GORDON SMITH: A Canadian Treasure

GORDON SMITH: A Canadian Treasure

Gordon Smith in his studio – photograph by Ward Pervin, Vancouver Sun

As Canadians reflect on our country’s 150-year anniversary, citing people and places that make us special, I decided that my contribution to the exercise would focus on a Canadian treasure – Gordon Smith. Not only is he an internationally recognised artist but he is also a life-long educator and a kind and generous man. The list of his awards and public honours is lengthy beginning with First Prize, Biennial of Canadian Art, 1955, including his appointment in 1996 to the Order of Canada, several honorary doctorates, and, most recently, the 2016 Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.

My enthusiasm for all things Gordon Smith was evident in an earlier article I wrote (https://artappreciation101.wordpress.com/2012/12) and that enthusiasm was most recently rekindled at the end of last month during a family visit with Gordon at his home. The highlight was viewing with him one of his diaries that was full of copious notations, sketches and photographs. There were observations of places visited, details about paintings he admired, photographs of people and places important to him and a wonderful photograph taken with his late wife Marion upon his return from the war.

Gordon Smith showing us one of his diaries, March 25, 2017

Book of memories – Gordon and Marion

We also had the opportunity to see first hand what new direction his creative muse has been taking him in – imagine, at 97 years he paints almost daily. New works that we saw in his studio are reproduced below.

Gordon Smith – new works March 25, 2017

Gordon Smith – work in progress March 25, 2017

Following our visit we set out on a tour to discover some of Smith’s projects which bear witness to his generosity to the communities of West and North Vancouver. First stop was the West Vancouver Community Centre where Gordon has contributed to the Centre’s public art program with two creations. One can be found in the atrium of the Centre – a massive 12-by 20-foot assemblage made from found driftwood and other objects that he and an assistant gathered from beaches in and around West Vancouver. Entitled Beach Tangle 2009 it is a striking work that brings the surrounding nature into the building.

Gordon Smith – Beach Tangle 2009

Next stop was the West Vancouver Museum to enjoy the Ann Kipling exhibition Drawing the Line, and to see some of Kipling’s works that Gordon donated to that gallery two years ago as part of a major donation of 50 works of other artists from his personal collection.

For me the highlight of our tour was North Vancouver’s Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art cited as “the first gallery in the country dedicated to young audiences”. This gallery opened in 2012 and is housed in a North Vancouver School District building. It is the home of the Artists for Kids teaching collection consisting of some 500 works from major Canadian artists collected over the past 20 years.

Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art – main gallery.

Gordon Smith was one of the founding patrons and is credited with successfully encouraging many of Canada’s leading artists to donate works to the collection and to be involved with their hands-on artist and teacher-led programs.

Douglas Coupland, Planet #1-6, 2002 – Gordon Smith’s paint pots as photographed by Douglas Coupland.

The Gordon and Marion Smith Foundation For Young Artists, established in 2002, is a charitable organization raising funds to support the Artists for Kids Program (enquiries can be made to: admin@smithfoundation.ca).

Gordon’s work, Reflections, 2014, was selected for inclusion in the new collection at Canada House in London, England, where he was invited to be part of the official opening ceremonies and to meet the Queen in late February, 2015. Canada House boasts one of the largest Canadian art collections outside the country. Reflections, 2014, has pride of place in the Cockspur Street lobby of the Queen Elizabeth Atrium.

Reflections, 2014 – The Queen and Gordon Smith at Canada House, London.

For those of you who wish to learn more about Gordon Smith’s art I strongly recommend Gordon Smith: Don’t Look Back, Black Dog Publishing, 2014. In my judgment, this is the definitive book on the life and work of this wonderful Canadian. This thoughtfully researched record of his life with exceptional reproductions of his paintings was made possible through the dedication of Gordon’s long-time friend and dealer, Andy Sylvester, owner of Equinox Gallery in Vancouver.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

VANCOUVER SPECIAL: Ambivalent Pleasures

 

VANCOUVER SPECIAL: Ambivalent Pleasures

WOW – talk about a full house! There are presently five exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) that I highly recommend. All of the exhibitions are unique in their own right but taken as a whole demonstrate why the VAG has one of the most imaginative and original exhibition programs in Canada. The feature attraction, VANCOUVER SPECIAL: Ambivalent Pleasures (open until April 17, 2017), is a perfect example of the leadership role the VAG plays in showcasing Vancouver artists. Ambivalent Pleasures, which includes the work of 40 artists, represents the first of many more triennials committed to sampling contemporary art produced in Vancouver.

