趙剛 21st：色表／支架 作為歷史人類誌
May 1 – August 23, 2020
Each Modern 亞紀畫廊很榮幸宣布「趙剛 21st：色表／支架 作為歷史人類誌」將於關渡美術館展出，由關渡美術館館長黃建宏擔任策展人。本展將展出趙剛近年來的畫作，以自身的主觀視角探討歷史。在關渡美術館的兩層樓空間中，作品從小幅水彩到巨幅畫布油彩，都提出了一種觀看藝術家與畫作的寬廣視角。趙剛挑戰了我們對於歷史的角色，也撼動了我們所認為不可動搖的歷史。這不僅是揭穿了中國歷史文化中的荒謬，也包括了繪畫本體。我們能從過去得到什麼？有什麼是值得被留下的？這些繪畫又剩下些什麼？趙剛的作品也許能解答。答案也許是懷疑的、粗糙的、笨拙的，但這就是答案。
出生在1961年的滿族家庭，趙剛的家族在「文化大革命」期間經歷了嚴重批鬥。然而，作為當時星星畫會最年輕的成員，趙剛透過展覽，對於70至80年代的中國早期現代藝術做出了極大的貢獻。他將非屬藝術機構的藝術家群聚，以自行車代步，在夜晚的北京公寓中舉辦了多次前衛展覽。之後，就在「反精神污染」運動開始之前，趙剛離開了中國。1983年，他先是在荷蘭學習藝術，後來到了美國瓦薩學院繼續研讀。在紐約，他的角色不僅是聚集中國前衛藝術家的呼喚者，趙剛也為非裔美國藝術家們創造了對話的空間，甚至買下並經營藝術媒體〈Art Asia Pacific〉。他在紐約生活與工作超過了20年，並在2007年回到北京，尋找所謂的新中國與中國當代藝術。
趙剛所著墨的話題，是中國人與在中國的非華裔人士經常不認知的異質性。展覽中，2019年的巨幅作品《China Party 2020》描繪了一大群的人，綠袍姑娘、蓄鬍道士、中國將領與清朝皇帝都圍繞了一張圓桌，就像反映中國多元文化性的一道彩虹。當我們看得更仔細時，會發現這些人物其實都穿著非漢族或非華人的服裝。在這樣的架構下，趙剛重組內容，再透過粗糙直接的筆觸描繪，剝奪了他們的固有歷史並呈現了內在的形象與色彩。趙剛從當代主觀地看待這些非中國與中國的人物，同時也成為了從內部與外部觀看中國的人。
趙剛，1961年生於北京，生活與創作於紐約、北京、台北。他的藝術生涯啟蒙於在18歲時加入的星星畫會。隨後在歐洲與紐約攻讀藝術，先後畢業於荷蘭馬斯垂克州立藝術學院、美國波啟浦夕瓦薩學院、美國哈得遜河畔安嫩代爾巴德學院藝術創作碩士，趙剛於海外生活超過了20年，並發展出了一系列複雜的作品。在2006年回到中國北京後，趙剛的創作專注在了私人歷史與中國歷史的關係上。他獨特的本地與外地特質影響了他近年來的創作。重要的美術館展覽有：2019美國邁阿密佩雷茲美術館「趙剛：歷史畫」、2016年智利聖地牙哥當代美術館「通往奴役之路 II」、2015年中國蘇州蘇州美術館「偶園」、2015年中國北京尤倫斯當代藝術中心「通往奴役之路」、2011年中國北京今日美術館「病夫：趙剛」。重要聯展有：1990年美國紐約PS1藝術機構／Blum Helman Gallery「門」、2017年美國紐約索羅門古根漢基金會「1989後的藝術與中國：世界劇場」、中國北京長征空間「原地前進」、2018年中國上海龍美術館「轉捩點－中國當代藝術四十年」。重要雙、三年參展則有：2008 年「廣州雙年展」、2007 年紐約「PERFPRMA雙年展」、2005年「橫濱三年展」。
Zhao Gang 21st ：Supports / ColorLumps as Anthropography of History
May 1 – August 23, 2020
Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts
Curator: Huang ChienHung
Organizer: Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts
Co-organizer: Each Modern
Special thanks to Long March Space, Tilton Gallery, TSO Gallery
Each Modern is pleased to announce “Zhao Gang 21st: Supports / ColorLumps as Anthropography of History” Chinese American Artist Zhao Gang’s first solo exhibition at the Kuandu Museum of Fine Art. Comprised of recent works the exhibition presents Zhao’s history painting practice as an examination subjectivity and of the premise of History itself. Across two floors of the Kuandu Museum, with works ranging from small watercolor on paper to immersive large-scale oil on canvas, this collection of works proposes viewing the artist and his painting in a broad view which challenges our assumptions of history and the shaky ground which it undoubtedly has always stood on. This challenge extends beyond merely serving a missive debunking the fallacies wrought throughout Chinese cultural history, but also encompasses the ontology of painting itself. What is worth gleaning from this past? What is worth saving? And What does painting have left to offer? Zhao Gang’s paintings offer some sort of answer. Skeptical, coarse, and bawdy answers, though answers nonetheless.
