» Archive for 26 April 2009
Recently in conversation, a friend asked “Who is Ai Weiwei?” Impossible. You know him, unconsciously. He has masterminded some of the most powerful icons of today: the National Stadium, the “Han Dynasty Urn with Coca Cola Logo,” and his unpretentious, minimalist building style of grey-brick has revolutionized contemporary Chinese architecture.
Whether it is through the man himself, his legendary blog, his architecture, or his iconic works of contemporary art, Ai Weiwei is the artist you already know. With 2009 exhibitions concurrently open in Tokyo, Germany, Brussels and Beijing, his work is influential, prominent and provocative, no doubt why museums and established collectors are clamoring for his works, attracting even frugal investors who abide by investment principals laid down by companies like investools.
Below are some of his most often reproduced images, found in monographs, on catalogue and book covers, in newspapers, online. Before we can begin to talk about Ai Weiwei the iconoclast, the following are a brief introduction (in pictures) of some of his most renowned works.
Han Dynasty Urn with Coca-cola Logo (1994)
Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995) pictured here is the middle panel of a triptych (more…)
Yin Jinan wrote “Knocking on the door alone” as a response to the urgings of many who thought that his position as chair of the Central Academy of Fine Art’s art history department and as a “close-up” observer, warranted a publication. The second book “Post-motherism” (will follow in separate review) is a compilation of years of art criticism published in his column in duzhe magazine 《读者》also entitled “knocking”, duzikoumen “独自叩门”. The implied meaning of this title is: when we look at art we are always seeking a personal interpretation, and our individual experiences inform our reading.
The essays range from 1988, in an essay on the joint exhibition of Lu Shengzhong and Xu Bing at the National Museum of Art, “新潮美术的转折点” (The turning point of the New Wave), to 1992 (in dialogue with Sui Jianguo). Yin’s connections with art are very influenced by his proximity to the art academy, and to many artists who were making important names, such as Liu Xiaodong and Yu Hong, Wang Guangyi, Huang Yongping, Sun Xinping and a host of other young painters whom he calls the “New Generation Painters.” These were the emerging generation of artists who were establishing a new POV, moving away from the collectivism of the 1970s and 1980s and depicting personal experiences. Yin’s style is clear and dry, funny at times but aggressively confident when critical.
The book also includes ample writing on Xu Bing, the outrageously well-attended first nude oil painting exhibition in early 1989, and writings on the China / Avantgarde exhibition in 1989, on Chinese modernism and more. Posted below is an essay from this book on “New Generation Artists”, it was translated for a forthcoming publication on Chinese contemporary art from the Museum of Modern Art. To read Chinese version, please switch languages on the upper right hand.
NEW GENERATION AND CLOSE UP ARTISTS
Modern Chinese art in the early Nineties is endowed with a certain temporal significance. In the moment when our historical imagination collides with actual landscapes, anyone is able to intuitively identify the fundamental elements belonging to the scope of art history. The literary world’s “age of prose” is precisely coincident with the art world’s period of realism without an artistic manifesto, and settling into their peaceful lifestyles, these artists have created an enormous cultural rift from the maddening infatuation with the explosive and dysphoric concepts that before them. This re-examination and questioning of traditional artistic values and art of the New Wave firstly did not arise from within the theoretical world, but from the creative one. A few stirring solo and group art exhibitions that took place in 1990 and 1991 silently expressed a very confident artistic attitude, a group of young artists born in the 1960s thus emerged onto the scene.
Now on display at the National Museum of Art is a rare glimpse of the museum’s folk art collection, the gifts of the devoted folk art researcher Wang Shucun, who carefully preserved and hid these items throughout many turbulent years of history. The exhibition only runs until April 14, but is highly recommended.
Its not rare to see “folk arts” in Beijing, dreams of tourist dollars inspire the same kitschy souvenir-style junk that is available all over the nation. But before the internet, the tourist dollar, television, industrial printing, and before the Cultural Revolution, the Nianhua was a very unique form of folk art developed in China. Nianhua are colorful pictures hung in homes to celebrate the new year, tiehua, the practice of “hanging pictures” was once an integral holiday custom. People still hang posters, but the hand printed and painted art form of nianhua is near obsolete. However, in a pre-industrial society, the incredible production speeds, line assembly, and low production costs of nianhua could have been called a “Chinese characteristic,” indeed the production mode of contemporary art from China has also become a new trend in critical analysis.
China’s common folk have been producing printed nianhua on an ever increasing scale since the Song dynasty, the practice fell out of fashion with industrial printing techniques and was abruptly put to an end during political campaigns of the last century. These block printing methods developed in China evolved into personality cults in Japan, evidenced in print artists like Hiroshige; however in China, entire towns became famous for their different production methods and distinctive styles, sometimes varying by only the colors available. These styles are evidenced in excellent surviving examples of work, and those displayed here encompass the most important nianhua production zones from across China. (more…)
Chinese independent cinema confronts a long list of unique problems, lack of funding, intolerance for many issues deemed sensitive on the mainland, lack of distribution channels and theatres, and a discombobulated audience. At lastm consider these last two problems on the way to being solved, the opening of the “Chinese Independent Film Archive” at the Iberia Center for Contemporary Art has provided venue, and enthusiastically audiences pack into their screenings.
The establishment of the CIFA was celebrated on March 29th, with the opening of the poster exhibition “What Has Happened Here? / 这里发生了什么？” and a film festival that will run through April 19th.
There are screenings from film submissions of the Chinese Independent Film Invitational, featuring both young and established directors from across China, a DV Films retrospective that that brings classic films from Chinese directors to the screen, and international selections from Korea, Malaysia and Israel, among others.
Most films are subtitled in English, and there is a “film subtitling machine” reminiscent of Peking Opera performances at the Chang’an Theatre. Admission is free, seating on first come basis (you are recommended to come early).
A download a complete schedule and read more about the films here
Wang Guangle @ Beijing Commune
until May 14
According to tradition in his hometown, elderly people will paint their coffins with one layer each year. Wang Guangle has adopted this to the canvas, in remarkably more colorful layers than we might see on anything to be buried underground. As always, his work reveals time, patience, and the somewhat unexpected results of turning concept into canvas.
The artist himself is extremely popular among Chinese collectors and has a great reputation among artists, but many “outsider” viewers (Laowai) fail to see the appeal. Unfortunately, this show does not reflect what I consider some of Wang’s best works, those (I’m judging by what I saw on the gallery website) which are now represented by Beijing Commune.
His early works, realist canvases featuring afternoon light hitting the terrazzo floor, reveal ideas essential to the artist’s development; they were not on show at the opening. Later works where he grinds thick layers of dried paint into what looks like actual terrazzo on the canvas were neither on display, nor were photographs of his legendary performance in his Suojiacun studio (read more below). The terrazzo pattern and coffin paint series are his trademarks. A more detailed description is below, in a short artist introduction written for “Looking for Me” (2008)