Artists Gao Weigang, the Gao Brothers, Hu Qinwu, Li Hui, Meng Zhigang, Ni Youyu, Pan Jian, Qiu Anxiong, Qiu Deshu, Yan Bing, Yang Yongliang and Zheng Chongbin, all from Beijing or Shanghai, exhibit newly commissioned bodies of work as well as iconic artworks never before shown in New York. Their work incorporates light, sculpture, ink painting & animation, woodblock prints, photography, performance and installation.
The artists in Outside the Lines build on the work of the previous generation of Chinese artists, who gained widespread international popularity through works labeled Political Pop or Cynical Realism. These 12 artists continue to push boundaries, diverging from tradition in their choices of medium, their inclusion of social commentary and their approaches, as they fuse inspiration from both the East and the West.
Gao Weigang makes work in a variety of media: painting, sculpture, installation and performance. These varied works are unified by their ability to disrupt expectations, a paramount concern for the artist. ‘We are happy to rely on our own judgments without questioning or speculating about them, which is a kind of vice,’ he says. Through subtle deviations in material and form, he seeks to introduce doubt into a viewer’s experience of his work, hoping to inspire second-guessing and revised understandings.
‘To me, half of art is created by the viewer,’ Li Hui says. ‘My art is always interactive, and it gains meaning through this interaction.’ Li Hui’s immersive artworks often deal with themes of transformation, enacting dynamic cycles in which opposites are juxtaposed and occasionally reconciled. For example, nature and technology confront one another in a series of robotic animals; violence and serenity intertwine in the wreckage of a car wrapped in white fabric; and freedom and captivity are contrasted in a cage composed of ephemeral laser beams. By allowing his viewer to alter these scenarios, he exposes the ways reality is malleable and subjective.
Pan Jian was born in 1975, just before the end of the Cultural Revolution, and his work’s individualism reflects the relaxing norms of the period in which he came of age. Instead of depicting an objective reality, he paints scenes that are introspective and moody, humble rather than monumental. His freedom to pursue such a vision – one that is idiosyncratic rather than socio-political – speaks to the degree of creative freedom Chinese artists of his generation have enjoyed.
Yan Bing’s paintings nostalgically allude to his memories of growing up in rural China. His canvases resemble cowhide flattened over stretcher bars; the animal skins’ patterns create map-like abstractions awash in earthy colour schemes. His process honours agricultural labour, retaining the poetic space between modern social humanity and undeveloped landscapes. In a contemporary context, Yan Bing’s work speaks to the fast pace of China’s modern development, as well as the lightning speed with which large quantities of information bounce across the globe.
Yang Yongliang’s photos and videos contain intricate worlds in which past and present intertwine. Urban development meets rural life, as skyscrapers tower beside cascading waterfalls. The past confronts the present in scenes where men in traditional garb graze horses beside burnt- out automobiles. ‘In my work, what is important is the ambiguous relationship between people and nature, tradition and modernity, West and East,’ he says.
Yang Yongliang will be concurrently featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s landmark exhibition Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China.
￼Zheng Chongbin’s work reflects his bicultural education. Trained at a traditional Chinese arts academy in Shanghai, he later attended the San Francisco Art Institute, where he studied contemporary Western art. His ink paintings incorporate qualities of both approaches. While his use of ink and Xuan paper references traditional brush painting, his focus on materiality and perception is more aligned with the concerns of Western Minimalism.
Outside the Lines: New Art From China takes place at the RH Contemporary Art gallery, located at 437 West 16th Street in New York’s Chelsea art district, from January 31 to April 12, 2014.