Although a short visit, my visit to the Guggenheim was fascinating and had a profound influence on my views of Chinese contemporary art. The way the Guggenheim’s interior was designed, with its continuous spiral ramp, created the perfect progression through time and space in the exhibition.
One of my favourite pieces was ‘There Came a Mr. Solomon to China’ by Zhou Tiehai, 1994. I was immediately attracted to the piece because of its sheer size and scale and the use of such bold colours. Zhou Tiehai used multiple different mediums to create the work, such as airbrushing, both english and Chinese texts, traditional Chinese influenced landscapes, caricatures, recognisable headlines like the New York Times, and even photography. The piece references a foreign American writer who traveled across China and the New York Times featured an article about his travels and his foreign opinions on China. The piece created an overwhelming sense of skepticism in foreign critics with the use of Marco Polo imagery and of the ‘foreign white man’. While making a statement on the way the West sees China, it also evokes humour and playfulness in a way that manages to lighten the piece and demands the viewer to interpret it for themselves.
Another piece that I was drawn to was Qui ZhiJie’s ‘Map of “Art and China after 1989″ Theatre of the World”, 2017, because I felt that it encompassed the ideas in many of the other works in the exhibition, all in one work. Qui ZhiJie used traditional conventions of Chinese ink landscape and renaissance cartography to create the piece and combined that with political, social, cultural and philosophical themes which portray the idealised China intertwined with the ‘real’ China, which is continuously battling oppression. The six panels are covered in Chinese calligraphy for the names of provinces and areas and along side the Chinese text is English, but instead of accurate labels, they read, ‘Mao Goes Pop’, ‘China Brand’, ‘Will/Must’, ‘Great Criticism’, ‘Peak of Enlightenment’, ‘Purge Humanist Enthusiasm’, which are thought provoking and add a dark undertone to a traditionally styled map which opens the door to a multitude of questions.
The Guggenheim had an immense amount of different works and mediums within the Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World exhibition. And, overall, I thought the exhibition was amazing and extremely eye-opening. Amongst the variety of pieces, a collection of works that specifically stood out to me was “Today No Water” by Wu Shanzhuan. Shanzhuan used 437 different sheets of paper, all incorporating textual pop references within his work and used ink, graphite and colored pencils to create these stand-out pieces. These sheets are directly taken from Shanzhuan’s most famous work, “Red Humor.” Not only are they filled with misplaced textual references, but they also include drawings, notations, and collaged elements that are all supposed to portray a political message and language. This piece really resonated with me because of what artists in China considered his work to be, as stated, “Today No Water is known to artists across China as a touchstone for the role of art, however absurd, as a vehicle of social critique.” After reading this exact phrase about Shanzhuan’s work, I understood the subject matter more as a graphic novel, where each canvas is a chapter of a narrative and triggering a different topic. Although each sheet is scattered with ideas, references and symbols, there is a clear red line of how these compositions all align together and attempt to critique institutions of propaganda and bureaucracy. In addition to the subject matter and purpose of these sheets, I liked how the sheets were perfectly framed next to each other. The red color against the yellowish sheet really was beautiful and due to the fact that there were so many displayed on one wall, really made an impact when viewing the work.
Another work that additionally resonated with me was “Splendour of Heaven and Earth” by Liu Dan. First off, its massive size was absolutely breathtaking and the emphasis on traditional art was prevalent. After finding out that it was simply ink on paper as well, I became more fascinated with the work because it looks much more complex than just that. As for the content, the work looks somewhat like a landscape in a “fairytale world.” I think it looks like a fairytale world because it incorporates illusions of valleys and creases. When standing up close by the work, it was also breathtaking to see the delicate brushstrokes used to create such illusions. The use and contrast of light and shadow makes his work extremely mysterious and dramatic and honestly, that is probably why I was so intrigued by this exact work.
Although both the works I liked the most were extremely different to one another, they both settled with me compared to any of the other works displayed.
The exhibition in the Guggenheim was pretty cool. It was really interesting to see all the different media that these people were working in. It shows how many ideas people had to express once China was free from just making propaganda art.
What really stuck out to me in the push against propaganda like art was Welcome to Xijing – Xijing Olympics, a piece of video art. These three men were mocking the Olympics, participating in silly events with the same name, like Diving where they dropped paper into a small bowl of water rather than actually diving. I thought it was interesting, because the Olympics are always such an important event, especially for the hosting nation. These men were mocking the games and the hosting nation of China for the 2008 games. With how impressive it was on the international screen, I would assume everyone was in support of the Olympics and the money China had put into them. It’s interesting to see a different side of it.