Co-curators, Daina Augaitis (VAG’s chief curator/associate director) and Jesse McKee (head of strategy at 221A artist run centre) have created an opportunity for the merely curious to the academically inclined to reflect on recent creative directions under three broad filters: surrealism, abstraction and conceptualism.  In the catalogue’s opening article, Augaitis notes that “Many of the artists have an interest in exploring the aesthetics of the 1980s and reconsidering materials and processes that were once deemed craft” (Full disclosure: Daina Augaitis is my sister-in-law).

Tamara Henderson, “The Scarecrow’s Holiday, 2015” – textile, wood, glass, sand, pigment

Augaitis in her introduction explains what she and McKee sought to achieve: not a top-ten list but a representative overview of emerging trends and talents since Vancouver 2010 – the last time a major survey of Vancouver contemporary art was mounted at the gallery. To set the scene, she explains some of the challenges Vancouver artists are facing, the most daunting of which is the prohibitive cost of studio space and the resulting pressures to relocate out of the city core and in some cases to leave the city entirely. She further notes that artists are using an array of evocative materials in innovative ways and any material is fair game for creative expression. Many of the new crop of artists are actively engaged in interpreting historical knowledge as well as diving into current social and political issues. The co-curators also noted that a sense of humour and giving in to a desire to entertain haven’t been lost and that the spirit of collaboration and collegiality is alive and well.

Walter Scott, “Octavia & Lick, 2016” – acrylic and coloured pencil on paper

There are several pieces in the show where the materials and formal compositions are very strikingly and imaginatively presented in a manner that surprises and holds your attention. Examples include creations by Rebecca Brewer (wool, felt, metal) and Mark Delong (cotton thread on cardboard).

Rebecca Brewer, “Bellmer, 2016” – wool, felt, metal

Mark Delong, “Possible Reflections, 2016” – cotton thread on cardboard

Charlene Vickers is an Anishinaabe interdisciplinary artist who explores her Ojibway ancestry through her art. She has been quoted as saying that her work “…concerns memory and expression of Aboriginal identity where materials carry social and cultural significance”. There is a series of her watercolours in the exhibition that takes as its reference the porcupine quill motifs used in the historical ceremonies of the Anishinaabe – refer to images below.

Charlene Vickers, “Accumulation of Moments Spent Underwater with the Sun and Moon, 2015-16” – watercolour, gouache, pencil crayon on paper

Charlene Vickers, “Accumulation of Moments…” – detail

What I appreciate about Vickers’s work and other Aboriginal artists in the exhibition is how they address, through their art practice, the unique challenges of working through the disconnect between their history and how that history has been traditionally portrayed and their desire to adapt historical knowledge to today’s context.

With the intergenerational mix of artists presenting truly engaging artworks in VANCOUVER SPECIAL: Ambivalent Pleasures, I am convinced that Vancouver artists will not be giving up their mantle as world leaders in the contemporary art scene anytime soon.

Other current exhibitions at the VAG that I urge you to see: 

WE COME TO WITNESS: Sonny Assu in Dialogue With Emily Carr – Assu, who is of Ligwilda’xw Kwakwaka’wakw descent, stated in an interview: “I wanted to reassert an Indigenous presence on these iconoc Canadian landscapes as a way of saying: ‘We are still here’.” – ends April 23, 2017.

 SUSAN POINT: Spindle Whorl – first comprehensive exhibition by a Coast Salish artist to be presented at the VAG – ends May 28, 2017.

PACIFIC CROSSING: Hong Kong Artists in Vancouver reviews the work of four artists (David Lam, Koo Mei, Paul Chui and Josh Hon) who immigrated to Vancouver just prior to the Hong Kong handover in 1997 – ends May 28, 2017.

Howie Tsui: Retainers of Anarchy – a hand-drawn multi-media presentation exploring Asian history and pop culture using fantasy adventures of supernatural martial artists – ends May 28, 2017. The exhibition will travel to the Ottawa Art Gallery, May to September 2018.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jonas Stonkus: Sculpture

Jonas Stonkus: Sculptor

Sitting at our kitchen table looking out on the back yard on a cold, bright, sunny winter day made me think of our friend Jonas Stonkus and the landscape that he would be viewing from his windows.  Jonas has fashioned an idyllic artistic environment on a three-and-one-half acre property partitioned off from his family’s original tobacco farm in the 1980s.  Stonkus is a sculptor and land artist who has created a mini-Eden in the Carolinian microclimate near Langton, Ontario. He has integrated his metal and glass sculptures with the trees, shrubs, grasses and herbaceous plants, unique to this ecosystem, that he nurtured from small seedlings collected from various North American sites.

