February 9, 2017 - Rockbund Art Museum - Song Dong: I Don't Know The Mandate of Heaven
February 9, 2017

Rockbund Art Museum

Song Dong, Mirror Hall, 2016–17. Mirrors, old wooden window frames, mirror boards, dimensions variable.


Song Dong
I Don't Know The Mandate of Heaven
January 21–March 26, 2017

Rockbund Art Museum
No.20 Huqiu Road


From January 21 to March 26, Rockbund Art Museum will host a monographic exhibition by leading Chinese artist Song Dong. The exhibition, entitled I Don’t Know the Mandate of Heaven, will be the first major survey of Song’s work in mainland China in eight years. The exhibition will include some of the artist’s best-known works that have been fundamental in establishing his career, as well as several rarely exhibited works. Amongst the works on display, some pieces have been specially commissioned for this exhibition by RAM such as At FiftyI Don't Know the Mandate of Heaven and Back Image, manifesting the museum’s long-term commitment to support the creativity and production of contemporary art through exhibition projects. 

RAM’s entire building will be transformed both inside and out for the exhibition, boldly conveying an expression of both Song’s artistic creation to date, as well as taking a fresh look at his current state of creative exploration. The comprehensive exhibition constitutes a reflection on his life and career, which subsumes his past work into a coherent unity, infusing it with a regained sense of vitality, while imbuing his new creations with the richer context of his development. 

The title of the exhibition is a fitting reference to Confucius’ famous aphorism in the Analects, "At 15, I had my mind bent on learning. At 30, I stood firm. At 40, I had no doubts. At 50, I knew the mandate of heaven. At 60, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of the truth. At 70, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right." Song’s own take on the progress of the sage is playfully contradictory. "At 10 I was not worried. At 20, I was not restrained. At 30, I wasn’t established. At 40, I was perplexed." And, "at 50, I don’t know the mandate of heaven."

The reference to Confucius accentuates Song’s preoccupations with Chinese tradition and the inherited wisdom of the common people, while the playfulness owes more to the predominance of Zen and Taoist themes in his work. Throughout his career, humble objects from everyday life have formed the core material of his often transformative and elaborate creations.

Following the Chinese literary tradition, the exhibition is divided into seven "chapters," each represented by a Chinese character, which together form a line of verse: Jing (mirror), Ying (shadow), Yan (word), Jue (revelation), Li (experience), Wo (self), Ming (illumination). Each floor of the museum will be dedicated to a chapter of the exhibition, with the seventh chapter (illumination) reserved for the exterior of the building itself, where Sketch (RAS Exterior) will see LED lights trace the contours of the building’s facade. The measurements in the original plans for the architecture will also be marked out on the building’s exterior in LED lights, emphasizing a sense of expectation from the past architect into the current days. 

Song Dong: I Don’t Know the Mandate of Heaven is not a retrospective, neither a static show. Experience is the essence and soul of it. The exhibition promises to delight both those familiar with Song Dong’s work and those seeking to become acquainted. The breadth of its scope is unparalleled, and the artist does not fail to match it with characteristic depth and charm.

Rockbund Art Museum
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I Don't Know The Mandate of Heaven
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