The other piece I really enjoyed was the giant hanging sculpture in the middle of the rotunda, Theater of the World. I was just struck by how massive the sculpture was, but how delicate it looked at the same time. I really enjoyed that it was made from found objects as well. It’s really inspiring to me, and I’d love to make something like this for the next semester.
Over all, I found the exhibit at the Guggenheim to be very eye-opening and well designed. I loved how the progression over time was so visible as the whole show was set up in a chronological way as you ascended the gallery. I think the focus on the 2008 Beijing olympics was also interesting for viewers my age because that was one of the first memorable olympic cycles. The over all feel of the exhibit exuded a sense of cultural pride yet also exhaustion and disintegration.
Though there were many interesting pieces, I found a few pieces really stood out.
My first favorite was a piece called Sewing by Lin Tianmiao. This multi media sculpture was a sewing machine completely wrapped in cotton thread on top of a small table. Everything was white. Then on top of the sewing machine there was a video projected of a pair of hands operating the sewing machine. I felt that this piece was interesting because it had a very unique use of medium. I love that the video portion showed what the physical portion could be used for, it created an interesting sense of disassociation. The piece was aesthetically appealing in its all white appearance. My initial response to the piece was that it was making some commentary on the factory systems in china, this was made all the more interesting by the ‘pureness’ of the sculptures appearance, the physical softness, and this eerie disassociated hint from the projection of the hands.
My second favorite piece was called Ascending Dragon: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 2 by Cai Guo-Qiang. This piece was very visually appealing in its interesting textures and use of alternative mediums. The painting was made of ink on paper but it had large scorch marks that were made with gun powder. I had never heard of an artist using gun powder for their art like this, so I was very interested. The dragon motif is definitely one that is associated with Chinese art, so using it in a modern context is interesting. Further more, using a traditional motif but modern techniques, especially one that indicates a sense of violence, creates a sense of cultural destruction which I think is interesting.
Chinese contemporary art is very unique and different than any kind of contemporary art in today’s society. It is divided into four different time periods which includes for example the post-cultural movement and the avant garde. Specifically, the avant garde is something that truly interests me and an art form I would want to learn more about.
In the reading by Terry Smith, Smith goes into depth about different artists and what motivated them to create their individual works. A significant paragraph in Smith’s writing is when he talks about Chinese feminist art. The Chinese women tried to exploit how identities are shaped by the materials of domestic life. A clear example of this is an installation, “Suitcase,” by Yin Xiuzhen, where she placed women in a certain way in order to demonstrate times of rapid social change. Another artist that incorporates feminism into their art is Lin Tianmiao’s installation entitled “Braiding.” This installation shows the symbolic treatment of Chinese women during the times. The installation includes women weaving cotton and giving each other haircuts. This installation is supposed to trigger the public by showing that Chinese women are much more than what they can produce. Their lifestyles have changed completely and they are far from doing “typical Chinese women” do.
Personally, I love that feminist art can be included in different kinds of movements. Thereby, the political aspect is prevalent throughout the world and it is clear that even though Chinese contemporary art is not classified as feminist art, the feminists in the generation can shine through.
In her article ”International players vie for a slice of Shanghai”, Lisa Movius on The Art Newspaper talks about two art fairs about to open. The two fairs are Art021 and West Bund Art & Design in Shanghai. This is the fifth year for the fairs and everything is completely booked. Artists from all over are planned to be shown, not just those from China.
This article caught my eye considering we’re going to see a giant show on Chinese art in just a few days. It’s somewhat like an art swap in a way, since western art will be shown over in China at the same time. As the article on the Guggenheim show said western viewers only think of Ai WeiWei when they think of Chinese art, so having various western artists on display during this fair might show Chinese viewers that there are more artists than maybe Jeff Koons or Damion Hirst, or whoever they think of.
This article also shows how art has grown in China. “This is our first time to have the Shanghai Exhibition Centre fully booked,” Kelly Ying, the co-founder of Art021, told Movius. It had been happening for years but it’s just now full. More galleries are trying to get in and show work, as well as more artists are trying to get a spot to show. In this western artworld where art is just everywhere, it’s amazing to hear that art is finally having a strong presence in China.
The art world in China was seen as being methodical and systemised, with few Chinese artists doing their own independent work, without influence from private galleries and other frameworks, which define what Chinese contemporary art is.
China’s pronounced lack of freedom and justice has had a major influence on the art the country has produced with references to social and political issues. The Xijing Men (Pauline Yao “Making It Work”, use video, installation and performance art to communicate the idea of a Western capital of China, Xijing. In creating this imaginary ‘space’, the Xijing men embrace the absurdities of mythmaking and even created their own version of the Olympics, called the Xijing Olympics, which was presented in a humorous manner and played on the mania that the real Olympics had stirred the year before, in the citizens of China. The artists competed in absurd events, like three way table tennis using a shoe as a paddle, which mocked the seriousness of China’s most popular sport and the solemnity in which the Chinese government had treated the multi million dollar event. Through doing this, the artists aimed to tear down the the highly scripted notions of the Olympics and create an aimless and playful ceremony.
