Influence – Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China

“Featuring 70 works in various media–paintings, calligraphy, photographs, woodblock prints, video, and sculpture–that were created during the past three decades, Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China will demonstrate how China’s ancient pattern of seeking cultural renewal through the reinterpretation of past models remains a viable creative path. Although all of the artists have transformed their sources through new modes of expression, visitors will recognize thematic, aesthetic, or technical attributes in their creations that have meaningful links to China’s artistic past. The exhibition will be organized thematically into four parts and will include such highlights as Xu Bing’s dramatic Book from the Sky (ca. 1988), an installation that will fill an entire gallery; Family Tree (2000), a set of vivid photographs documenting a performance by Zhang Huan in which his facial features–and his identity–are obscured gradually by physiognomic texts that are inscribed directly onto his face; and Map of China (2006) by Ai Weiwei, which is constructed entirely of wood salvaged from demolished Qing dynasty temples.”

These works may also be appreciated from the perspective of global art, but by examining them through the lens of Chinese historical artistic paradigms, layers of meaning and cultural significance that might otherwise go unnoticed are revealed. Ultimately, both points of view contribute to a more enriched understanding of these artists’ creative processes.

For more than two millennia, ink has been the principal medium of painting and calligraphy in China. Since the early twentieth century, however, the primacy of the “ink art” tradition has increasingly been challenged by new media and practices introduced from the West. Ink Art examines the creative output of a selection of Chinese artists from the 1980s to the present who have fundamentally altered inherited Chinese tradition while maintaining an underlying identification with the expressive language of the culture’s past.

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