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Divine Inspiration

Wu Jian'an

Modern Art Base of Zhiwu, Shanghai

August 28 – September 27, 2020

King Yu who tamed the Flood 治水的禹, 2020
Tiger of the Night 夜之虎, 2020
Tiger of the Daylight 昼之虎, 2020
Hero Conquering the Lion 英雄战胜雄狮, 2020
Hero Conquering the Minotaur 英雄战胜牛头怪, 2020
500 Brushstrokes #69 五百笔 #69, 2019
500 Brushstrokes #60 五百笔 #60, 2019
500 Brushstrokes #67 五百笔 #67, 2019

Chambers Fine Art is pleased to announce the opening this past weekend of Wu Jian'an's solo exhibition Divine Inspiration at the Modern Art Base of Zhiwu, Shanghai, China. This exhibition marks the first time that Wu Jian’an’s signature 500 Brushstrokes series will be shown in Shanghai, along with a series of new sculpture and stitched paper-cut pieces that use ancient myth to explore the complicated relationship between humankind and nature. Moving fluidly across various media, Wu Jian'an references narratives from both the East and the West's traditional myths to construct a "contemporary fable" in today's society. Wu organizes the exhibition into three themes: "Humanity", "Taming the Water”, and "Tales from Far Away.”

In today's era of diversification when new media and forms emerge in endlessly, we can't debarb but rethink the significance of the ancient myths, fables, and traditional culture in the modern epoch.


The Humanity section features the 500 Brushstrokes series of collaged works on paper. The series originated from two interactive art workshops conducted by Wu Jian'an at the Metropolitan Museum of Artin New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 2016.

The monumental 500 Brushstrokes @Ziwu was uniquely created for this exhibition, the elements of which were created during Wu’s 500 Brushstrokes workshop held in Shanghai this past August. Over the course of two days, the workshop invited participants from all over the city to create brushstrokes; visitors were asked to chose the size or type of brush to use, and free to decide the color, shape and size of their stroke, each leaving a unique mark on a piece of Xuan paper. Afterward, each brushstroke was cut out and reassembled in to a new composition by Wu Jian’an on another sheet of paper.

Wu considers this process of creation as a way to “liberate” each brushstroke, giving everyone an equal opportunity to express their ideas and show their movements, just like the creation story of Genesis, where the world has just begun, and all earthly beings are equal. According to the artist, this series is based on a simple assumption: that each brushstroke contains the physiology, aesthetics, and genuine emotions of an independent individual. The process of detaching the individual brushstrokes from the original sheet of paper embodies self-realization for the very first time. When each brushstroke breaks away from their original position and becomes part of a new work, their identities and characteristics also change as they interact with each other, formulating a brand new relationship on the paper. At the same time, the act of assembling them into a collaged composition symbolizes the inevitable fate of each individual to be part of a whole.

Taming the Water

Taming the Water showcases Wu Jian'an's latest paper-cut works, inspired by the story of King Yu, the mythical figure who tamed the flood. The large-scale piece King Yu who Tamed the Flood forms the centerpiece of the group, and is surrounded by works inspired by the ancient Greek mythology Hero Conquers the Lion, Hero Conquers the Minotaur. Completing the series are the intricate and colorful Tiger of Daylight and Tiger of the Night, which symbolize time and motion of the universe.

The ancient Chinese myth King Yu Tamed the Flood has influenced Chinese society and political life for thousands of years. What Wu intends to reveal here is not how people create stories and myths, but rather, how myths change and form people's thinking.

The paper-cut works presented here are from Wu Jian'an's representative Incarnation series. The individual paper-cut elements originate from Wu's large-scale installation The Seven Layered Shell, created in 2011, which was made up of 186 avatars and characters that Wu created based on the Chinese classic The Book of Mountains and Seas, as well as from stories and imagery inspired by Christianity, Buddhism, Indian mythology, comic books, graffiti, T-shirts and cartoons.

In the exhibition space of Zhiwu, 42 of Wu’s 186 avatars including ‘Yufeng', ‘The Horse King’, ‘Bigfoot Wo-nv’, ‘Heart’, ‘Shut Up’, ‘Dandelion’, ‘Tongtiandi’, ‘Yihu’, ‘Gu’, and ‘Zuo-mu’, adorn the walls. The paper-cuts are dyed in azure and green hues, meant to evoke a vast body of water. The Avatars form their own narrative, transforming ancient stories of different civilizations into Wu Jian'an's surreal and constantly evolving “world of myth”.

Tales from Far Away

Wu Jian'an has loved animals since he was a child, and his creative process has always been inspired by the animal world. He often uses natural organic materials such as leather or paper. Sometimes, Wu creates “animal specimens”, utilizing them as organic “materials“ from nature, which serve to highlight the complex relationship between human society and nature.

Installed on the second floor ceiling is the "Tales from Far Away" section of the exhibition. A tiger wearing a six-eyed golden mask, a pig with its head upside down and other realistically simulated animal specimens (created with faux fur and animal skin) are suspended in midair. In Wu Jian’an’s mythical world, these sculptures herald signs, oracles, and mysterious messages from God.