Chinese Winter Lanterns and More at the Kennedy Center’s REACH


Image courtesy of Google Images

By Christopher Vitale

In celebration of the 2020 Chinese New Year, the REACH outdoor space at the Kennedy Center displayed nearly 100 Winter Lanterns inspired by Chinese imagery and created by Chinese artists. The exhibit ran from January 22nd to February 2nd and was part of the Kennedy Center’s annual Lunar New Year Celebration.

The REACH complex is located south of the Kennedy Center’s main venue and is comprised of ten individual indoor spaces as well as an outdoor plaza, which is perfect for concerts, outdoor performances, film screenings, and festivals. 

The Kennedy Center describes the REACH as “a living theater where diverse art forms collide to break down the boundaries between audience and art. It is an immersive learning center, a public incubator, and a set of dynamic, collaborative spaces where art happens so close audiences can reach out and touch it.”

The REACH is committed to bringing a ‘backstage’ experience to visitors, as all of the preparations and rehearsals for events throughout the artistic process are presented in front of the audience, eliminating the need for private or closed studio space. To that end, the REACH boasts large glass walls which shed natural light into practice rooms and allow visitors to catch a glimpse of the artistry unfolding before them. It often offers free entry to its inviting venues so as to encourage the public to become part of the creativity at the heart of the complex.

The design of the REACH, envisioned by architect Steven Holl, aims to create a fluid communication between structures and landscape. The idea is that the open outdoor scenery intersects with the indoor spaces, and the sloping architecture of buildings compliments and blends into the style of the surrounding landscape.

Taking advantage of the REACH’s capacity for memorable and unique exhibitions, art directors for the Winter Lanterns configured an almost maze-like structure of Chinese lanterns. Visitors can wander about the display and get lost in the sparkle of over 10,000 LED lights, which were incorporated into the artworks.

Among the lighted sculptures were renditions of the twelve signs of the Chinese Zodiac as well as the Four Symbols—representing four Chinese mythological creatures which emerge in constellations and are seen as guardian figures in many Asian cultures. In vibrant colors and ornate designs, some artists chose to craft bulbous mushrooms or swirling flowers, while others depicted animals such as pandas (some of which featured electronically moving heads), peacocks, fiery dragons, snakes, bunnies, jellyfish, sea turtles, and of course, rats—as 2020 is the Chinese Year of the Rat.

In addition to the lantern exhibition, visitors were able to grab snacks at food trucks, watch short productions from Chinese performance groups, and encounter other Asian art forms such as calligraphy and wood carving. At the on-sight KC Cafe, restaurateurs rang in the Lunar New Year festivities with a special dinner menu featuring traditional Chinese and Korean favorites.

The Chinese New Year Celebration will return to the Kennedy Center next January and February during its second winter season, and with it will come a slew of new activities and displays for visitors to enjoy. 

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