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Contemporary Chinese Artists Reading Western Art

Last updated on Jun 3, 2014. First published on December 19, 2013. Deconstructing the past was the main concern of Chinese artists in the 1980s. Firmly believing that they could distance themselves from traditional and official art by studying Western art movements, artists participated in discussions, of Dada, Pop art, and other major currents, in art journals and personal correspondence. The artists’ social and cultural remove from both Chinese tradition and Western modernism rendered them cultural nomads and influenced their ideas and interpretations. Today, their hybrid art reflects their distinct approach to the West and has become an integral part of the global art panorama. Among the heralds of this new era in Chinese art was a site-specific work by Xu Bing displayed at Projects 70: Banners I at MoMA in 1999, at which the artist introduced his invention of New English Calligraphy—English words written and structured in images resembling Chinese characters. On the facade of the museum, Xu hung a banner inscribed with the words “Art for the People,” a paraphrase of Chairman Mao’s famous quote “Art serves the people.” This marked the start of a transcultural dialogue in contemporary art.

post is releasing a series of primary documents drawn from the writing of Chinese artists, which presents the original sources in Chinese along with first-time English translations. These distinctive readings of Western art are an extension of an earlier MoMA project, published in 2010 as Contemporary Chinese Art: Primary Documents. The materials offer insight into interactions in art that transcend time and place.

Edited by Yu-Chieh Li

Xb1
Above: Installation view of the exhibition, Projects 70: Xu Bing, Shirin Neshat, Simon Patterson (Banners Project, Series 1) [MoMA Exh. #1840, November 22, 1999-May 1, 2000]. Photograph courtesy of Steve J. Sherman © The Museum of Modern Art, New York & Steve J. Sherman

Author

Wang guangyi profile photo

Wang Guangyi 王广义

Artist Wang Guangyi (Born in Harbin, Heilongjiang, China, 1957) is a contemporary painter and sculptor who lives and works in Beijing. Wang graduated with a degree in oil... Read more »
Zhangxiaogangcropped

Zhang Xiaogang 张晓刚

Artist Zhang Xiaogang was born in 1958 in Kunming in Yunan Province in south China and now lives and works in Beijing. In 1982, he graduated from the Oil Painting Department at... Read more »
Huang yongping profile photo

Huang Yong Ping 黄永砯

Artist Huang Yong Ping (born in Xiamen, China, 1954) is an artist who lives and works in Paris. Huang graduated from the Fine Arts Academy of Zhejiang, Zhejiang, China (1989).... Read more »
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Contemporary Chinese Artists Reading Western Art

Last updated on Jun 3, 2014. First published on December 19, 2013. Deconstructing the past was the main concern of Chinese artists in the 1980s. Firmly believing that they could distance themselves from traditional and official art by studying Western art movements, artists participated in discussions, of Dada, Pop art, and other major currents, in art journals and personal correspondence. The artists’ social and cultural remove from both Chinese tradition and Western modernism rendered them cultural nomads and influenced their ideas and interpretations. Today, their hybrid art reflects their distinct approach to the West and has become an integral part of the global art panorama. Among the heralds of this new era in Chinese art was a site-specific work by Xu Bing displayed at Projects 70: Banners I at MoMA in 1999, at which the artist introduced his invention of New English Calligraphy—English words written and structured in images resembling Chinese characters. On the facade of the museum, Xu hung a banner inscribed with the words “Art for the People,” a paraphrase of Chairman...

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Last updated on Jun 3, 2014. First published on December 19, 2013. Deconstructing the past was the main concern of Chinese artists in the 1980s. Firmly believing that they could distance themselves from traditional and official art by studying Western art movements, artists participated in discussions, of Dada, Pop art, and other major currents, in art journals and personal correspondence. The artists’ social and cultural remove from both Chinese tradition and Western modernism rendered them cultural nomads and influenced their ideas and interpretations. Today, their hybrid art reflects their distinct approach to the West and has become an integral part of the global art panorama. Among the heralds of this new era in Chinese art was a site-specific work by Xu Bing displayed at Projects 70: Banners I at MoMA in 1999, at which the artist introduced his invention of New English Calligraphy—English words written and structured in images resembling Chinese characters. On the facade of the museum, Xu hung a banner inscribed with the words “Art for the People,” a paraphrase of Chairman Mao’s famous quote “Art serves the people.” This marked the start of a transcultural dialogue in contemporary art.

post is releasing a series of primary documents drawn from the writing of Chinese artists, which presents the original sources in Chinese along with first-time English translations. These distinctive readings of Western art are an extension of an earlier MoMA project, published in 2010 as Contemporary Chinese Art: Primary Documents. The materials offer insight into interactions in art that transcend time and place.

Edited by Yu-Chieh Li

Xb1
Above: Installation view of the exhibition, Projects 70: Xu Bing, Shirin Neshat, Simon Patterson (Banners Project, Series 1) [MoMA Exh. #1840, November 22, 1999-May 1, 2000]. Photograph courtesy of Steve J. Sherman © The Museum of Modern Art, New York & Steve J. Sherman

Source contents

Duchamp Stripped Bare by the Chinese, Even: Rewriting Example No. 5 or A Discussion of the Duchamp Phenomenon

In light of the death of the old earl, the youngster comes into inheritance; however, this is not the whole truth. In history, a pause is created, and the agent steps into nothingness. —Anonymous1

Duchamp died in 1968; I am writing this article in 1988. Even twenty years after his death, Duchamp is still frequently mentioned; in a sense, he is still alive. Would it be at all possible for us...

