New art from China: Outside the Lines in New York – in pictures

Newly commissioned works by Chinese artists hit New York’s RH Contemporary Art.

An exhibition running from 31 January to 12 April 2014 at RH Contemporary Art gallery in New York features works by 12 influential Chinese artists, including newly commissioned works created especially for the exhibition.

Yang Yongliang, 'Silent Valley – A Wolf and Landmines', 2012, Epson UltraGiclee print on Hahnemuhle photo, 39 1/2 x 78 3/4 in, edition of 7. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Yang Yongliang, ‘Silent Valley – A Wolf and Landmines’, 2012, Epson UltraGiclee print on Hahnemuhle photo, 39 1/2 x 78 3/4 in, edition of 7. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

On 31 January 2014, RH Contemporary Art gallery in New York City launched the exhibition “Outside the Lines: New Art from China”, which will be running until 12 April 2014. The exhibition features 12 well-known Chinese artists and includes both newly commissioned works and older artworks that have never been shown in New York.

As expressed in the press release, the show explores the artists’ philosophical and cultural concerns, and presents a dialogue among diverse media, practices and iconography. The variety of artworks incorporates light, sculpture, ink painting and animation, woodblock prints, photography, performance and installation.

Gao Weigang, 'VICE D', 2013, mirror shards and acrylic on canvas 78 11/16 x 78 11/16 in. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Gao Weigang, ‘VICE D’, 2013, mirror shards and acrylic on canvas 78 11/16 x 78 11/16in. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

The artists

The artists in “Outside the Lines”, according to RH Contemporary Art, all built upon the work of the previous generation of Political Pop or Cynical Realist artists of the 1990s.

The 12 artists continue to push boundaries, diverging from traditional media by embracing contemporary and more experimental practices or re-inventing traditional Chinese media. While continuing on the path laid by their predecessors in their social commentaries, the artists also fuse inspiration from both East and West.

Installation view of "Outside the Lines: New Art from China" at RH Contemporary Art, New York. Works by Yan Bing. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Installation view of “Outside the Lines: New Art from China” at RH Contemporary Art, New York. Works by Yan Bing. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

All hailing from Beijing or Shanghai, the 12 artists on show are:

Of the 12 artists, Yan Bing and Gao Weigang have created works for the exhibition while participating in RH Contemporary’s artist-in-residence programme.

Zheng Chongbin, 'Divided Space', 2013, ink and acrylic on Xuan paper, 70 x 65 in. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Zheng Chongbin, ‘Divided Space’, 2013, ink and acrylic on Xuan paper, 70 x 65in. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Reinterpreting tradition

Zheng Chongbin’s work reflects his bicultural education in Shanghai and San Francisco. He paints in the traditional brush painting medium of ink and Xuan paper while focusing on Western Minimalist concerns with materiality and perception. The artist focuses his attention on the physical properties of his medium, by overlaying ink and Xuan paper sheets creating surfaces that evoque illusory, dreamlike states.

Hu Qinwu, '12008', 2012, acrylic on canvas, 59 x 47 1/4 in. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Hu Qinwu, ‘12008’, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 59 x 47 1/4 in. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Hu Qinwu’s works contrast with China’s rapid urbanisation process in their exploration of timeless themes inspired by Buddhist philosophy. Praising simplicity and fluid interconnectivity, his works are based on the repetition of forms, and the contrast between light and dark.

Hu Qinwu, 'P-1203', 2012, ink on handmade paper, 43 1/3 x 43 1/3 in. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Hu Qinwu, ‘P-1203’, 2012, ink on handmade paper, 43 1/3 x 43 1/3in. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

In his work P-1203 (2012) the artist explores the interplay between lines and circles. The artist overlays Chinese characters from Buddhist prayer books on uniform grids of small circles, created in various shades of gray.

The work is as “a meditative act of mark-making” as the circles are created by dropping water on the painting’s surface, leaving the result both ordered and open to chance.

Installation view of "Outside the lines: New Art from China" at RH Contemporary Art, New York. From left to right: works by Qiu Deshu, Hu Qinwu and Yang Yongliang. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Installation view of “Outside the lines: New Art from China” at RH Contemporary Art, New York. From left to right: works by Qiu Deshu, Hu Qinwu and Yang Yongliang. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Qiu Deshu defines his style as “fissuring”, which refers to the process of tearing Xuan paper and applying the fragments to the painted canvases. Multiple layers are physically visible through the compositions. His works also have a more metaphorical quality: a fissure is an interruption and the artist believes such ‘breaks’ compose our lives.

Li Hui, 'V', 2009, installation view. Photo: © 2014 Scott Rudd. Image courtesy of RH Contemporary Art.

Li Hui, ‘V’, 2009, installation view. Photo: © 2014 Scott Rudd. Image courtesy RH Contemporary Art.

Qiu Anxiong creates connections between historic eras, juxtaposing ink brush painting and digital animation that explore the cultural and physical evolution of China through the ages. Created by editing photographs of his brush paintings into stop-motion video animations, his works reference ancient Chinese philosophy and contemporary urban development.

Li Hui, 'V', 2009, stainless steel, mirror, laser, fog machine, 590 3/16 x 196 5/16 x 275 3/16 in, edition of 3. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Li Hui, ‘V’, 2009, stainless steel, mirror, laser, fog machine, 590 3/16 x 196 5/16 x 275 3/16in, edition of 3. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Disruption and experimentation

Li Hui says, “To me, half of art is created by the viewer.” He describes his art as “always interactive, and it gains meaning through this interaction.”