An Ontario College of Art graduate, he pursued his early interest in art by working with glass under an apprenticeship in Dublin, Ireland.  His interests soon expanded to working with many different materials: glass, wood, metals (copper, lead), found and repurposed materials (electrical power cables, cement).  He has been quoted as saying that he “…subscribes to the philosophy that any material can be used for art.”

His family’s and his own close association with the land are reflected in his art and the home, studio and galleries he has fashioned from the original buildings on his property. A farmhouse has been renovated to meet his personal needs and to display his own work and those of his friends; a barn has been converted into his studio; a machine shed re-purposed as a gallery; and a tobacco greenhouse converted into a stunning, open-air gallery.

 

Jonas and my wife’s families have been life-long friends so I have had the pleasure of knowing the artist, enjoying his company over the past 40 years and learning to appreciate the imagination, passion and skill he brings to all of his creations. The tactile element of the materials used (wood, glass, metal), the environment in which he situates the pieces (indoor, outdoor), and the presentation (free-standing, hanging) all contribute to his unique artistic vision.  A gentle person of contagious charm he lives a life that draws beauty from the land and the materials associated with its taming.

A conversation with Jonas is always engaging and an eclectic variety of topics soon emerge ranging from Lithuanian history and culture, Western art history, horticulture, landscape design, politics and any number of practical topics regarding maintaining a rural property. I have enjoyed these discussions which have deepened my understanding of the context of his art.  I particularly enjoy the final result, the material used, how it has been manipulated, and paying attention to recurring techniques in the construction of artworks through the different styles he has adopted over time.

We have several of Jonas’ works spanning his career – a rubbing from the 1970s, recycled tobacco kiln wood/binder twine sculptures, an ink line drawing from his travels to Greece (1974), a large outdoor sculpture in our garden also from the 1970s, and glass and metal wall hangings from recent decades. Even after many years a work will surprise and delight me when I take a moment to look at it anew.

Each fall the arts community of Norfolk County sponsors an open studio tour (Norfolk Studio Tour: http://www.norfolktourism.ca) which includes Jonas’ oasis, thus providing an occasion for the public to witness the continuing evolution of his art practice.

To conclude in Jonas’ own words from his Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant exhibition: “One of my goals is to explore non-objectivity.  My preferred materials include glass, wood, metals and findings from the past.  Fundamental to my work, and the spirit of creation itself is an economy of materials and integrity of intention.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Ciara Phillips: Now For Something Completely Different – “Dazzle” a Ship

 

Ciara Phillips: Now for Something Completely Different – “Dazzle” a Ship

 

When I wrote previously about my cousin, Ciara Phillips, she had been nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize in 2014 (https://artappreciation101.wordpress.com/2014/10/22/Ciara-Phillips-2014-turner-prize-nominee/).  Since that time she has not been idle, continuing her print-making practice through the artist collective that she founded, Poster Club, taking her ongoing project Workshop (2010 -) on the road to a number of countries and holding solo exhibitions in Stockholm, London, and Norway.

And now for something completely different, Ciara has been commissioned by the Edinburgh Art Festival to “dazzle” a ship.  The work will be part of the 2016 arts festival program designed to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.

For the curious, “Dazzle Ships” refers to a practice begun in 1917 where camouflage paint was used to cover ships in various geometric patterns in order to make it difficult for enemy gunners to estimate a ship’s size, speed and the direction it was travelling.

S.S. Albway, 1918

S.S. Albway, 1918

HMS Kildangan, 1918

HMS Kildangan, 1918

 

Ciara has brought her considerable artistic skills and imagination to the task of creating a dazzle design for a former lighthouse boat, the MV Fingal, that ferried supplies to Scotland’s remote lighthouses, and is now berthed at the Prince of Wales Dock in the port of Leith, Scotland.  The dazzled ship will be launched on June 2, 2016, to mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland.

MV Fingal

MV Fingal

Ciara has renamed the ship “Every Woman” as a salute to the contributions women made during the First World War especially in the Signals Corps as telegraph operators.  Using reflective paint Ciara and her crew have included within the design pattern the message “Every Woman a Signal Tower”.

