Research Begins

September marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new season of work. Just in the last two weeks, I’ve attended a slew of art exhibit openings, begun conversations with old friends and new contacts, and noticed plenty of good art.

People do complain about the over-commercialization of the art world. I hear how market demands stunt the development of young talent and how the messy involvement of many different interests—sponsors, investors, curators, paid critics, entrepreneurs, the state, the academy, the gallery, the crowds—muddle artists’ visions. Nothing is simple or clean. There are tons and tons of art to see. And, tucked away between the atrocious items, there’s always something that deserves a second look.

Here are some that I paused on:

In an exhibit by a young woman artist Jiang Yan, I admired a quiet, modest painting of the middle section of a woman.

粉色植物 (Pink Plant). 蒋燕(Jiang Yan) 2015. Oil on canvas, 60 x 80 cm.
粉色植物 (Pink Plant). 蒋燕(Jiang Yan) 2015. Oil on canvas, 60 x 80 cm.

The folded hands, neat hair, and dotted dress convey an accepting and steady personality, without showing the face. This portrait stood in stark contrast to the prevalence of voluptuous, bare-rumped, and legs-spread female figures I unavoidably see in Chinese contemporary art shows. Now there’s a fresh view: a female artist’s understanding of a woman.

The exhibit presented an accumulation of careful observations of mundane subjects, each painting holding a great deal of sentiment.

One wall of Jiang Yan's exhibit configured many of her small paintings into a larger idea.
One wall of Jiang Yan’s exhibit configured many of her small paintings into a larger idea.
Untitled. 蒋燕 2015. Oil on wood. 20 x 20 x 2 cm.
Untitled. 蒋燕 (Jiang Yan) 2015. Oil on wood. 20 x 20 x 2 cm.

In a competitive exhibition of works by students from top art academies in China, held at the Central Academy of Fine Arts museum, I came upon this painting of a view from a window.

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那时-现在 (Then – Now). 周达 (Zhou Da) 2015. Oil paint and mixed media. 270 x 210 cm.

The incorporation of a real metal window frame and fan was excellently handled, creating a visceral sense of the interior space opening out to the misty river and city.

I also liked this ink painting of female figures curled, reclined, and floating down a scroll.

渺渺兮 (So boundless)。杜雪 (Du Xue) 2015. Acrylic on silk. 40 x 90 cm.
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Detail.

In Liulichang, a Beijing neighborhood famous for its traditional Chinese art shops and bookstores, an new gallery is trying to bridge traditional and contemporary visions in art. In a small exhibit called “Concept and Language in the Painting Process,” the Right View Gallery (正观美术馆) presented oil paintings by young artists with a feel for Chinese traditional aesthetics. I was told this is the first oil painting exhibit held in a Liulichang gallery, and the old timers there are getting used to the outrage.

At the Central Academy of Fine Arts museum, I was impressed by a solo show by painter Wang Huaxiang. His works do have a critical tone, which of course will make it very popular on the international market and unpopular with Chinese officialdom, but I liked it because it worked. It was fresh, powerful, and thought provoking. I’m still mulling over the images, materials, and concepts.

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In the “Three Lives” solo show by 王华祥 (Wang Huaxiang) at the CAFA Art Museum, these suitcases were powerful. Inside the leather cases were broken plaster fragments of classical statues, and garish flowers, in a pool of murky gel. On the insides of the lids were portraits of a man in anguish. Something beautiful has been ruined, and what is left of it is cried over and preciously assembled in a time-worn suitcase.
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Detail.

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