An experimental exhibition dedicated to the Tang dynasty (China, Tángcháo, 618-907)
in collaboration with Galleria Ajassa in Turin, the Chinese photographer Ma Sen and Concorde (Nelly Hoffman + Carlo Prada)
25 January – 23 February 2024

So far as I can recall, the Tang Dynasty is the highlight of the history scroll. The establishment of a unified multi-ethnic state ended a long period of fragmentation. With a stable political structure, the Tang Dynasty’s economy, culture, science and technology achieved an unprecedented level. With the development of the city’s commodity economy, urban inhabitants of the Tang Dynasty had a thriving demand for cultural and recreational entertainment, and the development of cultural customs reached a peak period. In the open and tolerant city of Chang’an, Luoyang, the Han people and the Hu people lived in harmony, and Hu music and dance and the silk and bamboo pipes and the strings competed with each other. Poetry and wine competitions, singing and dancing throughout the day and night, horse riding and hunting, the entertainment of the literati and painters were needless to mention. Spring tours, flower appreciation, lantern observation, trick-begging and other leisure and recreational activities also emerged with a female presence. At the same time, the exchange and integration of various ethnic cultures injected new vitality into the field of literature and art, displaying rich and diversified artistic qualities of the times. In such an open and tolerant era, rich in vitality and creativity, the Tang Dynasty flourished in poetry, painting, sculpture and other arts, emerging numerous exquisite masterpieces.

Wandering in the solemnity of the Buddha among their looks, I hold my breath, and gathered my mind, staring in the silence of the soundless solidification of the moment of time and space interlaced; lingering in the vivid and lively Tang Sancai Hu man on horseback statue, as if I was standing on the walls of Chang’an, allowing the breeze to brush my face, listening to the camel bells jingle, and outside the city gates stepping a vast caravan of Hu people coming from the Silk Road. The novelties flowing into the night market, women dressed in light dresses, wandering together, sweet laughter intertwined with the noisy yells drumming up a burst of noise; wandering in the Tang Dynasty magnificent and fantastic poetry, I indulged in my thoughts, roaming freely. To see a young man pleased in spring, brightly dressed, seeing all the flowers of Chang’an in one day. Drinking and exchanging glass, barefooted Hu Ji dancing and whirling with the rhythmic beat of the soaring drums. Li Taibai was drunk, dancing with a sword, his wide robe and big sleeves were fluttering, and he waved a brush and wrote a famous chapter for the ages. Exhausted, glad to return. I was walking along the river, peaceful and calm, relaxed, hearing the sound of waves slowly, seeing the river connected with the sky. Wide river surface supporting a round of bright moon, rippling river waves sending silver moonlight, leisurely swaying, in a daze, I and Zhang Ruoxu roaming side by side, and sharing the light of the river and the moon. However, the river and the moon are the same as usual, things are unpredictable. The lights of all houses are out, and the fierce beacon fires last for a long time. The grass, trees, flowers and birds that come with spring are not enjoyed, adding to the sorrow and worry.

The great Tang cannot escape from the fateful cycle in the history of prosperity and decline. From the solid start of the reign of Zhenguan period, to the glory of the flourishing era of the Kaiyuan period, but ultimately slipped into the “Separation of government and military power, eunuch dictatorship,” the chaotic situation, ending hastily! This magnificent dynasty is gone, the prosperity is scattered, turning to be far away, but it has become my lingering dream. Although the Grand Canal no longer exists, it remains a silent narrative of historical memory. Along the Silk Road, you can also find the traces of the Tang Dynasty. Although the Tang Dynasty relics on display in the museums have been washed away by the river of time, they still give people a glimpse of the majesty and splendor of the Tang Dynasty. The statues of the Tang Dynasty in the Longmen Grottoes are majestic and vigorous, transcending the staid and rigid traditional styling, with full-bodied figures and smooth curves showing the vitality of the millennium. Nowadays, there are countless literary and artistic works about the Tang Dynasty, and movie and television works, novels and commentaries hold our romantic imagination of the Tang Dynasty. For me, the Tang Dynasty is not a dusty past or a buried history, it is more like a vivid and wonderful dream, which carries all my romantic hopes and transforms into an intimate and far-away utopia.

– Ma Sen

The text was written on the occasion of the exhibition entitled 唐朝,唐朝, an experimental exhibition dedicated to the Tang dynasty (China, Tángcháo, 618-907) developed in collaboration with Galleria Ajassa in Turin, the Chinese photographer Ma Sen, and Concorde, an experimental duo formed by Nelly Hoffman and Carlo Prada.

The Tang dynasty is believed to have been the cradle of Chinese civilisation, i.e. the era in which, in the wake of significant economic expansion, Chinese artistic and cultural production reached its peak. Yet, like any historical phenomenon, this too can reveal unusual features when observed from different temporal, geographical or social perspectives. 唐朝 therefore weaves together three visions, corresponding to as many experiences. That of two gallery owners, Aldo and Susanna Ajassa, who have been dealing with ancient Chinese art for more than four decades. That of Concorde’s radical display, which tries to rethink the aesthetic codes within which antiquities are presented, without thereby failing in display fairness. And that of a Chinese photographer, Ma Sen, foreign to the rituals of Western gallery art, but a first-hand witness, through words and images, of an indigenous cultural phenomenon, fundamental for his own human and artistic formation. Three subjects, therefore, offering three distant yet complementary readings of a complex and fascinating cultural scenario.

Ajassa gallery, specialized in chinese antiques, was founded in 1980 in Turin by siblings Aldo and Susanna Ajassa. The gallery concentrates its activity on archeology with a particular interest in the terracotta of the Han and Tang era, on early period furniture where the lacquered pieces of the Ming era catch the eye, on paintings and porcelain from the Song dynasty to the beginning of the Qing dynasty. The gallery takes part in the most important antique shows and organizes exhibitions on its own premises.

Ma Sen is an associate Professor at the Department of Information Art and Design, Academy of Fine Arts, Tsinghua University.  He graduated from the Beijing Film Academy and held a Master’s Degree in Photography. His artistic commitment lies in utilizing photography to safeguard and explore China’s traditional folk crafts, capturing the timeless evolution of these millennium-old art forms amidst the hustle and bustle of contemporary society. 

Concorde offers an alternative interpretation of the everyday and its supposed banality, revealing its aesthetic potential. It restores, alters or subtracts the function of objects to show their playful, mocking and sometimes hostile side. The space and its elements are presented as doppelgängers that disregard the user’s expectations by insinuating doubt. The courtly and pop references, the office and the art gallery, the gymnasium and the Renaissance furnishings, coexist in an imagery that aspires to a dialogue between colliding categories: haute époque marries hi-tech while artificial grass grows in the home. Founded in 2021 by Nelly Hoffmann and Carlo Prada, Concorde is based in Milan.