Moonlight falls into my Study (Documents from Suzhou, 1937-2016)

17 Nov 2016 - 19 Feb 2017 | Johann Jacobs Museum

How significant is Chinese cultural heritage to current and future China? And what parts of this heritage derive from global entanglements before Western hegemony set in? These and similar questions have been on the minds of today’s artists, Chinese and non-Chinese alike. The Johann Jacobs Museum explored these issues on location in the city of Suzhou, the Empire’s former cultural and financial center located on the Yangtze River Delta, and thus at the start of the Silk Road (some 80 km away from Shanghai, which was still an Insignificant fishing village in Suzhou’s heyday).

Suzhou is more than just a piece of Asian antiquity. Yan Wenliang (1893-1988), a pioneer of Western-style painting, opened the country’s first modern art museum here at the start of the 20th century, in the precarious Republic of China years. On the eve of the great wars, in 1937, Suzhou was the venue for an exhibition entitled Wuzhong Documents (Wuzhong is the name of the region), which dared a diagnosis of local culture. Unfortunately, this diagnosis of the present – which might have served as a starting point for self-enlightenment and a new social design – never saw the light of day; the Japanese invasion and occupation (which happened only a few months later), the Chinese Civil War, and finally the Cultural Revolution made it impossible to reflect on the relationship between heritage and the present, at least in the medium of a public exhibition.

In the summer of 2016, the Suzhou Art Museum organized a new edition of the Documents exhibition in cooperation with the Johann Jacobs Museum. Some 40 artists from all over the world reflected on the origins of a global present at a time when the new, global power of the 21st century is just starting to constitute itself. The focus of Suzhou Documents was not China as such, but a cartography of the historical, political, economic and artistic interdependencies in which China – like other world regions, including our little Europe – participated.


Various elements from the Suzhou Documents will be shown at the Johann Jacobs Museum starting 17 November 2016 under the title Moonlight falls into my study, including the catalogue for the original 1937 exhibition along with other historical materials and artistic works, most of which were made on site. Exhibited artworks include those by Thomas Bayrle (Germany), Tina Gverovic (Croatia and the UK), Sakarin Krue-On (Thailand), Imogen Stidworthy (UK) and Jürgen Stollhans (Germany). The exhibition will expand over the course of its duration to include works by Liu Ye (China), Pei Yongmei (China), Xu Bing (China), Yang Fudong (China), Yu Xuhong (China) and Yue Minjun (China).

Suzhou Documents/首届苏州文献展 was curated by Zhang Qing (Head of the Curatorial and Research Department, National Art Museum China, Beijing) and Roger M. Buergel (Director of the Johann Jacobs Museums Zürich) for the Suzhou Art Museum in the summer of 2016, and will be continued in fall 2018.