A Beautiful World: 5 Chinese artists and their “peak experience” at Klein Sun Gallery, New York

Featuring five Chinese artists, “Closer To The Beautiful World” takes reference from Abraham Maslow’s theories.

Art Radar looks at the exhibition running until 25 November 2017 in New York City.

Zhang Zhaoying 'Blowing Cheerily',2015,Oil on canvas, 120 x 140cm. © Zhang Zhaoying, image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery

Zhang Zhaoying ‘Blowing Cheerily’, 2015, oil on canvas, 120 x 140 cm. © Zhang Zhaoying. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Featuring the artists Chen Xi, Hu Yinping, Wang Jiajia, Yang Xinjia and Zhang Zhaoying, the latest exhibition at Klein Sun Gallery in New York, “Closer to the Beautiful World”, pulls together painting, installation and photography works. Curated by Hong Kong-born independent curator Janet Fong, the exhibition contemplates the idea of a human’s “peak experience” in his or her life.

As suggested by American psychologist Abraham Maslow, “peak experience” is a psychological phenomenon that a person may have during his or her lifetime. Often typified as a series of euphoric mental states, “peak experience” was seen as a pathway to self-actualisation, where the person experiences an enhanced capability to fulfill one’s potentialities.

Described as a state during which the senses of a person become keener and more receptive, the “peak experience” allows access to feelings of heightened perception, leading one to experience feelings of enlightenment and ultimate understanding of the essence of the world as well as the nature of life. Maslow considered the achievement of these “peak experiences” to have been an important part of any human’s life, writing that it allowed people to gain insight into a “beautiful world”. As he writes,

The reason why we attempt to approach the ‘beautiful world’ is because we live in a world that lacks choices and in reality is filled with perversity, ignorance, hypocrisy, and ugliness.

The exhibition looks at the creative output of these “peak experiences”, resulting in an exhibition where multiple threads, themes and ideas run through. The works are the product of these five artists’ experiences of euphoria, creativity and seeming enlightenment, providing a window into their individual artistic processes and approaches. The exhibition strikes several notes; sometimes disorienting, alien and bizarre, the works on show display a multi-faceted understanding of what it means to experience the “peak experience” in different times and locations.

Yang Xinjia 'A Fatty's Sorrow' (detail), 2015 Photograph,80 x 52cm each Edition of 6 © Yang Xinjia, image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery

Yang Xinjia ‘A Fatty’s Sorrow’ (detail), 2015, photograph, 80 x 52 cm each, Edition of 6. © Yang Xinjia. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

One of the most discombobulating works is Yang Xinjia’s A Fatty’s Sorrow (2015), which depicts a group of officials in uniform, gathered around the carcass of a giant, bloated fish. Laughing in an almost celebratory, light-hearted fashion, the starkness of the fish’s death does not appear to figure in the minds of the officials gathered around the table. Tinged with a certain darkness, the image was created by Yang Xinjia altering original images in a bricolage-like fashion.

Resulting in this bizarre setting, Yang Xinjia’s image reflects a certain dark humour about the world. Sublimating typical, commonplace political images often published in newspapers and other media, Yang Xinjia’s image can almost be read as a pointed commentary on such staged situations, ironically revealing a certain truth through her own method of constructing an imaginary narrative.

Wang Jia jia,'Can We Live in Reality', 2017,Digital print, oil, acrylic, spray paint, resin on canvas 100 x 150cm © Wang Jia jia, image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery

Wang Jiajia, ‘Can We Live in Reality’, 2017, digital print, oil, acrylic, spray paint, resin on canvas, 100 x 150 cm. © Wang Jiajia. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

The paintings works of Wang Jiajia, Chen Xi and Zhang Zhaoying provide an interesting counterpoint to Yang Xinjia’s photography work. Exuberant and dynamic, the paintings reveal the psychological states of the artists themselves during their experience of self-actualisation. Wang Jiajia’s Can we Live in Reality (2017), made by layering oil and acrylic over a digital print on canvas, is an expansive swath of colours that wind their way across the canvas. Peppered with slogans and taglines that run a gamut of negative emotions, such as “Die Yuppie Scum!”, “No please” and “I miss you!”, Wang Jiajia’s painting is a furious whirl of raw sentiments and feelings.

Chen Xi 'Single Layer Acrylic No.11' ,2015 Acrylic on canvas 120 x 100cm) © Chen Xi, image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery

Chen Xi, ‘Single Layer Acrylic No.11’, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 100 cm. © Chen Xi. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Perhaps somewhat cheerier is Zhang Zhaoying’s Blowing Cheerily (2015), which features splashes of confetti-like oil flakes dancing across the canvas. A strange portrait piece, Zhang’s subjects are incredibly muscled women, with absurd flower-like structures for heads that are vaguely reminiscent of cheap, plastic portable fans. Posed as though in the midst of a body-builder’s contest, the four bodies line up with their stomachs pulled in and chests puffed out, as celebratory confetti stream across the canvas. By itself, Blowing Cheerily is a weird and wonderful painting that stands out.

Chen Xi’s Single Layer Acrylic No. 11 (2015) strikes a more monochromatic tone, comprising an intricate swirl of interlocking grey and white lines with dashes of blue. A hypnotic painting, Chen Xi’s work deals with dimensionality, flattening fractured surfaces onto the two-dimensional face of the canvas.

Hu Yinping ,' Identity', 2012-present Original identification cards 54 x 85.6mm each© Hu Yinping, image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery

Hu Yinping ,’ Identity’, 2012-present, original identification cards, 54 x 85.6 mm each. © Hu Yinping. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Hu Yinping presents an unusual installation piece, Identity (2012-present), which showcases her original identification cards. Inspired by her friend’s remark that she looked like a slightly overweight stranger, Hu’s work maps a trajectory over how she has been defined in her pictures and the content on her identity cards.

With so many different results, the exhibition paints an interesting story about the mental condition of “peak experience”, presenting a multi-faceted view of what it means to have that kind of experience. Alongside the gallery’s exhibition programme is also its ongoing contribution to this year’s edition of Asia Contemporary Art Week in New York. Part of Thinking Projects, a pop-up exhibition series, Klein Sun Gallery is also presenting the work of Yang Xin. A site-specific installation, You’re looking at me. Who’s Looking at You? (2017) deals with ecological issues, particularly that of plastic mulch found in China. Addressing human-environment relationships, the installation delves into the damage done to the ecological balance in China, and was co-organised with the Fu Xiaodong Space Station Beijing. Both exhibition programmes run until the 25 November 2017; a veritable panorama of Chinese art, the programme provides an interesting peek into the art of China today.

Junni Chen


Related topics: Chinese artists, gallery shows, feature, painting, events in New York

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