Ciara and Every Woman - photo by Ross Fraser McLean

Ciara and Every Woman – photo by Ross Fraser McLean

Every Woman - photo by Ross Fraser McLean

Every Woman – photo by Ross Fraser McLean

Every Woman

 

A few weeks ago, we visited Ciara at her exhibition and print making studio, Cold Friends, Warm Cash, at the Western Front in Vancouver. Her month-long residency at the Front was unique for the artist in that Ciara was working exclusively with children (age 6 – 10 years of age) introducing them to screen print techniques in the creation of posters, banners and printed fabrics.  In an interview with the magazine Canadian Art, Ciara said this about her experience: “…kids are extremely imaginative and extremely uninhibited in terms of expressing what they want… That’s different – very different – than working with adults.”

Cold Friends, Warm Cash - Western Front, Vancouver, British Columbia

Cold Friends, Warm Cash – Western Front, Vancouver, British Columbia

Nina

Nina

Projects

Projects

Project Exhibition

Project Exhibition

Ciara is a very talented artist who seems to thrive on new challenges and continues to find new ways to express her creative energy.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Audain Art Museum: Whistler, British Columbia

Audain Art Museum: Whistler, British Columbia

The Dance Scree (The Scream Too), 2010-2013), James Hart

The Dance Scree (The Scream Too), 2010-2013), James Hart

Now, when you go to Whistler, in addition to the beauty of the great outdoors you can enjoy a museum that highlights the art of British Columbia. The Audain Art Museum, which opened in March of this year, is unique in its aim is to showcase artists from B.C. The province’s A-list is well represented as drawn from the personal collection of Michael Audain and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa.

The museum building, designed by architects John and Patricia Patkau, is unobtrusively nestled in downtown Whistler in a setting of fir, cedar and spruce trees with a mountain backdrop. It is a quietly stunning building that frames a spacious exhibition space. Its pitched roof is practical (to handle mountain snow falls) and helps the building to blend into the trees surrounding it.

Museum entrance

Museum entrance

In the museum’s permanent space, B.C. art from the past two hundred years is on display: historical and current First Nation masks; Haida master carvers James Hart and Robert Davidson; works by Emily Carr, E. J. Hughes, Jack Shadbolt, Gordon Smith; and those by the “younger generation” (Sonny Assu, Stan Douglas, Dana Claxton, Brian Jungen, Marianne Nicolson, Ian Wallace); and the list goes on.

It is fitting that the first gallery you enter is dedicated to the rich artistic legacy of B.C.’s First Nations. Rare masks from the 12 First Nations are displayed on the walls and a more contemporary reminder of the skill of First Nation artists is the awe-inspiring cedar dance screen carved by James Hart.

Several works by Emily Carr serve as a bridge between the first gallery’s historic and ceremonial creations and the more recent works in the galleries that follow.

Memkish, 1912, Emily Carr

Memkish, 1912, Emily Carr

On display are the colourful coastal depictions by E.J. Hughes, the unique surrealism of Jack Shadbolt, the abstract expressionism of Gordon Smith, and impressive selections of Vancouver’s internationally famous photo conceptualists, as well as recent art by contemporary First Nation artists such as Dana Claxton.

Departure from Nanaimo, 1964, E. J. Hughes

Departure from Nanaimo, 1964, E. J. Hughes

Butterfly Transformation Theme, 1981, Jack Shadbolt

Butterfly Transformation Theme, 1981, Jack Shadbolt

Winterscape, 1991, Gordon Smith

Winterscape, 1991, Gordon Smith

Paint Up #1, 2010, Dana Claxton

Paint Up #1, 2010, Dana Claxton

When we visited last month, the temporary exhibition featured Mexican Modernists including works by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo.

Maternidad - Diego Rivera

Maternidad – Diego Rivera

As a long-time admirer of the Mexican Muralists, and “Los Tres Grandes” (The Big Three – Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros) in particular, I was disappointed in the way the exhibition was mounted. With the technological advances available to curators today, especially image projection, it is regrettable that an effort was not made to link the individual paintings on display with the artists’ much more culturally and historically significant works – their murals. Spreading so few paintings over several nearly empty galleries didn’t help either.

The Audain Art Museum is part of a growing trend of wealthy art collectors opting to build their own museums in order to display their personal collections. Granted this seems to be a more prevalent practice in the USA and Europe than in Canada but such developments must have a significant impact on the collections and fundraising strategies of public institutions.

