We are excited to announce that Wu Jian’an’s 500 Brushstrokes #10 has entered the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This artwork was first shown at the artist’s solo exhibition Ten Thousand Things at Chambers Fine Art in 2016. The exhibition derived its title from the influential book Ten Thousand Things: Module and Mass Production in Chinese Art by Lothar Ledderose, an investigation into the use of modular and standardized production systems throughout the history of Chinese art, in bronzes, porcelain, and architecture. While not referring to the book directly, Wu found a striking similarity between his own working method and Ledderose’s perceptive commentary on the procedures used by Chinese artists and artisans over thousands of years.
In his 500 Brushstrokes series, he turns to ink on Xuan paper, the medium used in classical Chinese painting and calligraphy, but regards the ink and watercolor marks as material for a paper cut, each brushstroke becoming an individual unit once it has been cut from the sheet of paper. These are subsequently reassembled into collages on another sheet of paper. The artist has commented that “for me, each brushstroke is an abstract individual – it brings to light the existence of an individual in society; it can also be the cell that forms a body. The process of detaching the individual brushstrokes from the original sheet of paper embodies self-realization for the very first time. On the other hand, the result of assembling them into a collage symbolizes the inevitable fate of each individual to be part of a whole”.
Wu Jian’an has emerged as one of the most thoughtful artists of his generation, developing a creative method that originated in the traditional craft of paper cut but that has grown significantly in complexity, enabling him to consider philosophical and political issues without abandoning the exotic visual appeal of his work. While the latter is still of fundamental importance to him, his familiarity with contemporary practices in the visual arts enables him to revitalize his thematic material, whether his affinity for Chinese folk and religious traditions or in 500 Brushstrokes, the Chinese tradition of ink painting.