Theatre of the World exhibition at the Guggenheim- Adya Zecha

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.

‘There Came a Mr. Solomon to China’, Zhou Tiehai, 1994
‘Map of “Art and China after 1989: Theatre of the World”‘, Qiu ZhiJie, 2017

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