Ding Yi's Rolling Stone
Qiu Deshu’s Water Mirror
"Unlike ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations, Chinese civilization, despite all the impact and challenges it has endured, finds a way to continue to develop in the contemporary context. The indomitable vitality it radiates and the inner spirit that nourishes it are worth our attention and study. If a metaphor is to be drawn, its traits can be best described as a combination of the rigidness of mountains and flexibility of water," said Zhang Pingjie, curator of the new exhibition Insightful Charisma at the Shanghai Himalayas Museum in Pudong New Area.
A deep appreciation for mountains and water in Chinese philosophy was developed long before landscape painting, and later laid the foundation for Chinese aesthetics. Evidence of this appreciation can be found in ancient classics such as The Analects of Confucius, which connects men's characters with mountains and water with the saying, "Wise people take pleasure in water and benevolent people take pleasure in mountains."
The exhibition, which takes the theme of "mountains and water," comprises five distinctive sections combining classic traditional Chinese artworks with outstanding pieces of contemporary art, and seeks to probe into the inheritance, development and innovation of Chinese art and culture.
Traditional and contemporary art
The section called Spirit - Classic Works features a collection of outstanding traditional Chinese landscape paintings, among which visitors will see works by Wang Shen from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and Gong Xian from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), as well as modern artists Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) and Qi Baishi (1864-1957), to name just a few.
In the Internal Force - Contemporary Art section, a number of extraordinary contemporary artists have incorporated the spirit of traditional landscape painting in their innovative works by exploiting different kinds of media. Qiu Deshu, one of the most popular contemporary Chinese artists in the West, presents a landscape in his paper collage work Water Mirror; Ding Yi, the pioneering Chinese abstract painter, explores the boundary between natural simulation and artwork in his installation work Rolling Stone by mimicking meteorite, coal, and garden rockery with wood, fabric and metal frames; and Qiu Zhijie, chief curator of the 2012 Shanghai Biennale, reveals his philosophical reflection on the binary concepts of internal and external, virtual and real, and new and old in a bamboo-weaving installation which resembles a waterfall.
Renowned artist and art critic Fang Zhenning is the curator of the section Imagery - Urban Gardens, and he has invited a number of innovative architects to the exhibition, among them Ieoh Ming Pei, Arata Isozaki, Ma Yansong, Liu Jiakun and Chen Bochong.
A print of a scroll of landscape painting from the Ming Dynasty extends on the walls of the exhibition space, demonstrating people's pursuit of the perfect integration of architecture with nature. Fang and Xu Dongliang's LED installation Rivers and Mountains is exhibited in the center of the space, over which architecture models on either side face each other at a distance. Both the installation and the models are lined up on long narrow platforms that resemble traditional Chinese painting scrolls.
"The architecture models are located lower than the mountains in order to achieve the right order among people, nature and city," Fang told the Global Times. "It is very wise of the traditional Chinese architecture designs, which emphasized the role of nature in people's lives, and I think today's Chinese architects should learn from it and contribute something Chinese to global architecture."
The section entitled Rhythm - Multimedia Kunqu Opera focuses on one single institution, the Shanghai Zhang Jun Kunqu Art Center. Established in 2009 by actor Zhang Jun, the institution is dedicated to reviving the art of Kunqu Opera in today's market by exploring new means of production, communication and operation. On view are several exquisite costumes and headwear from Kunqu Opera, along with video recordings of Zhang's performance with foreign actors in Tan Dun's opera Marco Polo and Zhang and his colleagues' efforts to present The Peony Pavilion in a traditional Chinese garden.
"Kunqu has become the most important part of my life. I may complain about it, I may hate it, but I can't live without it," Zhang admits in one video. Since 1998, Zhang has persisted in bringing Kunqu Opera into schools and universities, and in 2011 he was designated as a UNESCO Artist for Peace in recognition of his commitment to promoting the art of Kunqu Opera.
The last section, which Zhang Pingjie says "lays a foundation for viewing the whole exhibition," looks into the origin of traditional Chinese culture. Entitled Reason - China Cube, the exhibition displays models of cubic frames which feature different colored frames. Consistent red represents the yang in Taoist belief, while the inconsistent black represents the yin.
"This conception of a Chinese cube is able to explain the existence of Confucianism and Taoism, as well as traditional Chinese medicine," said Li Ding, PhD, the director of Wuji Academy, which is affiliated with Zendai Group together with the Himalayas Museum.
"This is the origin of the splendid and consistent Chinese culture, and it should be the basis for China to make further contributions to the world with its own characteristics," added Li.
Dai Zhikang, the president of Zendai Group, said in a forum during the exhibition that if Chinese people want to win the respect of the rest of the world, they must root themselves in their own ideology and culture, rather than manufacture cheap imitations.
Date: Until 30 September, 10 am to 6 pm (closed on Mondays)
Venue: Shanghai Himalayas Museum
Address: 896 Yinghua Road, near Huamu Road Station on metro Line 7
Tickets: 50 yuan ($8.16), 25 yuan for students, 30 yuan per person for group visitors (≥8 persons)
Call 5033-9801 for more details