 19th Century Photography in China

Cody has a Ph.D. in architectural history (Cornell, 1989) and has researched, taught about and published widely in the field of 20th century architectural and urban history of China (e.g., Building in China, University of Washington Press, 2001; Exporting American Architecture, 1870-2000, Routledge, 2003). He is currently managing a GCI Education project in Southeast Asia that seeks to build greater professional capacities for mid-career conservation specialists working with the challenges associated with conserving historic architecture and archaeological sites throughout the region. In the next couple of years, this initiative will take the form of workshops, forums and retreats geared to practitioners and educators in Southeast Asia. A Mandarin speaker who conducted research for his Ph.D. in Shanghai during 1987-1988, Cody taught architectural history in the Department of Architecture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he was a full professor before moving to the GCI in September 2004. He is co-curating, with Dr. Frances Terpak of the Getty Research Institute, an exhibition of historic photographs of China, which will open at the GRI in 2010. He is currently Senior Project Specialist in the GCI Education Department. 

Martha Demas, Getty Conservation Institute
Expertise:  The China Principles, Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites

Martha Demas received her doctorate in archaeology and master's in historic preservation planning. She joined the Getty Conservation Institute in 1990. Since 1997, she has served as co-manager for the China Principles project, aimed at developing and applying professional guidelines for conservation practice in China. Her other international project work and publications have focused on conservation and management of archaeological sites.  She is currently Senior Project Specialist in the Field Projects department at the GCI. 

Neville Agnew, Getty Conservation Institute
Expertise: The China Principles, Heritage Conservation in China

Neville Agnew joined the Getty Conservation Institute in January 1988.  He has led the initiative in China since its beginning in 1989. His long association with heritage conservation in China has resulted in a number of awards:  The Friendship Award of the State Council in 2000; the International Scientific and Technological Cooperation Award of the PRC in 2005; and awards from Gansu Province and the Dunhuang Academy. He is currently Principal Project Specialist in the Field Projects department of the GCI. 

Marcia Reed, Getty Research Institute
Expertise: Chinese Works on Paper from the Late Ming and Early Qing Dynasties in China

Marcia Reed is head of Collection Development at the Research Library at the Getty Research

Institute. She recently co-curated the exhibition, China on Paper, which featured European and Chinese works on paper from the GRI special collections (illustrated books, prints and maps) from the early modern period in Europe or late Ming and early Qing dynasties in China.   These materials paint a fascinating picture of how the early Western missionaries and the Chinese people saw each other.

Frances Terpak, Getty Research Institute
Expertise:  History of Photography in China, 19th Century Photography in China

Frances Terpak is Senior Collections Curator at the Research Library at the Getty Research Institute. She curated the 1998 exhibition Framing the Asian Shore: Nineteenth-Century Photographs of the Ottoman Empire.  Terpak is currently working on an exhibition on 19th-century photography in China with GCI colleague Jeff Cody called Ti and Jung
slated to open at the Getty Center in November 2010.

Permanent Collection Highlights
The Getty Villa Museum also boasts as part of its permanent collection the “Hall of Athletes.”  Victorious athletes won honor and fame for themselves and their families, and winners often received prizes, including olive wreaths at Olympia, laurel wreaths at Delphi, and special terracotta vessels filled with sacred olive oil at Athens – one of which resides in the Getty Museum’s collection.  Also featured in the Getty Villa’s Hall of Athletes is the Victorious Youth statue, depicting the athlete in his moment of glory crowned with a victor’s wreath, mosaics bearing images of celebrated athletes, and other items celebrating athletic prowess. 

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MEDIA CONTACTS:
Melissa Abraham
Getty Communications
310-440-6861
mabraham@getty.edu 

About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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