Chinese art at Tilton Gallery - reviewed by Randi Hoffman
"Your Body" Xiang Jing, 2005 Reinforced Fiberglass 105.3 x 62.4 x 58.5 inches
At the entrance of the Tilton Gallery a giant gold, Buddha, on closer inspection a naked, shaved woman, greeted visitors to the Jiang Hu show. Named "Your Body," and constructed of reinforced fiberglass, the sculpture was created by Xiang Jing. "Your Body" sets the tone of the show, combining traditional and modern Chinese elements that both mesh and clash with each other. The 30 contemporary artists who are represented in the show created urban and rural landscapes, portraits and sometimes incorporated ancient forms such as calligraphy. They used the forms of painting, photography, sculpture and film.
On the more subtle, traditional end of the spectrum, Lin Wei painted a black and white work on a paper that could be a snowstorm. Yang Shaobin's oil painting. "Park in Wartime," is a blurred, leafy, pleasant piece.
Wenda Gu combined landscape with inked calligraphy that almost morphs into modern graffiti. This writing is on the top of the 128 x 78 inch scroll, and at the bottom are painted mountains, trees and oceans, in a balance of ancient and modern symbols and forms. Wenda Gu is 51-years-old, has lived most of his life in the West, and is currently teaching art at the University of Minnesota.
Photographer Ziang Li has created more literal landscapes. His four large C-prints record urban daily life and the demolition and modernization of Beijing. The first, a series of drab gray-black squares, is on closer inspection an apartment building, complete with security bars on the windows, air conditioners, and a few dim yellow lights on the porches. Another photograph is a street scene of a red pagoda booth next to a construction site, with a blue yield sign in both Chinese and English. The third is gritty building demolition surrounded by telephone poles. One gray, Western building houses a Christian Church with a red, lettered sign. In this photograph are traffic lights and people traveling on bicycles. The fourth in the series is another serene snowscape, maybe in a cemetery, possibly the covered roof of a shrine.
In a photograph of China's landmark most recognizable to Westerners, Ma Liuming's 78 x 62 inch "Great Wall 2004," is a huge color landscape of the structure, with two small people, maybe children, blurry with movement. Liuming is 36, has shown widely in the United States, including P.S. 1 in Long Island City and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He was part of a community of experimental artists who lived in a neighborhood called the Beijing East Village.
Less literal, and maybe too playful and easily dismissed if you don't look closely, "Shadowless Person" is comprised of four sculptures, each a different color, that resemble terrarium biospheres of toy plastic army men. Inside the red globe, the army men fight giant insects. Inside the yellow is an explosion and orange a bloodied tank. White is a more tranquil and fashionable scene where a man with white boots and purple hair stands on clear plastic blocks. Assembled by Unmask Group, 2004, "Shadowless Person" is a clever comment on warfare.
The portraits in the show are more obviously subversive than most of the landscapes. Wei Dong paints a provocative twist on communist party art in "My Girl #4," an acrylic on canvas that depicts a sexy young girl in an unbuttoned red uniform holding a slice of bread. In the same vein, "No. 6, 2004," is an oil on canvass that looks like a sepia-toed portrait of a pretty woman. The painter, Qi Zhi Long, was born in Mongolia and makes a practice of using actresses and celebrities as his models.
Shi Tou is a rare Chinese Lesbian artist who lives and works in Beijing. Her huge C-print of two women whose tight traditional Chinese dresses contract with their hair (one with a crew cut and the other sporting punky spikes). They're set against a background of reminiscent of Times Square, with huge commercial billboards, but framed in a red pagoda.
It is refreshing to see so much painting, not currently the trend in American art. The Jiang Hu Show, along with the 2004 photography show at the International Center of Photography, creates inspiration to visit Beijing while it is undergoing a creative rebirth similar East Berlin right after the wall came down, before rampant industrialism brings art that is homogeneous to that produced in North American or Western European cities.