Professor Stanley Abe: “The Modern Moment of Chinese Sculpture” at the IFA

Buddha, Probably Amitabha (Amituo), Tang dynasty (618–907), early 7th century China, hollow dry lacquer with pigment and gilding, 38 x 27 x 22 1/2 inches (96.5 x 68.6 x 57.1 cm).
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

On January 31, 2012, Professor Stanley Abe gave a lecture entitled “The Modern Moment of Chinese Sculpture” as part of the Silberberg Lecture Series at the Institute of Fine Arts. Abe is an associate professor of art history at Duke University and has written extensively on Chinese Buddhist art, contemporary Chinese art, Asian American art, and the construction of art historical knowledge. His current research is on the movement of sculpture out of China in the early twentieth century, and his lecture on Wednesday drew on this project. Abe began his lecture by citing the introduction of the oft-quoted Art in China (1997) by Sinologist Craig Clunas: “’Chinese art’ is a quite recent invention, not much more than a hundred years old.” He pressed on, “The creation of ‘Chinese art’ in the nineteenth century allowed statements to be made about, and values to be ascribed to, a range of types of object.” This statement succinctly sums up what Abe’s lecture took to be its main argument, namely, that Chinese sculpture became a category of art in the latter half of the 19th century. Abe’s lecture traced the invention and development of Chinese sculpture as a class of art that sprung from the Modernist project of historicizing the past and recoding structures of knowledge surrounding Chinese art. Continue reading “Professor Stanley Abe: “The Modern Moment of Chinese Sculpture” at the IFA”

Song Dong and the “Wisdom of the Poor”

Song Dong, "Wisdom of the Poor," 2005. Image via UCCA.

The hutongs of Beijing have long been sites of informal gatherings, neighborly consideration, and thrifty consumption. With the urbanization of the city, however, acres of old neighborhoods once animated by these cramped streets have been demolished, uprooting communities and collapsing the silently constructed social ecosystems therein. Alongside the tendency toward individualization inherent in modernity, the destruction of family homes and the physical erasure of the past have led to an overwhelming sense of estrangement among the former residents of these well-worn streets. To preserve the memories of the hutongs and to celebrate the simple wisdom that sustained them, Song Dong filled the enormous space of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing with the bric-a-brac and portions of dilapidated wooden residences that he salvaged from his mother’s home and from other decaying sites of an endangered society. Continue reading “Song Dong and the “Wisdom of the Poor””

Revisiting China’s Grand Canal

Philipp Scholz Rittermann, "Overview, Night Fish Market, Grand Canal, Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, China," 2010.
Image via Scott Nichols Gallery.
As integral sites of commerce and transportation in any city, the waterways and river-sea routes of Yuan and Ming Beijing have been a major point of discussion in Professor Hay’s colloquium. Stretching for more than 1,000 miles, China’s Grand Canal is the oldest and largest canal ever built. Commissioned during the Wu Dynasty in 486 B.C.E., the canal underwent several stages of expansion and repair well into the reign of the Ming emperor Yongle in the 15th century. It functioned to ferry grain taxes from the south to the imperial seat in the north as well as to facilitate the shipment of goods and raw materials for the construction of temples, palaces and gardens. The Grand Canal was equally important in connecting the fairly landlocked city of Beijing to the maritime trade routes of the sea to the east. With 24 locks and some 60 bridges, the canal currently connects Beijing in the north and Hangzhou in the south. Continue reading “Revisiting China’s Grand Canal”

Chen Lianqing’s Forbidden City

Chen Lianqing, "Flooding in the Forbidden City II," 2006, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 250 cm. Image via Yan Gallery.
Chen Lianqing (b. 1967, Chongqing, China) creates highly polished, often humorous paintings of culturally significant monuments and buildings submerged in water. Using a limited palette of grey, red, and the occasional pop of orange, his work limns a response to the natural and man-made disasters that have scarred the Chinese landscape in recent years. Born and educated in Sichuan province near the Yangzi in southwest China, Chen had a childhood shaped by the river’s seasonal flooding, the regular immersion of buildings, and the quiet leisure of workers relaxing along and in the river waters. Unfortunately, with the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in 1994, his family was forced to relocate along with thousands of others, effectively washing away the setting of Chen’s youth. In a thoughtful and technically accomplished artistic riposte, Chen submerged in dark grey waters the most iconic architectural manifestation of political power and control in China – the Forbidden City in Beijing.  Continue reading “Chen Lianqing’s Forbidden City”

Zhang Dali’s Dialogue with Beijing

Zhang Dali, Dialogue: Forbidden City, Beijing, 1999. Chromogenic color print, 23 11/16 x 35 9/16 in. Image via The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Since 1995, Zhang Dali has been attempting to communicate with the city of Beijing through graffiti. Though the conversational efficacy of his work is up for debate, the signs of his instigations still litter the streets, crumbling walls and hutongs (the ubiquitous narrow alleyways) of Beijing. They are spray painted silhouettes of a bald-headed man, often accompanied by his tag “AK-47” or hollowed out to reveal a striking scene of a city that is in a constant state of construction, preservation and demolition. Zhang explains his work in this way: “This image is a condensation of my own likeness as an individual. It stands in my place to communicate with this city. I want to know everything about this city- its state of being, its transformation, its structure.” Continue reading “Zhang Dali’s Dialogue with Beijing”