Theater of the World – Amanda Dobbin

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.


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