Traveling Exhibition

China's 8 Brokens
Puzzles of the Treasured Past

Curator: Nancy Berliner, Wu Tung Curator of Chinese Art

Number of Objects: Approximately 40

This is the first-ever exhibition dedicated to bapo (or “eight brokens”) painting, an innovative artistic genre that emerged in China during the mid-19th century. Eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture, and “brokens” refers to the damaged cultural ephemera hyper-realistically depicted in the paintings—worm-eaten calligraphies, partial book pages, burned paintings, remnants of rubbings, and torn-open letters. They are usually arranged in a haphazard, collage-like composition, created with Chinese ink and colors on paper or silk. When bapo emerged, this unexpected imagery was radically distinct from classical Chinese landscape and figure painting, and became popular among an aspiring urban middle class delighted by its visual trickery and sophistication. After 1949, the art form was largely forgotten, but has recently been rediscovered by contemporary artists and collectors, who have set out to decipher the puzzle of the meaning of the images. The exhibition presents some of the finest examples of bapo paintings dating back to the 19th century, as well as a contemporary work by artist Geng Xuezhi. They are interspersed with three-dimensional decorative and functional objects that display bapo imagery.

A publication will accompany the exhibition. (November 2018)

For more information, please contact travelingexhibitions@mfa.org.

Exhibition Highlights