8 Chinese Painting
Wisteria (1991) by Wu Guanzhong, ink and colour on rice paper, 70 x 140 cm, Shanghai Art Museum, at Asia Society, New York
Control (2007) by Zeng Shangqing, ink and colour on paper, 38 x 49.75 inches. Courtesy Michael Goedhuis, at Saatchi Gallery
Deer Crying (1990) by Gu Gan, ink and colour on paper 36.5 x 38.5 inches. Courtesy of Michael Goedhuis
Over the summer there are three major exhibitions dedicated to modern Chinese ink paintings – two in London and one in New York. London is lucky enough to have two exhibitions that explore this medium – Modern Chinese Ink Paintings and Calligraphy at the British Museum and Ink: The Art of China at the Saatchi Gallery. In New York, Asia Society have organised a major retrospective of the master artist Wu Guanzhong.
Chinese ink painting over the last decade has been somewhat lost in the ‘Long March’ (or should it be Run) towards the more flamboyant and experimental works produced by some Chinese contemporary artists, whose presence was announced on the international stage by the astonishing prices their works of art achieved at auction. Of course, Chinese contemporary art was first recognised and sought out long before stellar auction prices took hold. The Stars Group (Xingxing) was formed in Beijing in 1979 by such artists as Wang Keping, Qu Leilei and Ai Weiwei. However, it was not until the late 1990s that Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Min Jun, Zeng Fangzhi, Zhuang Huan, to name a few, became household names outside the specialist international art world. Speculators moved in and the market went haywire. However, there has been another, quieter revolution going on: traditional ink painting has also reacted to the tumultuous events in Chinese history and moved with the times and can be just as cuttingedge, politically sensitive – all within the traditional parameters of literati painting. This world is also slowly expanding and major institutions and collectors are turning their eyes to this classical medium. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, organised a ground-breaking show in November 2010 to celebrate the opening of the new Gund Gallery. Fresh Ink was the inaugural exhibition in this new space, in which contemporary Chinese ink painters engaged in dialogue with classical artworks from China’s past. The MFA selected 10 artists – all engaged with traditional Chinese ink painting, including the landscape painters Li Huayi, Arnold Chang, Qiu Ting, Zeng Xiaojun, and Liu Dan. Xu Bing and Qing Feng worked on largescale pieces and Yu Hong, Liu Xiaodong, and Li Jin, explored people and society in their work. The British Museum’s current exhibition, which opened in May, explores the development and diversity of Chinese ink painting in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the US from the 20th century to the present day. In this first survey of its modern collection the British Museum is presenting works of major ink artists such as Qi Baishi, Fu Baoshi, Liu Kuo-sung, Wu Guanzhong (also the subject of the Asia Society exhibition in New York), and Wang Tiande. The 40 works on show include landscapes, moonscapes in paper montage, visions of nature and
Modern Chinese Ink Paintings statements of friendship, or political dissent, in calligraphy and caricature. The highlight of the show is a group of five monumental works by Liu Dan (b. 1953), one of the leading artists in contemporary ink painting that are on loan to the museum. A major living exponent of contemporary ink painting, Liu’s disciplined brushwork derives from years of classical training in Chinese brush and ink painting and his intense studies of European Renaissance drawings. Also on show is the work of Zhang Daqian (1889-1983), best known for his splashed ink landscapes in brilliant greens and blues and for being a notorious forger (the exhibition includes one of his famous forgeries, Dense Forests and Layered Peaks). Zhang also met Pablo Picasso in the 1950s in France and the artists exchanged ink drawings.
All the artists featured in the exhibition continued to paint in ink and colours on silk or paper, a practice that was termed ‘national-style painting’ (guohua) at the beginning of the 20th century, a tradition that has been practised in China for over 2,000 years. The Saatchi Gallery show, Ink: The Art of China, is curated by Michael Goedhuis and drawn mainly from private collections.This wide-ranging exhibition explores how artists are making this traditional style of painting relevant to the present-day and explores how the artists are reacting to events around them and expressing this using traditional Chinese-style of ink painting. Artists in the exhibition include: Xingjian, Gu Wenda, Henri Chen KeZhan, Huan Yong Ping, Jennifer Wen Ma, Li, Huayi, Li Jin, Liu Dan, Liu Kuo‐sung, Liu Qinghe, Liu Wei, Lo Ch’ing, Lu Hao, Qin Feng, Qiu Anxiong, Qiu Deshu, Qui Zhijie, Wang Dongling, Wei Ligang, Wilson Shieh, Wu Yi, Xu Bing, Xu Lei, Yang Chiejang, Yang Yanping, Yao Jui-chung, Zeng Shanqing, Zeng Xiaojun and Zhang Huan. Some of these names will be familiar to the art-going public, but others will not. It is a great, and rare, opportunity to see all these influential artists in one exhibition.
