A new exhibition about bronze-age China feels like a trip to the zoo.

“When people see this exhibition and once their eyes start to adjust to this strange and unusual material, they will see dragons, tigers, turtles, birds and teeny little critters pop up everywhere,” said curator Joachim Homann. “Because of the spiritual function of these objects, they were animated with these objects and symbols.

“This show is going to make an argument for itself. The objects are really amazing. They were designed to overwhelm and stun people, and they do.”

“Along the Yangzi River: Regional Culture of the Bronze Age from Hunan” opens Friday at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick.

The museum is showing 60 bronze vessels and monumental bells cast in southern China between 1,300 B.C.E. and 221 B.C.E. The exhibition highlights the artistry, rituals and beliefs of bronze-age China, Homann said.

The collection features several dings, which were used for cooking meat, as well as vessels for serving wine, dishes for food and other pieces created for ceremony and ritual.

“We have in this exhibition the only ding decorated with four human face masks,” Homann said. “All the other dings that we know of have abstract patterns or monster faces. This is unique, with a mesmerizing quality to it.”

Most of these pieces were created for feasts that included ritual components. In southern China, those rituals involved bells. “Along the Yangzi River” shows many examples of those bells.

The China Institute of New York organized the exhibition with loans from the Hunan Provincial Museum, the primary resource for archaeological finds from the middle banks of the Yangzi River in southern China.

Homann said this exhibition is the first to focus on regional characteristics of Hunan bronzes. Animal-shaped bronzes and bells were a specialty of the area.

The scope of the exhibition also makes it special.

“There is a depth of material rarely seen in this country. It’s very rare that you have a show of this quality that also has so many objects,” Homann said. “You can really develop an eye for it quickly.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes be reached at 791-6457 or:

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