Incidental Boundaries

I’ve been thinking a lot about the exhibition From Two Arises Three at the Asian Art Museum, which showcases the collaborative work of two American artists who through different media have been intensely involved in interpreting Chinese landscapes. Arnold Chang and Michael Cherney acted on their synergies to create something fresh, interesting, and contemplative on many levels.

Arnold Chang is known for his masterful ink paintings on paper, creating landscape vistas that are at once classically Chinese in technique and contemporary in spirit. He was born and educated in the United States, and he received art training from renowned Chinese painters. Michael Cherney is an American artist who has spent two decades in China, traveling to remote areas, working for good causes, absorbing and sustaining Chinese culture, and taking extraordinary photographs.

What amazed me about this exhibit is that at first I did not understand that the highlighted works were a combination of Cherney’s photographic prints and Chang’s manual ink painting. There was such a unity to the works shown that I had to read the wall tags to grasp what was going on, and then I had to do some double-takes: there were examples of Chang’s ink paintings, dreamy and powerful, without any of Cherney’s photography embedded; there were also examples of Cherney’s photographic prints—rich, hazy black-and-white landscapes that felt very close in spirit to Chang’s paintings. Lightbulb! Put the two together!

You can barely see where the photographic print ends and the ink painting begins in the collaborative works. The borders between one artist’s work and another’s is barely perceptible. So all our customary categorizations are now moot: Is the artist Chinese or American? Is the medium photography or painting? Is the style traditional or contemporary? …and the point is, Does it matter?

For  images of the works, click on the gallery in the middle of the Asian Art Museum exhibition webpage.

One thing I can appreciate is that the inspiration of landscape is enduring, no matter who sees it, what medium is used to express it, and in what era the artist lives. Culture, technology, and time frame are incidental to artistic response, which is why we can be moved by works from hundreds or thousands of years ago, from all corners of the earth.

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