Exhibit paints picture of contemporary Chinese art through 3 giants

Updated: 2014-07-03 08:54

By Chris Davis(China Daily USA)

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Exhibit paints picture of contemporary Chinese art through 3 giants

Simon Ma, one of China's most celebrated contemporary artists, puts the finishing touches on one the works for his upcoming show at the Frost Art Museum at Florida International University in Miami. Provided to China Daily

Florida International University is one China-connected school, and has been for years. It is building a Confucius Institute adjacent to its main campus on the Tamiami Trail west of Miami. But its big bridge is a cooperative venture with Tianjin University of Commerce that led to an exact replica of FIU's celebrated School of Hospitality being built on the Tianjin campus. As a result, there is a lively flow of people going back and forth to China and about 1,000 Chinese students on the Miami campus at any given time.

Exhibit paints picture of contemporary Chinese art through 3 giants

One of the gems of the Miami campus is the Smithsonian-affiliated Frost Art Museum, which has received, among other contributions, an endowment for Asian exhibits and programs from Taiwanese philanthropist Jane Hsiao.

"As part of our international mandate, Asia is something that we try to keep on view at all times," said Carol Damian, Frost Art Museum director and chief curator. The Hsiao endowment has helped make possible exhibits like the 10-month-long 3 Giants of Chinese Contemporary Art that opens there next week.

"This is an incredible, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity," Damian said. "This brings the world of contemporary Chinese art to our doorstep."

Two of the three artists selected for the show Damian heard about from local collectors. "I'm an art historian, so I've tried to learn as much as possible from collectors who were kind enough to give me stacks of books, because I'm the one who has to teach my staff, so I've become fascinated with Chinese artists," she said.

Damian said she always prefaces a discussion of contemporary Chinese art with a history of Chinese art. "It's really important for those of us in the Western world to recognize the fact that the history of Chinese art is thousands of years old," Damian said.

"If you don't understand something as basic as calligraphy in the landscape the work that the artists are doing today or even yesterday will not make sense, because so many of them look to the past for their present and their future," she said.

It's a matter of teaching it as a historical survey that leads up to the artists working today, who are very diverse — pop artists, traditionalists, and artists like Simon Ma and Xu Bing, vice-president of China's Central Academy of Fine Arts, who bring together the traditional and the contemporary.

"There's a lot of depth to it," she said. "It's not just looking at a purely abstract painting and saying that's just paint on a canvass. You really have to ask yourself why did they put that paint on the canvass and what does it mean to Chinese artists, who don't have the experience of the New York school of Jackson Pollack. They are looking at their world of abstraction from their own point of view."

A mix of East and West informs all of the work we look at today, she said.

The exhibit took years of looking at schedules and planning. "You don't put all three artists there at the same time," she said. "They have to be spaced out so that each one is given the respect that they expect."

It was also a matter of how their particular work fit in certain of the museum's nine different galleries. Artists, like Simon Ma, who leads off the exhibit, demand huge spaces. Whereas the works of the third artist in the show, Xu Bing, require smaller, more intimate spaces so as not to get lost. "I consider myself like a choreographer with all these moveable parts," Damian said.

Simon Ma will kick off the show with Heart.Water.Ink World Tour Exhibition 2014, which he dedicates to Chinese Master Xu Beihong, whose footsteps he follows in, the brochure says.

"Ma goes back to his preferred subject, Nature, and his reference to its power and majesty, mountains, skies, waters and animals," it reads. "2014 is the Chinese Year of the Horse, and the name Ma means horse, so the horse becomes the favorite subject" of the show, which will run from July 12 through Oct 19.

The works of painter turned photographer Wang Qingsong will follow from Nov 8 through Jan 18. His multi-media show, called ADintinitum, will feature gigantic photographs depicting "the earthshaking changes occurring in contemporary China, and the contradictions and problems brought about by this rapid transition". Wang's work, the brochure says, "questions the vanity and the 'glorious life sweeter than honey' in the face of the mind-boggling social and cultural issues China is dealing with today".

The third of the three giants is Xu Bing, a MacArthur Fellowship winner who was recognized for his "capacity to make significant contributions to society, particularly in printmaking and calligraphy". Xu will present Writing Between Heaven and Earth, showcasing masterworks that demonstrate the art of writing as image and will run from Feb 14 through May 24, 2015.

Contact the writer at chrisdavis@chinadailyusa.com