Other than my annoyance at how the temporary exhibition was presented I enjoyed the visit to the museum. The Audain collection of British Columbian artists is remarkable in its eclectic range and the quality of the works on display. The building is both attractive and functional. The combination of the art on display, the building and the natural beauty of Whistler makes the drive from Vancouver worth the effort.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MashUp: The Birth of Modern Culture

MashUp: The Birth of Modern Culture

img_9167

Image Wall – main floor Vancouver Art gallery.

Where to start?  The current exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), running until June 12, 2016, is unlike any I have visited.  The scope is vast – The Birth of Modern Culture – the range of artists and creative styles covered are varied and numerous, and the documentation is substantial (the exhibition catalogue runs to 350 plus pages). The overarching objective of the project is to show a history of collage and assemblage and with it, to document how artists have moved from using traditional techniques and materials to incorporating everyday “found” material and new technologies in the creation of their work.  The timeframe is the late 1870s to the present day.

The term MashUp, as explained by the VAG’s Chief Curator/Associate Director, Daina Augaitis, in an interview with the Georgia Straight, “…is a methodology of putting one thing together with another to produce something else”. [Full disclosure: Daina Augaitis is my sister-in-law.]

Upon entering the first gallery, on the top floor of the VAG, you learn that the leisure activity of some aristocratic women in the late 1870s started off the entire mash-up approach when they began the practice of cutting and pasting photos onto still pictures – an example is shown below. However, the most frequently cited references for the start of this new direction in modern artistic expression are the collages of Pablo Picasso and George Braque. It was between 1912 and 1914 when these artists began to cut and paste newspaper clippings, wallpaper, wine labels and other materials incorporating them into their paintings.

kate-edith-gough-untitled-page-from-the-gough-album-late-1870s

Katie Edith Gough – Gough Album – late 1870s collage of watercolour, paper and albumen prints, Victoria and Albert Museum

Picasso

Pablo Picasso, Guitar on a table, c. 1912, Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth

Marcel Duchamp took things one step further with his “readymades” that marked the beginning of a new field of discovery with the incorporation of everyday objects in artistic expression. In 1917 Duchamp submitted for an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York a white-glazed, ceramic urinal, signed “R. Mutt” and titled the Fountain.  Duchamp maintained that by his actions he had created a new “thought for that object”, a move that he claimed would take artistic expression away from the mechanics of representation to an interpretation of the object.  The profound impact and legacy of Duchamp is evident to this day and you will see more than one urinal in this exhibition.

marcel-duchamp-fountain-19171964-1343921473_org

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917

The period after the Second World War witnessed the expansion of mass marketing and availability of consumer products, inexpensive printing processes and the advent of television.  The directions which artists followed in response to these new developments are well documented in the exhibition.  Andy Warhol established his Factory where he produced assembly-line multiples and the new possibilities in visual and sound recording led to multi and cross-media collaborations that later ushered in the phenomenon of digital technology.

Warhol

Andy Warhol

I was particularly struck by the music and video creations of Brian Eno and David Byrne (Mea Culpa, 1981; America is Watching, 1981), the cut and paste of movie images in the work of Christian Marclay; and the animations in the digital work of the French design collective H5.

For anyone interested, as I am, in the work of Christian Marclay, who received international acclaim at the 54th Venice Biennale for The Clock, 2010, I recommend that you check out an earlier work of his that is featured in this exhibition, Telephones, 1995.  As in The Clock he uses extracted clips from Hollywood films, but this time featuring telephones, that he weaves into a seemingly continuous conversation of seven and a half minutes.  The point to be noted is that he created this piece before the development of video-editing technology which would have been a very arduous process. To view on the internet search for: Telephones, 1995 – Christian Marclay – YouTube.

Christian Marclay, Telephones, 1995

Christian Marclay, Telephones, 1995

The second work that I recommend viewing online is by H5 (Francois Alaux, Herve de Crecy and Ludovic Houplain). Logorama, 2009 won the 2010 Academy Awards for Animated Short Film. Over two thousand commercial logos are woven together along a 16 minute storyline based on Hollywood genre action movies with stereotypical characters and dialogue. To view online search for: Logorama –Short film by H5YouTube.

