West Greets East: A Week That Changed The World

written by Robyn Wyman-dill

How fast time travels as it heads into the final days of the month. Before we begin a new chapter, let’s reflect and be enriched by occasions worth remembering again. Among those bookmarked is the ‘Wedding of the Century’ on July 29, 1981. On that day, the lovely Lady Diana Spencer wed Prince Charles – bringing a fresh persona to the Royal Family. In turn, the Princess spoke to the hearts of the public around the world. Everyone seemed to agree for once. Diana was love. Four years after the Princess stepped into the public eye, she crossed the pond on her first official visit to America with her husband, Prince Charles. That’s when royal fever broke out in Washington DC.

The ‘Diana’ appeal was so highly infectious, everyone wanted an invitation to dinner. Meaning the White House dinner. The not-so-lucky ones? They traveled abroad. Henry Kissinger, Oscar de la Renta and Ahmet Ertegun, Co-Founder and President of Altanic Records, took their wives to China. In case you didn’t know it, Henry Kissinger is a really big deal in China. Really big.

What prompted me to go to China at exactly the same time was a photography book, Eve Arnold: In China, that I kept on my coffee table. An American photojournalist, Arnold’s images of Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Misfits (1961) and photograph of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy arranging flowers with Caroline(1961) had already cemented her reputation as a superb shooter. But, when she turned her lens on China, defining its beauty with pictures that spoke to your soul, I felt compelled to buy a camera(my first) and booked a tour to China.

While the US was celebrating the arrival of the Royal couple, hundreds of Chinese people were waiting patiently outside the only tourist hotel near the Li river. One with antiqued amenities, mice and a no-star rating. The lobby, however, with its 40s-style winding staircase and 60s-style chandelier was styling and its saving grace. A perfect backdrop for a Hollywood movie if anyone is casting…locations. Meanwhile, outside the crumbling edifice, the People’s Republic of Chinese people are still waiting patiently for Henry Kissinger to emerge from his private limousine. Since 1971, when the National Security Advisor to Richard Nixon began work on opening up communications with China, the Chinese people have always carried a torch for HK. He is a really big deal in China.  Really big.

You can learn about the early beginnings of forging this relationship at The Week that Changed the World:Nixon,China and the Arts mulit-media exhibition in South Coast Plaza. The exhibit is free and open to the public through August 18, 2016. So educate yourself. Do it quickly, though. Time travels fast.

Back at the no-star hotel parking lot, Oscar de la Renta suddenly emerged from the limousine. He walked to the front of the car, folded his arms and leaned against the hood. He stared at the crowd. The crowd stared back.  A couple of seconds later, Ahmet Ertegun emerged from the limousine. He walked to the front of the car and leaned agains the hood. He stared into the crowd. The crowd stared back.

The Week that Changed The World, a 2,300 sq.-ft. showcase is wrapped inside a cylindrical yin-yang design symbolizing the complementary relationship between the two nations. At the entrance is a moon gate – a traditional architectural element in Chinese gardens – that represents a portal to connect the two world powers. While display panels provide an expansive backdrop of highlights from the 1972 Nixon trip and encapsulate the wealth of Chinese-related arts, culture, music and theater which are hosted at a consortium of Southern California art centers. There’s even a teaser with a glimpse of what’s to come at the New Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, which opens to the public on October 14, 2016.

The multi-media exhibition is a kind of a cultural wedding cake and maybe that’s why it fits into the occasion worth remembering again. President Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972, (ending 25 years of separation between the two super powers) has been described as the beginnings of ‘a new and better world.’ for the two super powers. It also marked the first time a U.S. president had visited their nation.

The exhibition is also an unprecedented collaboration among heavyweights in the arts.

The South Coast Plaza and the New Nixon Library are joined by The Getty, Carnegie Hall, Bowers Museum, Orange County Museum of Art, Pacific Symphony, Philharmonic Society of Orange County, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, South Coast Repertory and USC Pacific Asia Museum. Each of them with a unique story that lead them to this collaboration here.

Since it opened 30 years ago, Segerstrom Center for the Arts has been presenting artists and companies that represent thousands of years of cultural traditions in China. (One of them was the Southern California premiere of the National Ballet of China’s Raise the Red Lantern.) and thanks to their collaboration with Carnegie Hall and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, select programming from New York’s three week festival – showcasing Chinese arts and music – was seen nationally. Meanwhile, The Getty has been working with the Dunhuang Academy on the conservation and management of the Mogao Caves in China – since 1989, and currently is featuring an exhibition through September 4, 2016, with numerous objects excavated from the site. Object that rarely, if ever, have traveled to the US.

As part of Orange County Museum of Art’s commitment to presenting programs that speak to diverse audiences, this museum launched the Pacific Initiative to showcase art from countries surrounding the Pacific Ocean. Shanghai-based Artist, Shi Zhiying’s painting, Rock Carving of Thousand Buddhas is currently on view here. While the Pacific Symphone Orchestra travels to China this summer to perform in Beijing and Shanghai.

But, in the spirit of cultural exchange, I do beleive the Bowers Museum outshines the rest, hosting 10 exhibitions with the jewel in the crown being the Terra Cotta Warriors:Guardians of China’s First Emperor in 2008. In turn, Bowers has brought three exhibitions of our American cultural arts to museums in China over the last 15 years, giving the Chinese their first look at artwork from Native American Indians.

By now it was apparent. The limousine was not going anywhere unless Kissinger emerged.  Another minute or two passed. Then the back door opened and Kissinger, who was seated inside, looked into the crowd and shouted, “Alright. Hurry Up!”

A minute or two later, The People’s Repubic of Chinese people – who seemed very satisfied  – left.

More than one million people are expected to visit The Week that Changed The World, during the eight week it is on display here. I attended the opening ceremony with the champagne and delicious hor d’oeuvres and thought to myself,  ‘I can’t believe how lucky I am to be on this party list, enriched by another occasion worth remembering.’



Stay tuned.


South Coast Plaza
3333 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, California 92626
Phone: 714.435.2000

Monday-Friday: 10:00am – 9:00pm
Saturday: 10:00am – 8:00pm
Sunday: 11:00am – 6:30pm


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