In New York,Asia Society’s exhibition is Revolutionary Ink: The Paintings of Wu Guanzhong, which celebrates the
Ink paintings have been somewhat lost, until now, in the great rush to buy more Westernised
Chinese contemporary works of art
60-year career of Wu Guanzhong (1919–2010), one of China’s most significant and admired 20th century artists. This first major retrospective, organised in collaboration with the Shanghai Art Museum, traces the artist’s development in the medium of ink painting from the mid-1970s through 2004. Exhibition works represent Wu’s radical individual approach that integrates European modernism and abstract expressionism with traditional Chinese ink painting. Wu lived in tumultuous times and was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution at a time when Western art was decried, he was forced to abandon painting and he destroyed most of his works in oil. However, he persevered, continuing to paint and draw even when he was sent to the countryside for hard labour and reeducation.
Born in 1919 in Jiangsu Province, Wu Guanzhong enrolled in the acclaimed Hangzhou Art School (today’s China Academy of Art in Hangzhou) in 1936. At the age of 27, he left to study in Paris at the École National Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, where he studied western painting traditions and methodologies. After three profoundly influential years, he chose to return to China for patriotic reasons, to teach at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Painting in oil, he developed an original style that combined both traditional Chinese ink painting and Western techniques of watercolour and oil painting, and became a mentor to a new generation of Chinese painters. As the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, Wu destroyed most of his works before the Red Guards searched his house and confiscated his properties. Wu was still heavily persecuted during the revolution as a bourgeois formalist and was forbidden to paint, write or teach for two years. Finally in 1973, his living conditions began to improve when Premier Zhou Enlai commissioned him to paint a large mural in a Beijing hotel. Wu was reunited with his family, and also around this time, began to paint in ink. His resulting ink painting Chongqing the Riverside City launched a new stage of his career in a country now asian art June 2012 Chinese Painting
Poppy, yingsu hua (2007) by Liu Dan (b.1953), Beijing, ink on paper, 236 x 172 cm. Private collection, Beijing. Courtesy of the British Museum more receptive to his ideas. Somewhat ironically, Wu went against the tide in returning to ink at a time when many of his students, most born in the 1950s, became greatly interested in European and American oil painting.
In 1978, at age 59, he had his first solo show since his return to China in 1950, which travelled throughout the country.He continued to paint in ink,creating landscapes distinguished by their expressive line and unusual application of colour. In 1985, an exhibition of his latest works was shown at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, followed by a solo exhibition at the British Museum in 1992. Late in his life, he travelled widely throughout China and other parts of Asia, as well as to Europe, to attend a series of his solo exhibitions and to give lectures on those occasions. His prolific career as a writer on his philosophy of art has produced numerous monographic publications in various languages. Wu died in Beijing in 2010 at the age of ninety. The exhibition is organised thematically into three sections that evoke Wu’s approach to the medium of ink and account for distinct genres of his practice. ‘Landscape’, the first, emphasises the ink and wash painting tradition while showing the departure from tradition that some of his work represents, for example, in the random use of colour. The section comprises paintings from the late 1980s and 1990s, representing views of high altitude mountains in vertical format, or expansive horizontal landscapes, in which he used ink to create an effect of flatness, in contrast to the traditional effect of depth and vitality. The second theme in the exhibition is ‘Architecture’. Where traditional ink paintings emphasized the grandeur and majesty of the natural environment over small-scale pavilions or other architectural elements, Wu’s paintings depict rural yet grand homes and towns and emphasise a constructed, man-made environment. The final section of the exhibition is ‘Abstraction’, representing Wu’s later period in which his landscapes became more abstracted. Most of these works are from after 1990 and show an intention to represent states of being, emotions, and concepts over more realistic representation. For example, rather than showing birdseye or long-view perspectives usually associated with ink landscape paintings, the works provide a closer view as if the viewer is fully immersed in the environment.
A Big Manor (2001) by Wu Guangzhong, ink and colour on rice paper, 70 x 140 cm, Shanghai Art Museum, at Asia Society New York
Teresa Coleman Fine Arts Ltd.
An important gilt bronze figure of the Shakyamuni Buddha, with separate non gilded base. Kasamala Nepal,13th Century. Height without base 38cm. Height together with base 54cm.
Modern Chinese Ink Paintings, until 2 September, at The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, www.britishmuseum.org. Ink: The Art of China, from 19 June to 5 July, at The Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London, www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk. Revolutionary Ink: The Art of Wu Guangzhong, until 5 August, Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue, New York, www.asiasociety.org. Catalogues: Modern Chinese Ink Paintings by Clarissa von Spee, British Museum Press, an introduction to Chinese ink paintings and calligraphies from the 20th/21st centuries, £14.99; Ink: The Art of China, contributors include Dr Eugene Wang, Dr Wang Tao, Dr Jason C. Kuo, Valerie C. Doran, Dominique Nahas and Edward Lucie-Smith, £40; Revolutionary Ink: The Paintings of Wu Guanzhong, includes essays by leading Chinese and American scholars, Asia Society, US$60.
By appointment: 55 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong tel: (852) 2526 2450 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Teresa Coleman.indd 1
june 2012 asian art