Born 1961, his family’s Manchu pedigree attracted considerable castigation during the Cultural Revolution. As the youngest member of the Stars Group, Zhao Gang contributed to China’s earliest modern art exhibitions from the late seventies to the mid-eighties. His activity in a cohort of non-institutionalized artists formed a community of the avant-garde, traveling on bicycles between apartment exhibitions across night-time Beijing. He left China, just before the Anti-Spiritual Pollution crackdowns, to study in the Netherlands in 1983 and later attended Vassar College in the United States. In New York he played a role in pulling not only a community of Chinese avant-garde artists together, but also created spaces for dialogues with African American artists, and even purchased and ran the art magazine Art Asia Pacific for a spell. He lived and worked in New York for over twenty Years before returning to Beijing in 2007, to find a new China, and a new topography of Chinese Contemporary Art.
Zhao Gang the returnee found a Beijing he did not fully recognize. To engage with this new landscape, the artist continued what began in New York in the 90s, a practice towards the more personal, one that revolved around his specific identity, but that stretched back towards history to question the present, drawing from erotica, revolution, poetry, traditional ink painting, Chinese culture’s past. In this way, through the personal, Zhao depicts a new Chinese imaginary, explored through painting, about painting, and about himself.
One such recurring topic is the often-unrecognized heterogeneity of China, or the non-Chinese within China. In the exhibition’s largest work China Party 2020, 2019, a panoply of figures makes up this party. A “verdant-robed girl,” a bearded Taoist, and generals and a Qin emperor gathered around a table project a colorful rainbow of a multifaceted Chinese culture. Upon more rigorous inspection, the figures are in fact all wearing the attire of non-Han Chinese, or non-Chinese altogether. Reframed in this context, and rendered with harsh and direct brush strokes, stripping the forms of their historical context and revealing an interior identity of shape and color, Zhao gives these non-Chinese, Chinese, a contemporary subjectivity through the inherited and the traditional; one that regards China from within and without.
Comprising another facet of this subjectivity is a body of work from 2018 titled Diluted Retrospective, featuring 39 watercolors. The series frames Russia’s October Revolution in a context that includes Chinese history and Zhao himself while addressing identity through links between China, communist revolutions, and also Contemporary Art history. For Zhao, coming of age in China meant there was never one’s own Contemporary Art history. Instead what the artist offers is a mix of revolutionary warlords, intellectuals, and the legacy of Imperial China. Once again, through the medium of painting, Zhao Gang is able to shine a light on a precarious aspect of his world, through a retrospective turn.
Intellectual, 2015 – 2017 is a work which is tied to one a body of work fixated on a certain group of Chinese intellectuals who took off to Europe, the US, and Japan, post May Fourth Movement to receive higher education. Returning to China, with hopes and dreams of building a better homeland, many of these would-be statesmen meet unenviable fates. The theme of the simultaneous outsider and insider is no doubt ever present in Zhao’s works as he’s framed it. He is the contemporary analog of these men though in spite of this, has a different destiny.
Importantly this exhibition also draws our attention to deeper displacement with time, shifting from history and sociocultural anthropology, to biological anthropology. Monkey King, 2016 touches upon the very origin of homo-sapiens, that is mankind’s prehistoric antecedents. Betraying his tendency towards parody, Zhao shows us a sincere creature with potential and intelligence. A figure about to relinquish its throne in the kingdom of animals, and begin the heavy lifting of human civilization. Bright eyes looking out from the canvas, perhaps forward towards the march of human history to come, suggest a range of concern that goes even deeper for Zhao. If traditional Chinese philosophers looked towards the ancients for guidance, Zhao’s aim may be even further back.
