November 19, 2016 - Red Brick Art Museum - Wen Pulin Archive of Chinese Avant-Garde Art of the ’80s and ‘90s / Permanent Abstraction: Epiphanies of a Modern Form in Escaped Totalities
November 19, 2016

Red Brick Art Museum

Wen Pulin, Seven Sins: Seven Performances from the China/Avant-Garde exhibition, 1989.

Wen Pulin Archive of Chinese Avant-Garde Art of the ’80s and ‘90s
November 5, 2016–March 5, 2017

Permanent Abstraction: Epiphanies of a Modern Form in Escaped Totalities
November 6, 2016–February 19, 2017

Red Brick Art Museum
Shunbai Road, Chaoyang District
100103 Beijing
China
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 10am–5:30pm

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Wen Pulin Archive of Chinese Avant-Garde Art of the ’80s and ‘90s
From the 1980s up until the early 2000s, Wen Pulin recorded a number of exhibitions, art phenomena and creative practices which cannot be left out of the history of contemporary Chinese art. In this exhibition, the archives are opened up so that some neglected or misread moments in the history of contemporary Chinese art can re-emerge, providing more detailed material and more entry points for the future study of art history. 

The exhibition is divided into four parts. The first part utilizes the Wen Pulin Archive of Chinese Avant-Garde Art to create a timeline of the key artists and happenings in the 1980s and 1990s. The second section of the exhibition focuses on the Seven Sins, the seven performances that Wen Pulin recorded at the 1989 China/Avant-Garde exhibition. The third section, "Millennium," presents a collection of art exhibitions and behavioral works that occurred close to the year 2000, in this part the intention is to discuss the transition to the 21st century and artists’ reactions to the end of the century. The fourth part of the exhibition centers on Wen Pulin’s new China Action documentary; different from the first 1999 edition of the film, this new version includes much previously unseen video footage.

We can see from Wen Pulin’s archives that "Spiritual Pursuit" was always an important concept in Chinese contemporary art throughout the 1980s and 1990s and as such is a key theme of the exhibition. Wen Pulin believes that the ideological enlightenment and the spirit of independent artistic exploration prevalent in the 1980s did not disappear with the rapid marketization of Chinese art in the 1990s. The artists that he recorded in the 1990s chose to respond to the rapidly changing social environment, to express themselves by creating art related to their experiences and the ideals of the 1980s spirit can be seen to have continued to play a role in artistic expression. It is precisely because of these two interwoven experiences that the contemporary art world of the late-1990s was marked by multifarious practices and complex discursive environments.

Attention to the history of art and its research has always been an academic aspiration of the Red Brick Art Museum. This exhibition, in conjunction with the Wen Pulin Archive of Chinese Avant-Garde Art, is Red Brick’s first large-scale exhibition focused on art historical archives and documents. 

Curator: Yan Shijie
Artistic Director: Zang Honghua
Executive Curator: Xia Yanguo
Curatorial Assistants: Thomas Mouna, Sun Tianyi and Sun Wenjie

Permanent Abstraction: Epiphanies of a Modern Form in Escaped Totalities
We can see in “abstract” painting the imagination of the nation and the state and also private sensibilities, but despite this “abstract” painters are marginalized and sadly often not given a historical position. But this might only be the case if we perceive “abstract” painting from a modernist aesthetic perspective. From the 1930s onwards, revolutionary ideology, and from the 1950s onwards, the aesthetic ideology of mandatory realism, constructed a narrative that dominated Chinese culture. “Abstract” art was like a “present absentee” in these two societally and government-guided ideologies; “abstract” art experienced Chinese political and cultural history along with the rest of art, but it did not seem to exercise its political power or ability to construct history, its intrinsic perceptual power and long-standing inability to openly present its aesthetic sensibility meant it failed to claim its historical position. What we perceive as “abstraction” was repressed, broken, and without historical foundation; it existed in the shadows, scattered to all corners of history, so an aesthetic imagery form became an “abstract” structure.

Based on this focus on “abstract” structures, we might boldly infer that the history of “abstract” art as a canon does not give a full account of the history of the genre. This history compels us to look back and discover a new historical conclusion and interpretive space. Permanent Abstraction refers to a historical story that has not yet disappeared. “Abstract” methods move between the political and artistic realms, which are parasites of one another and move in ways that suit one another. Due to the differences in historical experience and aesthetic ideas brought about by spatial and temporal dislocation, Chinese aesthetic traditions and modernist transplantations did not emerge as the primary threads of this exhibition. We tended to intensify the disappearance of a totality that was absolute, which blurred the temporal and spatial transformations of history and coexisted with both the past and the present. Permanent Abstraction narrates a complex “eternal” attitude to time, drawing also on its absoluteness and authoritarianism. It is the "abstract," this modern identification of the everlasting but ever changing, a historical space-time transformation, but at the same time, it is also a kind of self-affirmation and self-mockery. On the basis of the interpretation of the metaphors of the images, the exhibition will use two narrative threads, "continuation" and “repetition”, to stimulate the transformation, penetration and diversification of this artistic trope, as well as the unattainable desire that the authoritative and dominant narrative cannot illustrate.

Curator: Su Wei and Sonja Lau

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