“Crisscrossing East and West”: The Remaking of Ink Art in Contemporary East Asia at MOCA Yinchuan

The first museum along the Yellow River in China puts up its first-ever mega exhibition on contemporary ink practices.

Art Radar highlights four works not to miss at MoCA Yinchuan’s latest exhibition, which gives a brand new perspective on ink art.

Image courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan.

Image courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan.

From now until 20 August 2017, visitors to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) Yinchuan can look forward to fresh new insights into the world of Eastern ink art. Spanning 27 artists, 120 artworks and four galleries, the exhibition examines works by contemporary Asian artists making use of the medium in various ways. Curated by Jason Wang Chia Chi (curator of the 2008 Taiwan Biennale), the exhibition is intended to “focus on the development of ink art in East Asia”, involving top and emerging artists such as Xu Bing, Shang Yang, Lee Yi Hong, Lin Yan and Wang Tiande, amongst others. As curator Jason Wang puts it: 

[This exhibition] is the curator’s attempt to provide contrasts or parallels, by showing how some of the exemplary artists from the East Asian areas deal with their own distinct realities.

A panoramic view of Eastern ink art practices, the exhibition “Crisscrossing East and West” distinctly highlights the different ways in which Eastern and Western cultures have influenced each other, and how contemporary Asian artists have absorbed different methods, techniques and concepts into their own practices. With so many artworks on show, Art Radar has selected four among the top works not to miss at MoCA Yinchuan this summer.

Xu Bing, Background Stories: Third Plastic Factory’s Landscape of Mountains in Autumn, Beijing, 2015, 330 x 1680 cm, reclaimed materials. Image courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan.

Xu Bing, ‘Background Stories: Third Plastic Factory’s Landscape of Mountains in Autumn, Beijing’, 2016, reclaimed materials, 330 x 1680 cm. Image courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan.

1. Xu Bing, Background Stories: Third Plastic Factory’s Landscape of Mountains in Autumn, Beijing (2016)

First displayed at a plastics factory in China, Xu Bing‘s (b. 1955, Chongqing, China) Background Stories: Third Plastic Factory’s Landscape of Mountains in Autumn, Beijing (背后的故事:北京塑料三厂的秋山仙逸图) is part of his “Background Views” series of work. The monumental installation presents a beautiful mountain scene, after the traditional Chinese ink landscapes of the seminal Chinese artist Zhang Boju (b. 1898, China). By walking towards the back of the landscape installation, however, one discovers that the landscape scene is essentially made up of detritus and discarded items, salvaged from the particular site of the plastic factory.

The illusion of dream-like mountains is, in fact, created by the shapes of swathes of bright blue plastic wrap tacked to the back of the paper screen. Xu Bing’s work is quite literally a trick of the light, the shadows cast by the refuse and scrap giving the impression of a traditional ink painting. According to curator Jason Wang, Xu Bing’s work

[…] seems not dissimilar to the tradition of fang, or creative imitation, prevalent among Chinese literati painters of the Ming and Qing dynasties, used to uphold and adulate the styles of renowned painters from history. Xu, however, pays more attention to contemporary predicaments. In his hands, tradition becomes a conceptual medium that reflects, or expounds upon, reality.

Xu Bing’s “Background Stories” boasts an impressive exhibition history; this particular work was shown at the Kylin Centre for Contemporary Art, London, in 2015. Other works in the “Background Stories” series have also been shown in other institutions such as the British Museum, London.

Wang Tiande, 'Li Xuan (Qing Dynasty) - Visit to the Song - Luo Monuments', from "Houshan" series, 2014, ink, xuan paper, bast paper, burned mark, 36.5 x 25 cm x 2. Image courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan.

Wang Tiande, ‘Li Xuan (Qing Dynasty) – Visit to the Song – Luo Monuments’, from “Houshan” series, 2014, ink, xuan paper, bast paper, burned mark, 36.5 x 25 cm x 2. Image courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan.

2. Wang Tian De, “Houshan” series (2014)

Also on show are works from Wang Tiande’s (b. 1960, Shanghai, China) Houshan” series, presenting the artist’s signature technique of painting with burning incense, often using already existing calligraphic landscapes or writings. In this exhibition, Wang presents a delicate landscape scene, punctuated with burn marks across the rice paper. Made by laying a single, strategically charred sheet of rice paper over another with an ink work of his own creation, Wang’s works build on the longstanding tradition of ink practice in China, giving it an original twist. The work on show in the exhibition feature shadows of mountains and trees peeking through the first burnt layer, resulting in the effect of a “hidden mountain”.

