Art News & Views



Retrospective of Wu Guanzhong at the Asia Society Museum

New York. The Asia Society Museum is presenting, Revolutionary Ink: The Paintings of Wu Guanzhong, the first U.S. retrospective of one of China's most important artists of the twentieth century, Wu Guanzhong. The exhibition started on April 25 and continues till August 5, 2012. The show celebrates the sixty-year career of Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010). The show represents Wu's radical individual approach that integrates European modernism and abstract expressionism with traditional Chinese ink painting.

Revolutionary Ink: The Paintings of Wu Guanzhong is organized thematically into three sections that evoke Wu's approach to the medium of ink and account for distinct genres of his practice. The first section, Landscape, emphasizes the ink and wash painting tradition while showing the departure from tradition that some of his work represents, for example, in the random use of colour. The section comprises paintings from the late 1980s and 1990s, representing views of high altitude mountains in vertical format, or expansive horizontal landscapes, in which he used ink to create an effect of flatness, in contrast to the traditional effect of depth and vitality.

The second section of the exhibition is based on the theme is Architecture. Where traditional ink paintings emphasized the grandeur and majesty of the natural environment over small-scale pavilions or other architectural elements, Wu's paintings depict rural yet grand homes and towns and highlight a constructed, man-made environment. The final section of the exhibition is Abstraction, representing Wu's later period in which his landscapes became more abstracted. Most of these works are from after 1990 and show an intention to represent states of being, emotions, and concepts over more realistic representation.

With a career spanning over sixty years, the selection of about 50 paintings in this exhibition focuses on some of his best works in the medium of ink and spans the decades from the mid-1970s to 2004. Wu Guanzhong was highly prolific both in oil and ink painting and is well known for his eloquent writings on art and creativity. The exhibition traces the development of Wu's work, and emphasizes his radical individual approach to the medium of ink painting and how it went against the trend at a time when most artists were looking to western art as a model. Wu Guanzhong created works that embody many of the major shifts and tensions in twentieth-century Chinese art-raising questions around individualism, formalism, and the relationship between modernism and cultural traditions.

It is notable that Wu began to work more extensively in ink in the 1970s in his mid-career-turning to a traditional medium at a time when most artists looked to western art for inspiration. With a thematic focus illuminating the rich historical legacy of ink painting in China, and also representing his radical individual style steeped in his strong belief in formalist principles, Wu pushed the boundaries of our understanding of how a traditional medium of ink can be made new for a new century.

Revolutionary Ink: The Paintings of Wu Guanzhong is organized by Asia Society Museum and the Shanghai Art Museum. The exhibition is curated by Melissa Chiu of Asia Society and Lu Huan of Shanghai Art Museum.

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