The exhibition designed by New York-based OLI Architecture is now open in the Forbidden City, China


Mirroring the Heart of Heaven and Earth: Ideals and Images in the Chinese Study, an exhibition designed by New York firm OLI Architecture, opened at the Palace Museum. Located in the center of the 72-hectare Forbidden City complex, built in the 15th century, the museum houses one of the world’s largest collections of ancient Chinese artifacts, calligraphy, paintings and porcelain. Working closely with the curators of the Palace Museum, OLI Architecture has created a space that brings together art and objects ranging from antiquity to contemporary art within historic architecture.

Housed in the Meridian Gate Galleries, Mirroring the Heart of Heaven and Earth focuses on the evolving role of the scholar throughout Chinese history, exploring the relationship to the court, other scholars, the natural world, and to the universe. The exhibition brings together 105 works ranging from antiquities to contemporary art, including books, scrolls, vases, sculptures, paintings, screens, cups and seals. Besides art, exhibits also include materials such as brushes, ink, and paper ranging from the 6th to the 21st century. The three wings of the gallery are divided into three chapters: “Chapter One: Sanctuary of Literature and Music”, “Chapter Two: A Channel for Enlightenment”, and “Chapter Three: A Bond of Companion”. These chapters respectively deal with the themes of a spiritual haven; self-cultivation and the link between humanity and nature; and the appreciation of the finitude of life against the infinity of the universe.

The exhibition encourages a dialogue between heritage objects and modern works of art. For example, an 18th-century plaque bearing the words “Chamber of Five Classics” by Emperor Qianlong, which usually hangs in the room that served as the imperial study, is prominently displayed at the start of the exhibit. . The Five Classics include some of the oldest Chinese texts and are the central works of Confucianism.

Contemporary artists represented include:

  • Liu Dan (b. 1953), an ink painter trained in traditional style ink painting, lives and works in Beijing, China.
  • Xu Bing (b. 1955) is a multimedia artist known for his calligraphy and printmaking, who divides his time between New York and Beijing.
  • Xu Lei (b. 1963) is an ink painter heavily involved in the New Wave movement of the 1980s in China. He is currently artistic director of the Today Art Museum in Beijing.
  • Bai Ming (born in 1965), ceramist and painter who teaches at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
  • Young Ho Chang (b. 1956), an award-winning architect and scholar, is currently a professor of architecture at MIT.

Hiroshi Okamoto, founding partner of OLI Architecture, comments: “Our office often works with contemporary art and artists. It was a challenge to design this remarkable exhibit with pieces from famous contemporary artists paired with such rare and important antiquities. When we started the project the idea of ​​the roll and the ephemera of paper became a central concept where art and antiques were displayed on a slightly glossy transparent surface that flowed from vertical to horizontal at height of a scholar’s table giving the viewer an intimate experience.”

Having a combined work experience of over thirty years on museum, civic and institutional projects around the world, founding members, Hiroshi Okamoto and Bing Lin joined their collaborative expertise to form OLI Architecture PLLC in 2010. With a vision towards the future, based on a thorough disciplinary understanding of the built environment and respect for the specific cultural parameters of each project, the firm offers a complete service of architectural design. OLI’s specialized expertise includes civic and cultural building design, museography, exhibit design, education, healthcare, and custom residential design.

The firm’s approach is to study the specific nature of each project to develop a design response that meets the aspirations of the client, stakeholders and detailed requirements of future occupants. OLI transforms these contextual studies using physical, numerical and parametric models and computational analyzes to create the unique tectonics of each project. These are then articulated with local building practices and standards to create a unique building that merges with the cultural environment of its site. To learn more, visit


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