Zhong Biao setting up his exhibition at the Suzhou Art Museum
In a word, I’d call Zhong’s new exhibition at the Suzhou Art Museum successful, even highly so, and quite contrary to my expectation. Now I see why, when I called him last week from Seattle, he seemed so emphatic that I jump on a plane immediately to come see what he was doing.
But first, a word about the context,
Though billed (I still think strangely) as a one-man show (个展), the entire spectacle involved far more than Zhong and his work. There were in fact two, simultaneous, even nearly adjoining ‘one-man’ shows, being Zhong’s and another notably, cleverly contrasting installation by famed Cui Xiuwen 催岫闻, whose photography, installation and video work have been very high profile and sometimes controversial at least since 2000 when she installed video cameras in a Ladies’ Room in a Beijing Karaoke club. In addition to these two solo exhibitions, there were paintings of 20 “young” artists displayed on the floor below and one Spanish artist in a small and rather hard to arrive at gallery upstairs. Given time pressure, I spent most of my time in the Zhong Biao part of the gallery and so I have sadly nothing to report about the other parts of the exhibit. Given the short time frame, though Zhong Biao’s bit was more than enough.
It should also be noted that the entire exhibition was held in honor of this year’s recipient of the Yan Wenliang Art Prize, the second iteration of this event. This year’s winner is Geng Jianyi 耿建翌, who was not present nor his work represented. He was however the focus of the opening remarks by Xu Jiang 徐江, President of the Chinese Academy of Art (Hangzhou), not to be confused with the Central Academy of Art (Beijing). But I digress.
Zhong’s work for this exhibition marks an important departure, though one he billed as a “summing up” of all his previous efforts. It is rather extraordinary that the act of summing up includes so much new raw material, and more importantly, new approaches to presentation of new material. The part of the Suzhou Museum allotted for Zhong’s work comprised one major largely square gallery space connected to a longer rectangular hallway. The walls were covered with paintings as usual, but one could easily see that, in true contrast to year’s past, these were not properly the focus of the experience. The list of additional elements is roughly as follows:
Mammoth bones mounted on a stack of Zhong Biao Dictionaries (the latter of which I’ll get to describing sometime soon)
Han Dynasty inscriptions of death sentences for criminals beneath a petrified tree interspersed with Han dynasty pottery fragments carved into the shape of leaves:
This image (quite by accident, of course) captures well the overall sense of the exhibition, namely the “new” stones in various forms from ancient period mixed with Zhong’s paintings, both new (on the right, the image which serves as signature for the exhibition) and the old, namely his graduation thesis work. The traversing of space and time through art is well manifold, to be sure.
3-d Printers, which as reported in previous post, reproduce a fake antique Buddha sculpture:
There’s much more that my skills at photography weren’t up to the task of capturing well. I’ll sort through conference materials and see if I can’t add an image or two in subsequent posts. The list, at any rate, includes a bird cage with caged bird; Jingde Zhen porcelain vases decorated with Zhong’s paintings; an entire wood wall carved with reliefs of Zhong’s paintings and plaster maps of Chinese territory in Qin, Han, Tang, Song, Ming, and Qing eras, replete with dynastic histories laid out on tables underneath them.
Obviously, such installations are the works of many people, from friends who loaned Zhong precious objects to wood carvers, potters and so forth. His ‘crew’ has thus expanded greatly. What matters perhaps more than this though is the way it all comes together, presenting truly well connected if a bit overwhelming array of details, points in time that are solid and specific as the names carved in death stones or literally mammoth presence of an individual animal thousands of years dead. That Zhong has managed to so vividly express in a very new way his long-standing meditations on space and time is indeed an important accomplishment.