Whether these portraits represent aspects of the Zhao’s identity or narrative are no longer in question. Almost all of the works are imbued with some piece of his own historical fate. What Intellectual, 2015 – 2017 and Monkey King, 2016 offer us is representation of this spectrum. The former is the amalgam of cultures, the latter predates culture. One figure suffers a cruel fate at the hands of his own people, despite his learning, the other is removed from this strife because it sits outside the troubles of mankind. Zhao makes clear his position on his circumstance, as Manchu, artist, emigrant, returnee, insider and outsider. History has shown, good intentions and intellect do not exclude you from man’s barbarism.
Another cycle repositions Zhao through court culture and the landscapes from literati gardens. In Coronavirus 3, 2020 and Coronavirus 4, 2020, objects appear from edges of the canvas, cutting off, and de-contextualizing these traditional objects of value. A statue of a buddha becomes an emptied vessel of Chinese culture, both removed from the world that created it, and the people that comprise this culture. Zhao picks and chooses these aspects, not discarding, though not accepting at face value either. This technique draws parallels with his Suzhou Museum solo exhibition “Paramour’s Garden” from 2015 and its watercolors of floating figures and architecture, though these oil on canvas works are grounded, and enclosed in interiors, there still a sense of the unhinged.
Landscapes and vistas of China can also be seen through eyes of outsiders, not unlike Zhao. Map of China, 2015 takes its inspiration from the cover of German traveler and scientist Ferdinand von Richthofen’s 1885 book. A stone stele stands before rolling hills and the Great Wall. Here the foreigner’s imaginary is invoked; a western depiction of an essentialist view of China is re-appropriated by Zhao, and reworked, but with his assimilated western subjectivity. A mirror is held up to a mirror.
The contemporary is never too far away, and as such neither is history or the historical events that will dot future annals. In fact, the Coronavirus series is comprised of 4 works done in Beijing during the height of the COVID-19 viral epidemic across China. In this context, Zhao’s practice persisted. In the first of the series, Coronavirus 1, 2020, a small dark plant in front of a sill, with a window pane divided into sections, reframes the scene into two pieces. Looking out through these panes, a near-void of white freezes the world in place. Cascading sheets of snow blanket roof tops towards a horizon of grey and dead trees. The red flowers of the houseplant pull us back indoors and out of the cold. Taken with its historical context, Zhao puts the very real aspect of separation, isolation, endurance and tenacity of the spirit born in the face of a contemporary crisis into this historical medium and subject.
He is an outsider of the fiction that we call a unified Chinese culture. Zhao sees this within these inherited images, trickling down to our present. Filtered through the artist, and through the baggage of painting and painter, these things can take on new meanings, enforce new myths, and posit new histories. No other artist, Chinese, American, or otherwise, has had the singular frame of mind to share such a vision.
About the Artist
Zhao Gang (b. 1961, Beijing) currently lives and works in New York, Beijing, and Taipei. His artistic career began as a member of the Stars Group in Beijing when he was 18 years old. Shortly thereafter he pursued an art education in Europe and New York; graduating from State Academy of Fine Art, Maastricht, the Netherlands; Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, USA; MFA, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, USA. Zhao Gang lived for over two decades overseas, developing a complex body of work. After returning to Beijing in 2006, Zhao Gang has focused his practice on his personal past with Chinese history. His unique position as a native and a foreigner has influenced much of his recent artworks. His selected museum solo exhibitions include: 2019 History Painting, Perez Art Museum Miami, Miami, Florida, USA; The Road to Serfdom II, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Santiago, Chile; 2016 Paramour’s Garden, Suzhou Museum, Suzhou, China, 2015; The Road to Serfdom, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China, 2015; Sick Man: Zhao Gang, Today Art Museum, Beijing, China, 2011. His selected group exhibitions include: The Door, P.S.1 Institute of the Arts/Blum Helman Gallery, New York, USA, Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, USA, 2017; Marching in Circles, Long March Space, Beijing, China, 2017; Turning Point – 40 Years of Chinese Contemporary Art, Long Museum West Bund, Shanghai China, 2018. He participated in important biennial/triennial exhibitions such as Guangzhou Triennial, 2008; PERFORMA 07, New York; and Yokohama Triennial, 2005.