In the newly commissioned edition of his installation V (2009), lights, mirrors, metal, laser beams and clouds of smoke create a mysterious atmosphere in mutation. The red beams’ trajectories, which are reflected on mirrors through the smoke, are further transformed and altered by the presence of the spectators’ bodies.

Installation view of "Outside the Lines: New Art from China" at RH Contemporary Art, New York. Works by Gao Weigang. Image courtesy the artists and RH Contemporary Art.

Installation view of “Outside the Lines: New Art from China” at RH Contemporary Art, New York. Works by Gao Weigang. Image courtesy the artists and RH Contemporary Art.

Gao Weigang’s work span from painting, sculpture and installation to performance. The artist’s main concern is to disrupt expectations through subtle deviations in material and form. His intention is to introduce doubt into a viewer’s experience and to inspire second-guessing and revised understandings.

For the exhibition, he has re-adapted his metal staircase installation to fit right under the skylight in the gallery space. His staircases seemingly functional are, in fact, leading nowhere with hollow risers and skewed dimensions.

Gao Weigang, 'VICE A', 2013, mirror shards and acrylic on canvas, 118 1/16 x 220 7/16 in. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Gao Weigang, ‘VICE A’, 2013, mirror shards and acrylic on canvas, 118 1/16 x 220 7/16 in. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

The Gao Brothers’s socially charged iconoclastic works offer critical commentaries on contemporary China and its relationship to the West. Active since the 1980s, their works stylise existing traditional iconography with references to China’s rapid modernisation and westernisation.

The duo also engages in performance, as in their ongoing works World Hug Day and Embrace, documented with photographs that challenge taboos of public interaction, gender roles and sexuality.

Ni Youyu, 'Zlich', 2013, soap sculptures. Photo: © 2014 Scott Rudd. Image courtesy RH Contemporary Art.

Ni Youyu, ‘Zlich’, 2013, soap sculptures. Photo: © 2014 Scott Rudd. Image courtesy RH Contemporary Art.

Ni Youyu creates works through processes of erasure and erosion. These concepts are at the basis of his varied media output, from painted coins, woodblock prints and acrylic-wash paintings to soap sculptures.

In the exhibition, he presents a new series of Buddha soap sculptures, which carry the duplicitous meanings of functional hand-washing and spiritual value. The viewer is thus invited to make a choice between the two usages: the more it is considered at its washing potential, the more the spiritual significance is erased.

Yan Bing, 'Cow Herd', 2014, installation. Photo: © 2014 Scott Rudd. Image courtesy of RH Contemporary Art.

Yan Bing, ‘Cow Herd’, 2014, installation. Photo: © 2014 Scott Rudd. Image courtesy of RH Contemporary Art.

The urbanisation of tradition

Yan Bing, the other artist-in-residence at RH, created a new commissioned series titled Cow Herd. The artist’s work evokes his memories of life in rural China. The artist collected cinderblocks he found in the city during his residency and applied pigments to their surfaces, giving them the texture and appearance of cow hide.

His abstract paintings resemble cowhide stretched over the canvas and are awash in earthy color schemes of warm browns, oxblood, and the black and white of cattle markings.

Yan Bing, 'Five Cows No. 3', 2011, oil on canvas, 63 x 110 in. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Yan Bing, ‘Five Cows No. 3’, 2011, oil on canvas, 63 x 110in. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

His working process is a tribute to agricultural labour, juxtaposing modern society and undeveloped landscapes. In his previous works, the artist took his inspiration from the Arte Povera movement of the 1960s and 1970s. He created installations and paintings made of farm tools and organic materials such as dirt, silk, cow skin and fur.

Installation view of "Outside the Lines: New Art from China" at RH Contemporary Art, New York. From left to right: works by Yang Yongliang and Meng Zhigang. Image courtesy the artists and RH Contemporary Art.

Installation view of “Outside the Lines: New Art from China” at RH Contemporary Art, New York. Works by Yang Yongliang and Meng Zhigang. Image courtesy the artists and RH Contemporary Art.

Meng Zhigang paints empty architectural interiors that function as commentaries on the current housing crisis in China. The deserted spaces also allude to an imagined post-apocalyptic, post-industrial future.

Yang Yongliang, 'A Bowl of Taipei No. 5', 2012, Epson UltraGiclee print on Hahnemuhle photo 39 1/2 x 39 1/2 in, edition of 7. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Yang Yongliang, ‘A Bowl of Taipei No. 5’, 2012, Epson UltraGiclee print on Hahnemuhle photo 39 1/2 x 39 1/2in, edition of 7. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Yang Yongliang incorporates traditional landscape painting with digital layering, creating dystopian scenarios of new realities that depict China’s rapid urban development. In his photos and videos past and present, rural and urban intertwine. The artist explains: “In my work, what is important is the ambiguous relationship between people and nature, tradition and modernity, West and East.”

Pan Jian, 'BanShan Ting 2', 2013, oil on canvas, 59 x 137 5/16 in. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Pan Jian, ‘BanShan Ting 2’, 2013, oil on canvas, 59 x 137 5/16in. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Pan Jian creates landscapes of everyday scenes in motion. Dark skies in subtle hues of black, purple and blue conceal a landscape of trees, hills and flat roads as if seen from the window of a moving car. Melancholy reigns over these scenes, which remind of the ephemeral nature of life.

Pan Jian, 'Wo YunGang 1', 2013, oil on canvas, 35 1/8 x 59 in. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

Pan Jian, ‘Wo YunGang 1’, 2013, oil on canvas, 35 1/8 x 59 in. Image courtesy the artist and RH Contemporary Art.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related topics: Chinese artists, ink painting, installation, performance, sculpture, light, animation, art and urbanisation, classicism in contemporary art, gallery shows, events in New York, picture feasts

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