The Institute of Fine Arts was extremely fortunate to have Professor Wu Hung of the University of Chicago as a Kirk Varnedoe Visiting Professor during the Spring 2011 semester. The following interview was conducted by a group of students who participated in his seminar on contemporary Chinese art: Robert Brennan, Marci Kwon, Dianne Nelson, Holly Shen, Carrie Wladis, and Alison Young. Laura Dickey and Kevie Yang also took the seminar and provided support for the event, though they were unable to attend. The interview was transcribed by Robert Brennan; an edited version follows. This is the first of two posts.
Robert Brennan: The first thing we wanted to ask is what it’s like to work with museums in China, and if there are differences between working with museums there and working with museums here. In general is there anything that comes to mind in that regard?
Wu Hung: Chinese museums… I was part of [that field] a long time ago, before I came to this country. That was in the ‘70s, so it was a very different situation. Now I think it’s changed tremendously, but that time was very interesting. It was during the Cultural Revolution. We were assigned jobs with the museum. I was in the Forbidden City. Actually it was the largest museum in the country, called the Palace Museum… That museum is quite different from other museums because it’s an architectural complex, and there are people who study architecture and renovation, and there are the archives from the imperial house. There are many divisions. So I was part of the younger staff, first in painting and calligraphy, and secondly in bronze and stone carvings…very interesting, very traditional. And although it was during the Cultural Revolution, inside the Forbidden City it was timeless, almost. Of course we read the newspaper, heard Mao’s speeches, but there was this timeless quality. You close the gate, and you really don’t know which century [it is] — you’re there.
One of the most interesting highlights of the massive Getty-sponsored Pacific Standard Time initiative is the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s exhibition focusing on Light and Space art of the 1960s and 1970s. Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface is spread across MCASD’s three venues in downtown San Diego and La Jolla. The focus on so-called Light and Space art is unprecedented and long overdue. While the artists included under the umbrella of Light and Space art have rejected the idea of a cohesive movement or a common theoretical premise, the moniker is applied generically to art that deals with light as its primary material.
Most of the work included in Phenomenal was created not in San Diego, but in the Los Angeles region well over 100 miles away. This trend makes the MCASD location a somewhat puzzling choice. Yet over one-third of the works on display are drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection, and a handful of works are site specific to MCASD. Moreover, the La Jolla location overlooks the ocean, making it an ideal vantage point from which to contemplate the effects of light and space on Californian artists. Continue reading ““Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface” at MCASD”
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””
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 (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”