Yishu 71 presents the work of a diversity of artists, yet two central themes have made themselves evident in this issue—first, aesthetics and ideas that navigate between the East and West, and, second, the relationship between the traditional and the contemporary in visual art. The first is exemplified by featured artists who were raised in mainland China—Zheng Chongbin, Wei Jia, and Zhang Hongtu—and who have either lived or spent extended periods of time in the US, enabling them to fuse considerations developed in the West with those from the East in their artwork. Huang Rui, a seminal player in the evolution of contemporary art in China, has, since early in his career, employed a vast number of Western styles in his work without relinquishing concepts embedded in Chinese thought. David Diao, on the other hand, has spent most of his life in the US and appropriates New York school–style painting to explore his family’s home in China before they took flight to the West when he was a youth. What emerges is how the hybridity of integrating two cultures might affect our assumptions about how to interpret these artists’ works.
With respect to the traditional and the contemporary, Bingyi, Zheng Chongbin, Wei Jia, and Ma Yanling each reference the tradition of ink painting but have taken it far beyond its governing rules through their innovative approaches. Bingyi creates large, complex installations with ink on paper, Zheng Chongbin brings ink painting into the realm of video, Wei Jia incorporates collage using torn pieces of xuan paper, and Ma Yanling uses ink painting brushes to create finely cross-hatched images representing women film celebrities from 1930s Shanghai. Liang Kegang is an artist who has taken on curatorial projects, and while his focus is not on ink painting, he has embarked on a search to find contemporary expressions in art that acknowledge traditional Chinese philosophical and aesthetic thought.
We close Yishu 71 with a conversation between Anthony Yung and artist Sun Yuan, which brings to light another instance in which artists are participating in the conceptualization and organization of an exhibition. Sun Yuan leaves us with provocative thoughts on what it means to be an artist and how the presentation of art can challenge traditional institutional norms within an overpowering art industry.
Image (top): Bingyi, Epoché, 2014, artist with canvas on ground. © Bingyi. Courtesy of the artist.