For Intersect Aspen, Chambers Fine Art is pleased to present the work of 6 artists: Ai Weiwei, Song Dong & Yin Xiuzhen, Wang Gongyi, Xiaoze Xie, and Yan Shanchun, all of whom are originally from China, although they now live and work in different parts of the world. History, memory and time are common themes that run through these artists’ work, though each of their approaches is quite distinct, whether a political, spiritual, or personal. As we navigate the current global pandemic and the upheaval it has caused, we decided to look to a group of artists whose works deal with their perception of history and time.
One of the most important themes in Ai Weiwei’s work in the last decade has been his overwhelming concern with human rights and in particular his ongoing focus on the refugee crisis. Ai Weiwei’s activism through art began in the wake of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, when he organized a volunteer Citizens’ Investigation to establish the names of the more than 5,000 schoolchildren who had been killed in the disaster due to shoddy school construction, and created artworks that criticize the Chinese government’s response. For Intersect Aspen, Chambers Fine Art presents works from Rebar and Case (2014), a series of marble sculptures that are faithful replicas of twisted steel from the collapsed schools in Sichuan, commemorating the thousands of students who lost their lives. Each sculpture is housed in a finely crafted wooden box adapted to its form. Noting that he never really separates “art, architecture, design, and even curating”, Ai has observed that his boxes are simultaneously abstract sculptures and containers for delicate marble forms that are heavily laden with meaning.
Song Dong & Yin Xiuzhen
Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen, who have been married since 1993, have established international reputations as two of China’s most prominent artists from the generation who matured in the decade of the 1990s. In this personal and professional achievement, they may be compared with other celebrated married couples of the twentieth century such as Robert and Sonia Delaunay and Jean Arp and Sophie Taueber-Arp. Since 2002, Song and Yin have collaborated in an ongoing project called The Way of Chopsticks, for which they have evolved a way of working that simultaneously emphasizes their closeness while emphasizing their individuality. After establishing the general parameters of each artwork, they work independently of each other and only during installation do they see each other’s finished pieces. The works here represent ‘cross-sections’ of pairs of chopsticks and were first shown at the Philadelphia Art Alliance in 2014. The pieces relate to the couple’s mutual interest in the transformation of the urban environment at the end of the 20th century: the used clothes and metal bolts that Yin Xiuzhen uses recall the clothing factory where her mother worked while she was growing up, while the raised ridges of paint in Song Dong’s pieces resemble the rings of a tree, representing the passage of time.
Wang Gongyi was born in Tianjin, China in 1946. She received her master’s degree from the Department of Printmaking at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Art in 1980, and in 1986 she made her first trip abroad when she was invited by the French Ministry of Culture to study art and art education. After periods as artist-in-residence at the Museum of Oregon State University and the Pacific Northwest College of Art, she moved permanently to the US in 2001 and is now based in Portland. We present two works from Winsor Blue series, a series of watercolors executed in multiple gradations of a distinctive shade of blue.
Speaking of her love for the color, she noted that “The unique watercolor “Winsor Blue” manufactured by Winsor & Newton Co., is brilliantly alive on the Chinese xuan paper – clean, transparent, and lovely. The subtle and delicate lines born out of the margins of two overlapping strokes are overwhelmingly beautiful. The color pulsates: diastolic and systolic, inhaling and exhaling.” Mantra and Variation on a Cloud are inspired by the artist’s interest in Zen philosophy, and are meditative in both concept and process. Each watercolor layer must be applied slowly and evenly, and then allowed to completely dry before the next layer of pigment is applied. The resulting rhythm of repetitions and gradations is a personal marker of time and memory.
Born in Guangdong, China in 1966, Xiaoze Xie graduated from Tsinghua University and the Central Academy of Arts and Design, Beijing before moving to the United States. He is currently the Paul L. & Phyllis Wattis Professor in Art at Stanford University. As a realist painter by vocation, early in his career Xie found a way to combine his passionate interest in Chinese history and current world events with more formal concerns by focusing on the materials stored in archives and library stacks as the subject matter of his paintings. Unlike the German photographer Candida Höfer whose photographs of famous libraries concentrate on the splendid architectural surroundings created to house collections of books, Xie focuses on telling details, only rarely revealing the name of an author or title of a volume. In the 20th century Chinese libraries have suffered more than most, a fact treated with particular poignance in Xie’s Chinese Library series. Chinese Library No.45 and Through Fire (Books that Survived the Anti-Japanese War of Resistance at Tsinghua University) No. 2 attest to the long history of suffering caused by global conflicts in the twentieth century and to the constant risk of the effacement of historical memory whether caused by accident or deliberately. Through Fire No.2 was shown at Xie’s 2019 solo exhibition at the Asia Society Museum in New York, and its counterpart Through Fire No.1 is part of the Denver Art Museum’s permanent collection and currently on view as part of their group exhibition Freedom Now.
Among the first of a generation of artists who emerged from the academies when they were reopened after being closed during the Cultural Revolution, Yan Shanchun graduated from Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in 1982, specializing in printmaking. He was trained in traditional Chinese calligraphy and influenced by American abstract painting. Yan’s paintings result from the application of multiple layers of pigment, concealing his childhood memories of the famous landscape of West Lake that hover in the background and appear only intermittently. He has described how, after laying down Korean vellum paper and covering it with plaster powder, he proceeds “to sandpaper the surface before creating images with ink and cinnabar pigment… Depending on the design and composition, further layers will be applied to the surface, followed by sandpapering and further painting. In general a work will go through this process several times.” In the twelve years that have elapsed since he first started using plaster powder as ground for his paintings, he has shown increasing willingness to let it appear in an unadulterated form. Accidents are welcomed and lead to new discoveries. With recent acquisitions of Yan’s work by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018, LACMA and the MFA Boston in 2019, there has been a newfound appreciation of the artist here in the US.