June 14, 2014, The Royal Ontario Museum treated its Members to a private lecture on The Making of The Forbidden City. Hosted in the Signy and Cléophée Eaton Theatre, over 200 ROM Members were in attendance. Dr. Chen Shen and David Hollands – two of the many masterminds behind our current blockbuster exhibition, spent the morning walking Members though the complex and in depth process of curating an exhibition of this magnitude and exquisite nature.
Dr. Shen began the lecture by outlining the conception of The Forbidden City which began in 2012; he met with staff at the Palace Museum in Beijing to discuss the possibility of acquiring objects from their imperial Collections to bring to the ROM. The initial ask is intricate, Shen alluded. The Imperial Collection has over 1.8 million objects – narrowing down the top prospects involved a great deal of research; on how the ROM would narrate the objects, on how the objects would connect with each other in the grandeur of the exhibition, and ultimately on what grounds the object would reflect The Forbidden City. Once the objects were selected “we gave them a wish list”, says Shen jokingly
Moving forward with the production of the exhibition, Shen detailed its course of action, team requirements, and the legalities of bringing objects to Toronto from Beijing. He also elaborates on the projects highlights, and inevitably the projects challenges; like how to effectively display the rare $37 million (USD) chicken cup or how to relevantly frame the selected objects, like the Emperor’s dog garment. The objects within the exhibition are strategically positioned to parallel everyday objects – to connect us to those of the Forbidden City.
The Royal Ontario Museum and The Palace Museum have worked in tandem for the last two years to make The Forbidden City: Inside the Courts of China's Emperors everything it is today. Even beyond its initial conception, The Palace Museum has had a heavy hand in the exhibits technical execution says David Hollands. From sharing their innovative exhibition practices, to playing a pivotal role in carrying out our narrative – the Palace Museum was there for it’s making.
Furthermore, Hollands walked ROM Members through the exhibitions visuals. Did you know the red square outlining the exhibition’s title in the logo is more than just aesthetic? It’s representative of the 26 ft high wall that retains the palace until this day.
Visual imagery played a large role during the making of The Forbidden City – Hollands and the ROM team exhausted every outlet to unveil as much as The Forbidden City as possible. The exhibition features multiple opportunities for Members and visitors to explore people, places and things through audio and video. Hollands et al. even looked to Chinese soap operas on romance in the Forbidden City for inspiration on how to humanize the stories you’ll read about here at the exhibition. The interpretive plan outlined by the projects team lies at the center of the exhibition; sharing the stories of those within the enclave was something the ROM felt strongly about.
Overall a fantastic morning with our Members. Join today & belong at the ROM!