For the past two years Gallery Yang has hosted a series of exhibitions curated by Bao Dong, which he has titled Painting Lessons. In these Bao Dong has presented certain discrete aspects of the nature of current art production in China. In terms of format, the title places the emphasis on painting, but the results in the gallery spaces expand on this to include sculpture and installation.
The “lessons” that the curator proposes in this series aim to “go back to specific issues of painting,” divesting the artwork of its specific context as a way of understanding the piece. For Painting Lessons, Bao Dong suggests there has been an over-emphasis on context in contemporary art production, and (at least in these shows) he advocates a return to “various mediums and types” of artworks. In this way he claims: “we can more clearly understand the meaning and value of painting as it is.”
Previous editions of Painting Lessons have been titled Illusion or Delusion and Positive & Negative Style. The former attended to the ways in which artworks dealt with illusion (or representation) as a form of the “reality of delusion” (or perhaps a delusional reality); and, in the latter, the interplay between “positive” and “negative” style (a distinction credited to research on rhetoric by Chen Wangdao), which respectively oppose abstract concepts to specific experiences.
The latest “lesson” is titled Elementary and Extreme Structure – where this coupling defines processes of abstraction involved in the act of art-making; following an idea or a reality through to the presence of the art object itself, but in this case emphasising the inherent process of a confusion of meaning from one to the other. Bao Dong suggested this process implicitly involves thought by the artist that is “reflexive and critical.”
Ma Shengzhe, Landscape-15, Giclee Print,108x136.75×13; 2013; Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Yang.
Some works take a fairly straightforward approach to this theme: Ma Shengzhe’s prints of abstract patterns of glitch fragments that appear as his computer begins to run out of memory; the multiple layered washes of paint in Zhou Siwei’s pieces simultaneously revealing and obscuring the subjects; and, in her practice of seal cutting, Li Yiwen abstracts the source images of everyday snapshots or porn, their representational meaning disappearing into hard-edged patterns of ink.
Proving that a simple idea can still produce surprise, Wang Yuyang produced a new triptych of large monochromatic canvases of textured paint, over the surface of which a photographic reproduction of that painted surface is then printed. This double (and slightly offset) image creates a highly curious disjunction and confusion between original and representation, neither of which are lost and neither of which dominate. Pang Xuan focuses on the representative brush strokes from traditional Chinese ink paintings (by the late Ming and early Qing dynasty painter, Zhu Da). These strokes are then represented using pencil, causing the meaning of the original evocative and spontaneous ink strokes to become considered and painstakingly drawn graphite elements. Inset into one wall of the gallery, Shen Ruijun’s top-lit boxes create a small mise en scène populated by spindly line drawings on transparent plastic. These plastic elements have been twisted and arranged within the internal spaces of the boxes, creating ghostly effusions and playing with the experience of the real versus the imagined scales of the elements.
Jiang Zhi, Oil on polyester, 70X90, 2013; Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Yang.
In a new series of screen-prints by Jiang Zhi, the artist seems to represent lines of interference that might appear in a distorted video signal, the way a meaningful signal becomes noise. In two other pieces by the same artist, the iconic shape of Tian’anmen Gate Tower appears near the top of the work, leaving an area of paint below, broken up into semi-random patterns. In one this is coloured as a swathe of strong yellows and reds, and in the other in rainbow-like stripes. These work flirt with a suggestion of political import by referring to this particular location in various ways, yet seem a relatively weak response to such a sensitive subject.
The works in Painting Lesson III play with a boundary between meaning and non-meaning, transgressing that boundary in various ways. This is common practice for artists and one wonders about the value of such a “lesson.” Beyond this basic premise, other aspects of the curator’s thesis are less clearly demonstrated. It is never really clarified what the idea that the curator refers to of the “painting as it is” actually results in. It remains a question whether the audience, in their experience of this series of exhibitions, is any closer to understanding the curator’s premise – perhaps as the series of lessons progresses this will become clearer. The selection of works in Painting Lesson III provides a good opportunity to see new developments in the specific artists’ practices, but ultimately the curatorial proposal seems underdeveloped through these works.
(Image on top: Shen Ruijun, The boxes of curiosity- IX , 2013, Mixed media , 18x15x30 cm; Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Yang.)