The exhibition showcases the latest acquisitions of the Asia Society Museum.
Art Radar takes a look at the exhibition at New York’s Asia Society Museum, which highlights well-known artists such as Gu Wenda, Huang Yan, Minjung Kim, Qiu Zhijie and Sun Xun.
A large-scale video installation by Sun Xun, who is considered one of China’s foremost contemporary artists, dominates the stage at Asia Society Museum‘s latest exhibition “Clouds Stretching For A Thousand Miles: Ink in Asian Art”. Devoted to contemporary Asian ink art, the exhibition borrows its title from the words of Tang Dynasty calligrapher Zhang Yanyuan (c. 815 – c.875 CE). An examination of the influence of calligraphy within contemporary art practice in Asia, the exhibition is also a means of introducing the museum’s additions to their permanent collection. These include works by Chinese contemporary heavyweights Gu Wenda, Qiu Zhijie and Sun Xun, alongside traditional illuminated Qu’rans from China and Central Asia.
Time Vivarium (2015) by Sun Xun (b. 1980, Fuxin, China) is one of the artist’s great triumphs in scale. Stretching across the full length of a wall, the video blends traditional landscape painting with the history of post-Cultural Revolution China. Laced with skepticism, Time Viviarium tells a tale of gloom, chaos and uncompromising severity within life in an undefined time and place. Alluding to the historical and political circumstances of modern China, Sun Xun’s four-channel installation weaves together riotous scenes in his landscape drawings, which include symbolic imagery of real and mythical creatures, set to an instrumental soundtrack. Within the context of the exhibition, Time Vivarium exemplifies the enduring legacy of traditional landscape painting and calligraphy on prominent, established contemporary Chinese artists, underscoring the multiple ways that it has been reworked as a medium for current discourse.
“Clouds Stretching for a Thousand Miles” were the words used by Zhang Yanyuan to describe the primary stroke used in traditional calligraphic practice – the horizontal line. Opening the conversation about the endurance of calligraphy and ink in visual art practices over the centuries, the exhibition looks at the ways that it has been co-opted, adapted and re-interpreted. Sun Xun’s Time Viviarium stands as a key work that bridges this centuries-old tradition with the new media of the digital now.
Alongside the work by Sun Xun, Asia Society Museum has also acquired an ink on paper work from Qiu Zhijie‘s “Dictionary Series”, which shows the artist’s engagement with scroll painting traditions. Repeating Chinese characters across multiple layers, the works give the semblance of illegibility, alluding to the possibilities of individuality within Chinese society. The artist had also been recently featured in the Solomon R. Guggenheim‘s watershed survey of Chinese contemporary art in post-1985 era.
Gu Wenda‘s Forest of Stone Steles #13 (1998) is also on show. Known for his controversial United Nations Project, in which he uses human hair to create mounument-like installations, Gu Wenda often focuses on the intricacies of language and script. Forest of Stone Steles #13 belongs to a series of ink rubbings on rice paper that the artist created between the years 1993 and 2005. Resulting from an arduous, long and complicated process of translation and re-translation, the fifty hand-carved stone steles are accompanied by their ink rubbings. This series is inspired by the original Forest of Stone Steles, which can be found in Xi’an, China. Each of the artist’s steles contains texts from Tang Dynasty poetry in four forms: the original poem, an early 20th-century English translation, the artist’s own transliteration of the English translation back into Mandarin, and a final English translation.
Also included in the exhibition is the work of Korean artist Minjung Kim, entitled Phasing (2016). Combining Korean ink art with the visual vocabulary of Western modernism, Kim’s works are a combination of delicacy and lightness that cannot be pigeonholed easily into any visual arts tradition. Kim employs characteristics of Korean landscape painting, as well as Korean mulberry paper, within her process-based practice. Her beautifully executed works display her simultaneous interest in the works of western masters such as Paul Klee, and the traditional aesthetics of her home country.
Many of the works on display re-iterate the exhibition’s focus on calligraphic practices, and its close ties to language, writing and script. Two interesting additions to the exhibition are two illuminated Qu’rans. Dating from the 14th and 17th centuries, the works demonstrate the influence of calligraphy beyond East Asia. Covered in decorative script, gold and colourful designs, the Qu’rans are exemplar of the impact that the text had on Islamic religious life.
Tying together traditional and contemporary objects under one roof, the exhibition highlights the various roles that ink has had throughout the ages. Beyond introducing the latest new acquisitions of the museum’s permanent collections, this exhibition is a good chance to view some of the best works to have emerged from contemporary China in the context of their aesthetic traditions.
“Clouds Stretching for a Thousand Miles: Ink in Asian Art” is on view from 22 June to 12 August 2018 at Asia Society Museum, 725 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10021.
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