Wang’s signature style emerged when an chance accident with cigarette ash burned through paper, giving him the idea of using incense as a tool in his practice. His work has been collected by many major institutions and entities, including the  British Museum, London, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Boston Museum of Fine Art, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Shanghai Art Museum, Guangdong Art Museum, Shenzhen Art Museum and JP Morgan Bank.

Liang Qiang, Garden, 2015, 160 x 122 cm, colour, ink and paper. Image courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan.

Liang Quan, ‘Garden’, 2015, colour, ink and paper, 160 x 122 cm. Image courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan.

3. Liang Quan, Garden (2016)

Liang Quan (b. 1948, Shanghai, China) presents an understated and subtly pretty work, featuring a light, airy colour palette. An ink, colour and rice paper collage, the abstract work is a slight deviation from his better-known style of using tea stained strips of paper to create muted works, heightened by extra touches such as hole-punch cutouts and ink. Often considered as part of the school of “abstract naturalism” in Shanghai, Liang’s works are inspired by the peace of Zen Buddhism, of which he is a follower.

His collages often feature expansive spaces free from clutter, reflecting the importance that the artist attributes to blankness in his art practice. In this way, Liang’s works help to form a unique link to the aesthetics of Chinese porcelain in this exhibition, which have traditionally featured similarly quiet colour palettes. Such aesthetics, in turn, have also contributed to the development of contemporary Chinese ink wash and abstract art. Liang’s works, therefore, draw on a long lineage of Chinese art and aesthetics, bringing a different perspective to the exhibition. His works have been acquired by the British Museum, National Art Museum of China, Hong Kong Museum of Art and University of San Francisco.

Song Ling_Wild Animals and Fresh Food_ 2016

Song Ling, ‘Wild Animals and Fresh Food’, 2016, 172 x 86 x 5 cm. Image courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan.

4. Song Ling, Wild Animals and Fresh Food (2016)

A nearly two-metre-long work, made up of several panels, Song Ling’s piece (b. 1961, China) presents a jarring scene of hapless animals being devoured by other ferocious animals in a still, dream-like setting. The work, evocative of his earlier surrealist works done in the 1980s, is made entirely out of ink on paper. Song Ling marries  the Chinese ink medium with an almost de Chirico-esque sensibility, freezing the animals in the midst of a terrific, frightening moment. The size of the work, coupled with the stunning subject matter, showcases Song Ling’s proclivity for adapting the Eastern ink medium to express a heightened sense of suppressed tension in his works. Completed after Song Ling returned from Melbourne in 2013, and re-established himself in Hangzhou, it was first exhibited at the Hive Centre for Contemporary Art, Beijing. Song Ling is regarded as one of the most important members of the Chinese ‘85 New Wave Movement, and had his first retrospective at the Today Art Museum, Beijing, in 2013.

Lin Yan, Drizzling #2, 2015, 132 x 132 x 17cm. Paper and ink on canvas. Image courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan.

Lin Yan, ‘Drizzling #2’, paper and ink on canvas, 132 x 132 x 17 cm. Image courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan.

In addition to these four major highlights, visitors can also look forward to viewing the ink art of other established artists, such as the Chinese-born, New York-based artist Lin Yan (b. 1961, Beijing, China), whose practice often involves using Xuan paper and ink to create beautiful and ethereal sculptural works.

The exhibition also includes a work by the prominent Chinese artist Shang Yang (b. 1942, Sichuan, China). Since the 1980s, Shang was known for his innovative art practices, which marry together Chinese traditional ink techniques with graffitied geometrical designs.

Shang Yang, Dong Qi Chang Ji Hua- 42, 2008, Mixed media. Image courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art, Yinchuan.

Shang Yang, ‘Dong Qi Chang Ji Hua-42’, 2008, mixed media. Image courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art, Yinchuan.

Aimed at presenting a comprehensive cross-section of the diverse ways, methods and means by which ink has been used over the course of contemporary art history, the exhibition purports to give deeper insight into how ink art has changed through the confluence of East and West. Curator Jason Wang raises essential questions about ink, aesthetics and art practices along the way, asking his audience to stop and ponder:

 “Crisscrossing East and West” as the theme of the exhibition calls for broader visions and insights to widen the realm of ink art… how does the artist ruminate on ink art and its cultural tradition?

Junni Chen

1770

Related topics: Chinese artists, ink art, museum shows, feature, painting, sculpture

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