Thomas Erben Gallery February 2004
Considered one of the leading figures in China’s contemporary art scene, Beijing-based Fang Lijun returns to New York with a vigorous group of large-scale woodcut prints. Since the early 1990s, Fang has been associated with Cynical Realism, an art movement that developed in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre in June 1989 when thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators— most of them students— were brutally killed by the government’s military. While the 1980s had been characterized by the avant-garde community’s enthusiastic belief that the artists would be able to contribute to the regeneration of Chinese culture, the events of 1989 immediately destroyed these hopes. With the Cynical Realists a whole generation of Chinese artists, who had grown up during the Cultural Revolution and witnessed its subsequent downfall, began to express their disillusionment. Losing faith in communal progress, Fang and his peers turned towards a more personal and emotionally detached viewpoint that allowed for an ironic examination of China’s quickly changing society.
In a rigorous statement that was published in a 1992 article by the Chinese art critic Li Xianting, Fang brought the Cynical Realists’ emotional stance to the fore: "A fool is someone still trusting after being taken in a hundred times. We’d rather be lost, bored, crisis-ridden misguided punks than be cheated. Don’t even consider trying the old methods on us, we’ll riddle your dogma with holes, then discard it in a rubbish heap." Almost a decade later, Fang’s compositions continue to show traces of the former anguish, but increasingly utilize an imagery that is as symbolic as it is universally applicable. Considering China’s consistently developing adaptation of Western capitalism and its values, it is not surprising that nowadays, Fang creates metaphors for society in general rather than pointing at his country alone.
In "2001.11.22" (2001) three bald headed figures are set against a plain background. With their faces transformed into anger-ridden masks, two men are shouting at the audience, while the third one, standing in the background, looks away with aloof indifference. Depicted from below, they become a threatening, oversized front that forces the viewer into the role of the outcast. In this atmosphere tinged with unease and suspense, any sudden outburst of aggression seems possible. Generating a sense of timelessness, the monochromatic palette of grays enhances the overall graphic clarity in which every contour, edge, and shadow is chiseled out dramatically.
The idea of opposition is portrayed more picturesquely in "2001.13.24" (2001). With a few energetic lines that bring the emotional vigor of German Expressionist woodcuts to mind, Fang succeeds in capturing the characteristic motions of water. Out of the fluid masses, two arms are raised towards the sky, belonging to an almost entirely drowned individual, who is fighting for his life. Searching for something to cling to, the hands are transformed into claws that engage in a gesture of panic as well as hatred. As a mocking contrast to the emotional horror experienced by the victim, large flowers are falling from the sky and color the scene with superficial beauty. Underneath this ornamental cover, the determined struggle of a lonely figure against an overpowering medium is as obviously doomed to fail as an individual’s attempt to go against the rest of society. For Fang, the metaphorical dilemma is that there is no natural resolution; neither floating with nor swimming against the stream is a satisfactory option. The reason is revealed in "Untitled" (2002/2003), in which Fang portrays society as a homogeneous group of men in which individuality is superceded by a boring blend of mediocrity.
Suspended from seven gigantic Chinese silk scrolls, the multi-paneled work shows an infinite mass of heads. Lacking any distinguishable characteristics, the figures transform into clones whose physical presence would evaporate if they were singled out of the group. In opposition to the energetic palette, ranging from oranges and reds to bright yellow, the vibrant human cluster has been rigidly frozen. Gazing into the sky, they remain silent, passively waiting in unison—but for what? Instructions? Changes? Orders?
Angela China: Girl on the GrassBy Jessica Holmes
MAY 2023 | ArtSeen
As frosty air and bleak clouds give way to warmth and color the sense of renewal inherent to blooming tulips and budding leaves becomes palpable. And so it is witnessing the debut exhibition of a young artist full of promisehope also blossoms. Girl on the Grass, a solo show of ten paintings by New York-based artist Angela China arouses a similar, buoyant expectation.
Michael Wang: Lake TaiBy Gwendoline Cho-ning Kam
DEC 22–JAN 23 | ArtSeen
The concept of youyuan, that is, strolling in a garden, has always been inspirational for traditional Chinese intelligentsia. Thousands of creative workspaintings, literature, music, and poetryare fueled by a love of natural beauty. Michael Wang, a New York-based artist, takes on this spirit of the intelligentsia in Lake Tai, his debut solo show in China at Prada Rong Zhai, Shanghai. Wangs sculptural installation engages with the traditional Chinese appreciation of scholars rocks (unusually but naturally-shaped stones) and scholarly flower arrangement that were once prevalent in Chinese art and celebrated the human relationship with the natural world.
threeBy Juan Arabia, translated by Patricio Ferrari
DEC 22–JAN 23 | Poetry
Juan Arabia is a poet, translator and literary critic. Born in Buenos Aires in 1983, he is founder and director of the cultural and literary project Buenos Aires Poetry. Arabia is also in-house literary critic for the Cultural Supplement of Diario Perfil and Revista Ñ of Diario Clarín. Among his most recent poetry titles are Desalojo de la Naturaleza [Eviction of Nature] (Buenos Aires Poetry, 2018), Hacia Carcassonne [Towards Carcassonne] (Pre-Textos, 2021), and Bulmenia (Buenos Aires Poetry, 2022). After the publication of El enemigo de los Thirsties [Enemy of the Thirties] (2015), awarded in France, Italy, and Macedonia, Juan participated in several poetry festivals in Latin America, Europe, and China. In 2018, on behalf of Argentina, he was invited to the Voix vives de Méditerranée en Méditerranée poetry festival in Sète (France). The following year he became the second Latin American poet to be invited to the Poetry Comes to Museum LXI, sponsored by the Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum. Arabia has translated works by Ezra Pound, Arthur Rimbaud, Dylan Thomas, and Dan Fante, among others. Two of his books have been translated into French (LOcéan Avare, trad. Jean Portante, Al Manar, 2018) and Italian (Verso Carcassonne, trad. Mattia Tarantino, Raffaelli Editore, 2022). He lives in San Telmo (Buenos Aires) with his wife the designer, poet, and literary translator Camila Evia and son Cátulo.
Mirror Image: A Transformation of Chinese IdentityBy Barbara A. MacAdam
SEPT 2022 | ArtSeen
The seven artists in this exhibitionall born in mainland China between 1979 and 1987are represented by nineteen works that range from video to performance to installations, digital art, painting, and more. Each tells a different story with wit, curiosity, techno savvy, painterly skill, and/or sociability.