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“甚至,杜象被汉人剥得精光” 改写例子5或杜象现象研究

These are images of Huang Yong Ping's manuscript to the text. Image courtesy of Huang Yong Ping and Fei Dawei.

Read the english translation here.

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On Andy Warhol: Perhaps Simplicity Outshines Complexity

Narrated by Wang Guangyi

Compiled by Li Jianya. Translated by Lina Dann and edited by post editors.

Andy Warhol Makes the Ordinary Even More Ordinary

Back in college, I came across Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys almost simultaneously. The first work of Andy Warhol I ever saw was his Marilyn Monroe. It was so simple and so untouched by artificiality, without any trace of “painting.” It was in a...

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My Soul Mate Magritte

The first time I learned of René Magritte was a little after I started painting. My mentor had lent me a copy of The History of Modern Western Art, hoping that I would “sharpen my artistic perception.” It was one of those archaic books printed before Liberation,1 with Traditional Chinese characters, vertical typesetting, and black-and-white illustrations, on old yellowed pages that were flipped...

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我的知己——马格利特

第一次知道马格利特是在刚刚开始学画不久,我的启蒙教师为了让我“增加艺术修养”,特地借给我一本解放前出版的《西方现代艺术史》,竖排版、繁体字、发黄的纸张、黑白插图、从右翻到左的那种老书。记得好像是从法国现实主义的库尔贝、米勒开始谈起,到了最后几页迅速地以超现实主义,达达主义结束。对一个初学画画的十七岁青年来说,自然是看得云里雾里的,远不如俄罗斯巡回画派的列宾、苏里柯夫来得激动。去问老师,那些现代派为什么要把人画得如此丑陋?老师说,别管他们,他们是一群颓废的人。你现在好好地画静物去吧!尽管如此,但是当时却无意中记住了几位大师的名字,其中之一便有这位“爱开玩笑的”马格利特——可能是他画了一个烟斗,而且写上“这不是烟斗” (图1) 那是什么呢?这个问题困惑了我起码十年。

随着大学毕业,逐步增长的“艺术休养”,开始对超现实主义从接触到发自内心的喜爱,...

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October 18, Xiaogang's Letter to Lü Peng

Hello, Lü Peng!1

I apologize for taking so long to gather the slides and for sending them out to you only today. After I returned to Huangjueping2 from Chengdu,3 I kept up my good spirits from Chengdu and made another five oil paintings, again in black and white (see figs. 1–5). I used undiluted and unblended paints, laying them on the canvas with painting knives; on the canvas I created a...

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10月18日张晓刚致吕澎的信

吕澎,你好!

请原谅直到今天才把反转片整理出来给你寄去。从成都回到黄桷坪后,我又接着成都的那口气, 画了五幅油画 (图1-5), 仍是以黑白为主。将未经稀释和调和的厚颜料用画刀堆砌在画布上, 画面上也仍是用几种不同质地和色彩 (黑、红、褐) 的布拼贴, 只是整个的图形比之在成都画的更呈方形, 犹如一个个牢笼般的框架。 那些在微笑和沉思的头颅在其中自在地生存着,它们或是人形的头颅、脸面,或是狼、羊形的头颅。龇着冰砖般的牙齿。但是它们并非在做着某种表情面向人们展示某种情绪 (如表现主义的作品那样)。的确,我的作品也许有了某种表现主义的倾向,就像我1984年画的那些魔鬼,但我知道我是不属于表现主义的,更非现实主义的。画完第五幅之后,我强迫自己停下来,进行一番清理。 纵向地翻阅西方艺术史和横向地观察国内外的表现主义画家们,我再次发现自己喜欢的艺术家,仍然是像格列科、布什、契里柯、恩索、...

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Contemporary Chinese Artists Reading Western Art

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Xiaogang’s words about discovering Magritte’s paintings in person in 1992 and being shocked by his reductive painting techniques reminds me of Magritte’s description of his own work in his 1938 lecture “La Ligne de vie”. Magritte describes his detached way of representing things as “characteristic of a universal style in which the manias and minor preferences of the individual no longer play any part. As Xiaogang realized, Magritte aimed to surpass traditional art or, in Magritte’s words, “the traditionally picturesque.”

Xiaogang was also struck by the sense of dislocation in Magritte’s work, which he says is achieved by placing objects in a set up (artificial) space. Magritte also very clearly indicates the importance of this technique in this same 1938 speech: “In my pictures I show objects in situations in which we never encounter them. This fulfills a real, but perhaps unconscious desire felt by most men. Even a banal painted tries, within the limits imposed upon him, to disrupt the order in which he habitually sees objects.”

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Xiaogang’s words about discovering Magritte’s paintings in person in 1992 and being shocked by his reductive painting techniques reminds me of Magritte’s description of his own work in his 1938 lecture “La Ligne de vie”. Magritte describes his...

Show more »
Yuchieh li

Posted on 22 Dec

I am also struck by the fact that Zhang Xiaogang grasped the very core of Magritte’s ideas only by seeing and reading the works and some statements of Magritte in Chinese translations. And Zhang's oeuvre since the mid ‘90s seems to resonate with the aim of surpassing the "traditionally picturesque." Indeed, maybe they would be soul mates if Magritte was still alive. And thank you for bringing in the voice of Magritte in this "dialogue"!

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I am also struck by the fact that Zhang Xiaogang grasped the very core of Magritte’s ideas only by seeing and reading the works and some statements of Magritte in Chinese translations. And Zhang's oeuvre since the mid ‘90s seems to resonate with...

Show more »