February 17, 2007
Big Crowds, Greasy Noses and Rare Chinese Art
The National Palace Museum of Taipei holds the world's foremost collection of Chinese art, much of it never exhibited, much less lent to other museums. After a badly needed four year renovation project, the formerly-dowdy museum has reopened with a blockbuster show that displays some of the rarest and most valuable works from its vaults, said to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The crowds are understandably big which is always a challenge for anyone trying to enjoy art but the Taipei show presents an additional obstacle: nose grease. The entire show is presented in darkened rooms and everything is behind glass (owing to the fragile nature of the works). After you fight your way to the front of the throng of people, you discover that every pane of glass protecting the artwork is dotted with nose grease. Yes, Chinese paintings and calligraphy often require closer examinations to see their exquisite details, but still it's not necessary to plaster your greasy face against the glass like so many people were doing. The oily residuals blur the view of the details and all I could do was try to look around them. But there were so many nosey smudges to try to look around that it was distracting, frustrating and kind of disgusting. At one point my eyes just glazed over and all I saw were the nose prints (kind of like when your camera struggles to focus and end up focusing on something in the foreground).
I don't know if the museum wipes down the glass every night (let's hope so), but on the chance that it does, you should plan your visit right as the museum opens in the morning (9am every day).
- Grand View: Painting, Calligraphy and Juu Ware of the Northern Sung Dynasty and Sung Dynasty [National Palace Museum Official Site]
- Rare Glimpses of China’s Long-Hidden Treasures [NYTimes.com]
 Less shabby now, but let's just say it's no Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nevertheless, the works on display are indisputably magnificent.