Roberta Smith’s New York Times article gives a brief overview of the life works of Yayoi Kunama and an account of Kunama most recent exhibition at the Zwirnier Space in New York City.
Yayoi Kunama first came to rise as an artist during the 1960s and has continued to produce avante-garde work to this day. She began with paintings on canvas during the abstract expressionist period of the 1960s. She slowly moved into creating installation projects made from found objects. Through out her experimentation with installation she began incorporating phalluses and mirrors, both of which remained a trend in her later works of art. Eventually Kunama moved towards making video art projects, using many techniques and styles from her installation projects to create the setting for her videos. Her latest endeavors have been Infinity Rooms. These rooms are filled with mirrors reflecting each other all over, creating a sense of flying and endless space.
Today, now 88 years old, Yayoi Kunama is still producing work. Even today, she does all of the painting and constructing herself. Her latest installation at the Zwirnier Space in NYC includes her 2d show Infinity Nets, made up of 10 paintings, all of which were made in the past year. These paintings have an “automatic yet meditative quality” with a focus on dots, repetition, process, spacial illusion, and a feeling of moving and shifting. The exhibit also has infinity rooms. The infinity room titled Lets Survive Together is a room covered completely in mirrors lined entirely with silvery orbs. It is possible that the infinity rooms are attempting to capture the “enormity of love, death and god.”
The article also mentioned that it is well known that Yayoi Kunama has long struggled with mental health problems. These problems, including severe auditory and visual hallucinations, resulted in her hospitalization at one point.
I think that Kunama’s Infinity Rooms sound so fascinating. I can image that entering one feels like entering a new world. I was curious about her infinity rooms so I looked up a few videos to try to get a sense of the experience. Even from the videos, it feels like all senses of time and place and location are lost. It seems to me that suffering from mental health problems, especially ones that illicit hallucinations, might cause a person to in a way lose touch with reality, and that is certainly a feeling that is present in these infinity rooms. But they aren’t scary seeming the way I imagine hallucinations might be, they are far more tranquil and fantastical. This article left me wondering to what extent does Kunama’s mental health problems shape her Infinity Rooms, and in what ways.
Video of Infinity Room: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vebDk7xQmCw
Going into the film viewing of William Kentridge and his animation drawings, I had no idea what to expect. I had never heard of him before nor his significant background which influenced his work.
All of Kentridge’s animations that were shown are apart of a collection titled “9 Drawings for Projection.” Each animation is extremely different to one another however, they all start their first drawing in Johannesburg, South Africa, where Kentridge was born and raised. Each animation shows a quick 1-2 second movements of his drawings which are altered and erased in order to create an animation. Within these drawings, he allows the viewer to meet two significant characters that show up in each animation, Soho and Felix. These characters are supposed to portray, throughout each animation, a different type of political struggle as well as an emotional one of the time period. They are also supposed to depict a ‘typical South African life’ in the pre-democracy state of the country.
Kentridge has become one of the more famous South African artists due to his ability to show South African life in exile, erosion, growth and the technology of new things. He does not go into depth about what is it like being colored during this time period, however, he challenges the viewer to see what is it like to live in South Africa and how their culture has been shaped.
Kentridge created 9 films of the same charcoal, sketchy animations, but also created a 10th animation film that was more linear and used more technology. He still depicted the same messages however by using different mediums of filmmaking and drawing.
Last nights viewing of 10 of Kentridge’s short films was especially enlightening as it intersected with his exhibition in the Trout Gallery. The ten works we saw depicted themes from the apartheid as it was happening and the physical and emotional toll it took on Johannesburg’s society. I found many similarities in Kentridge’s style between the first 9 films that we watched, from his gestural style to the overall frantic pace. Charcoal as a medium in his films worked well because of its temporary state and because it is easily manipulated which aided his use of erasing marks. By erasing areas section by section to create movement, Kentridge’s marks left a ghostly effect which showed the progression of movement of the space travelled through which added another layer of dimension to the film itself.
Kentridge’s last film that we saw was created 10 years after the 9th film and was after the apartheid. Certain aspects of his style remained the same however on the whole, his style seemed to have changed significantly. His drawings were less sketchy and became more thought out and planned, all his drawings were more elaborate and detailed, whether this was because of more time spent on them or just a shift in his personal style. Additionally, because this was created 10 years after the last, the technology used was much more proficient, allowing his films to be more animated and visibly interesting.
I very much enjoyed all of Kentridge’s films and look forward to another viewing next week.