Melbourne: Terracotta Warriors Return to the NGV

China’s ancient terracotta warriors are back at the National Gallery of Victoria for the first time in a generation.

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Bernard O'Riordan

China’s 2,300-year-old Terracotta Warriors are back in Melbourne for a landmark exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria – almost four decades since they first captivated Australian audiences.

Eight warriors never before seen in Australia, along with 150 ancient Chinese treasures, feature in the winter blockbuster, which is already proving to be a box office hit for the state gallery.

Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality and Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape opened at the NGV on May 24 and runs until October 13.

Warriors of the Terracotta Army have previously been in Sydney twice (1983 and 2010) and Melbourne once (1982), when the NGV became the first gallery in the world to show the figures outside China.

One of the most significant archaeological finds of the 20th century.

The stars of the latest exhibition are eight life-sized warrior figures, two life-sized horses, and two half-size chariots: part of an army of thousands that China’s ruthless first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, had made to accompany him into the afterlife. (His other great legacy was the Great Wall.)

The ancient artefacts were part of the emperor’s mausoleum uncovered by a group of peasant farmers digging for water in 1974, and represent one of the most significant archaeological finds of the 20th century.

Since then, more than 8,000 life-sized terracotta warriors have been discovered near the city of Xi’an.


Because just eight Terracotta Warriors are being shown in Melbourne, the NGV decided to house each one in a glass cabinet with reflective mirrors.

It’s a smart way to provide a sense of depth and vastness.


The Terracotta Army itself is a perfect reproduction of Qin Shihuangdi’s all-conquering forces. There are light infantry, cavalrymen, archers, heavy infantry and senior officers to command them.

And each has subtle differences in clothing, hairstyles and facial features. Some wear their hair in plaits, others have it swept up into a top knot while some wear soft caps.

The shape and size of their noses, eyes and beards also varies.

The Terracotta Army might be a prized archaeological find from the past, but the NGV also has an eye on the future.

That’s why it’s presenting the Terracotta Warriors alongside new works from contemporary Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang.

Guo-Qiang is known for his use of traditional Chinese materials like gun powder, porcelain, silk and paper in his modern works.

The showstopper this winter is a stunning installation of 10,000 porcelain starlings suspended in a synchronised movement known as a murmuration.

As you’ll see in video below, each porcelain starling was scorched black from gun powder explosions, before the painstaking task of hanging them began.

It took a team of gallery staff using cherry pickers several days to carefully install the art work.

The Exhibition

Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality and Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape is on display from May 24 to October 13, 2019.

Where: The National Gallery of Victoria, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne.

Cost: $30 adults, $10 children aged 5-15 and $25 concession. There's also a family ticket (2 adults and 3 children) for $65.

Pay with Amex and you'll get 15% off the advertised price.

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Terracotta High Tea 

For something different, the Sofitel on Collins is hosting Terracotta Warriors & High Tea at $99 per person during the exhibition. The menu is influenced by the flavours of China and includes red bean curd and white chocolate bombe on coconut shortbread, matcha tartlets, pandan creme brûlé and hoisin roast chicken sandwiches, among other delicacies.

© 2019 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved 




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