H5 Logorama, (video stills) 2009

H5 Logorama, (video stills) 2009

I spent over four hours wandering, back-tracking and becoming immersed in the sensory overload that is MashUp. It is not possible to comment on the work of each of the 156 artists represented or the 371 works on exhibit.  I was however able, for the first time, to appreciate the interconnectedness, the collaboration and the borrowing that took place between the various forms of artistic expression (painting, photography, performance, film, sound, digital recording, design, writing) as they have evolved together over the past 150 years.  Now that is a mash-up!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Xu Bing: Phoenix

In an earlier post (Art Appreciation Marathon: Part 2 of 2), I reported on our visit to New York City to see Xu Bing’s installation Phoenix, 2008-10.  Using discarded construction materials Xu Bing created two 150 foot long phoenixes weighing in excess of 20 tons and suspended them from the ceiling of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine about 15 feet above the ground.

Phoenix, installation view Cathedral Church of saint John the Divine. NYC

Phoenix installation, Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, NYC.

Xu Bing is a contemporary of Ai Weiwei (see Ai Weiwei: Art and Politics in China).  Like Ai Weiwei’s, his work often speaks to contemporary social and political issues in China.  Both artists have expressed concern with how China, Beijing in particular, is changing at the expense of its history and architecture.  The old is being replaced with the new with little regard for neighbourhoods and communities.

Originally commissioned to create the centerpiece of a new commercial complex in Beijing, Xu Bing lost the contract when the developers realized that the raw material for the piece was being drawn from construction waste at the complex site.  Using discarded materials (feathers fashioned from shovels, crowns made of hard hats and heads formed from jackhammers) Xu Bing created an intricate and elaborate depiction of a male (Feng) and female (Huang) phoenix in flight.  It is a work that tells a multitude of stories.

Phoenix detail, MASS MoCA

Phoenix detail, MASS MoCA

I first saw this installation in 2013 when it was at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, in North Adams, along with several other seminal works by Xu Bing.  One such piece, 1st Class (2011), is a visually stunning work originally created as part of a residency program at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

1st Class (2011)

1st Class (2011)

The faux tiger-skin carpet, measuring 40 feet in length, was constructed by using approximately 500,000 Chinese Red Strike cigarettes.  By placing the filtered end of the cigarettes either up or down the effect is created.

1st Class (2011) detail

1st Class (2011) detail

The “sculpture”, similar to the phoenixes, represents more than it seems.  A number of historical and social references are embedded in the piece, such as: the Duke family’s link to the fortunes of the tobacco industry in West Virginia in the early 1900s; the fact that Asia was a prime target for tobacco marking through Shanghai; slave labour was associated with the early days of the tobacco industry; and, the British and Chinese familiarity with the symbol of the tiger.

1st Class (2011) detail

1st Class (2011) detail

Another arresting installation, which is part of Xu Bing’s ongoing project Background Story (2004-present), re-creates an ancient Chinese ink drawing entitled Landscape Painted on the Double Ninth Festival, a 1705 Qing Dynasty masterpiece.

The work is presented in a light box, more than 25 feet high, depicting mountains in the clouds and detailed evergreens as part of the landscape.

Background Story (2004-present) installation view

Background Story (2004-present) installation view

Walk behind the piece and you discover that it is not an ink drawing at all but an illusion that has been intricately cobbled together by the artist from trash and plant clippings and taped to the frosted glass of the light box.

Background Story (2004-present) detail

Background Story (2004-present) detail

Xu Bing working on Background Story (2004-present)

Xu Bing working on Background Story (2004-present)

A further example of why I find the art of Xu Bing so fascinating is an ongoing project that he is working on that showcases his inventiveness from a completely different perspective.  His Book from the Ground (2003-present) is part of a long-standing investigation of language and the use of signs and icons as a means to communicate. His exploration of visual communication will culminate in the publication of From Point to Point, a novel written entirely in a “language of icons”.

I plan to write on this Xu Bing project in a future post but in the meantime to pique your curiosity I have reproduced pages from Book from the Ground to test your imagination.

Book from the Ground (2003-present) - pages 2 and 3 - detail

Book from the Ground (2003-present) – pages 2 and 3 – detail

Book from the Ground (2003-present) - page 4 detail.

Book from the Ground (2003-present) – page 4 detail.

Of the Chinese contemporary artists whom I have been following I think Xu Bing is one of the more cerebral and a less in-your-face critic of political and social issues in China.  The heavy lifting in the direct confrontation mode is definitely Ai Weiwei’s forte but I have been drawn to Xu Bing’s more subtle approach.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments