TerraCotta Warriors exhibition prepared in Washington

Make way and prepare to pay: The legendary terra-cotta warriors of China are coming to the National Geographic Museum, which will double its exhibition space to accommodate the show and, for the first time, charge admission.

The museum announced yesterday that "Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China's First Emperor," a special exhibition of 15 of the life-size figures, will open Nov. 19 in the museum at 17th and M streets NW. By that time, the exhibition area will have been expanded from 15,000 to 30,000 square feet.

The museum began group ticket sales yesterday for the show, which is on a four-city U.S. tour. Washington is the final stop, and the 2,000-year-old figures will be on display until March 31, 2010.

The $6 to $12 admission fees are necessary to cover the expense of moving and installing the show, as well as funding increased visitor services and security, said Susan Norton, the museum's director.

"It is the most expensive thing we have ever done," Norton said. "We felt we needed to recoup as much as we could. We know Washington is a city of free museums, and our goal is to share the world with our visitors."

The discovery of the tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuangdi by a group of farmers is considered one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century. The burial site contained thousands of fragments of the figures, of which more than 1,000 have been restored. Only three of the figures have been displayed in Washington, and were a highlight of the Kennedy Center's China Festival in 2005.

The museum decided to move a recording studio and expand the store on its first floor for the show, which will feature 100 sets of objects, including the life-size soldiers, musicians and animal sculptures.

"We started planning at the time fuel and insurance costs started to increase to numbers we would never imagine," Norton said. The Geographic is covering all the costs, but the museum wouldn't reveal the total cost of the exhibit, as the budget hasn't been finalized. Norton said she didn't know the impact of the current financial crisis on the museum, which is a private, nonprofit operation, but said that the economic situation hasn't affected the plans for the show.

Despite the unusual adjustments, the match between the museum and the warriors was a natural. "National Geographic has a long history of covering China, and when the warriors were discovered in 1974, one of the first photographers allowed in to document the restoration was Lou Mazzatenta," said Norton.

Last March, a group of Chinese officials from Xi'an toured the National Geographic Museum while it was hosting an exhibit of live frogs. "Before they left, they said, 'Absolutely, we would love to have the exhibition here.' They said, 'This is a lovely space, but for our show, with the largest group of figures that has ever traveled, we need more space,' " Norton recalled.

Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, students, military and National Geographic members, and $6 for school groups and children ages 2-12. Group tickets are $8 per ticket for groups of 10 or more.

(Washington Post)

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