Pan Gongkai now on at the Frye Museum


images from

 Withered Lotus Cast in Iron


20150103_115043_8_bestshot 20150103_115103_4_bestshot 20150103_115909_7_bestshot 20150103_120235_1_bestshot 20150103_120257_1_bestshotWithered Lotus Cast in Iron

Pan Gongkai, former president of China Academy of Art (Zhongguo meishu xueyuan) and, more recently, president of China Central Academy of Fine Arts (Zhongyang meishu xueyuan), namely, the two major art institutions in China, is having his first museum show in the United States at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle (through January 18).

Pan is the son of Pan Tianshou, one of the titans of twentieth-century art in China, and himself former head of the China Academy of Art, in fact a leader of that institution through its many iterations. The sheer tempestuousness of that experience in China’s modern history impacted the elder Pan severely, bringing about his untimely death during the Cultural Revolution. Pan Gongkai’s commitment, in other words, to a neoclassical medium and style of large-scale semi-abstract lotus flowers (come landscapes) has been forged out of rather bitter experience on a personal level.

This can be seen in the painting even without benefit of Jo-Ann Birnie Danzker’s excellent if short catalogue that accompanies the show.

Though this is Pan’s first museum show, versions of his work have been on display in the US recently, most recently in an exhibition entitled Melt in September courtesy of the Confucius Institute at University of Michigan:

Pan Gongkai: Melt (潘公凯:融)


That project in turn derives from Pan’s 2011 installation in the China Pavilion at the Venice Biennale:



Frye Museum Exhibition



Stranger Recommended

Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930

Tues–Sun. Through May 25.   |   FreeFrye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave, 206-622-9250
Isamu Noguchi image

Isamu Noguchi image


Now on at Frye Museum is a pair of exhibitions, one smaller, the other more ambitious, the two collectively an important because uncommonly deep meditation on artistic influence.

The first, larger exhibition is

Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930

is an intimate glimpse into a ½ year-long artistic tête-à-tête which had lasting impact on Noguchi’s work in particular.  Noguchi, Japanese American artist, sculptor, designer, was at the time in his late twenties when he found himself waylaid in Beijing. Making the best of his circumstances, he decided to pursue the study of ink painting with well-established artist and, in time, 20th century master Qi Baishi. The resulting images are arresting in their simplicity, particularly when paired with Qi Baishi’s paintings.

Jen Graves (side note, Seattle’s own art critic finalist for a Pulitzer award–way to go Jen!) comments on the exhibition in The Stranger with typical cogency. Among other things, she notes the one image that I’m guessing didn’t need much prompting from Qi Baishi, approaching, as Graves observes, erotica:


Isamu Noguchi



A striking work, to be sure.



Mark Tobey, Untitled

Mark Tobey, Untitled

The other exhibition,

Mark Tobey and Teng Baiye: Seattle/Shanghai

forms an important complement. Tobey’s words on traditional Chinese art: “Chinese painters, like the Futurists, don’t paint birds, they paint the flight”. The Frye description:


February 22 – May 25, 2014

Mark Tobey and Teng Baiye: Seattle/Shanghai is the first exhibition in the United States to explore artistic and intellectual exchanges between Chinese artist Teng Baiye (1900–1980) and his American contemporary Mark Tobey (1890–1976). The two first met in the 1920s, when Teng moved to Seattle to study sculpture and complete a master’s degree at the University of Washington. During this period, Tobey studied calligraphy with Teng, and the two artists formed a deep personal friendship. In 1934, Tobey visited Teng in Shanghai and soon thereafter embarked on his seminal “white writing” paintings, works considered by Western critics to be indebted to his study of calligraphy, ink painting, and the Bahá’í faith.
The present exhibitionconsiders Teng’s influence as both a cultural interpreter and an artistic practitioner on the development of Tobey’s distinctive artistic practice and—through Tobey—on the discourse on abstraction in midcentury American art. Whether Tobey’s work had remained “American” or become “oriental” was a subject of debate among contemporary observers in the United States. Merrill Rueppel, the director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, wrote in 1968 that Tobey was “never for one moment anything but an American,” explaining that he had “taken the calligraphy of the orient and made it the foundation of his own art without becoming oriental.” Similarly, William Seitz, curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, wrote that in Tobey’s work “the Eastern dragon had been harnessed to Western dynamism.”
In China, similar questions regarding the extent of foreign influence on the work of Teng Baiye were raised. Scholar David Clarke notes that Teng’s “sojourn in the Pacific Northwest and his sophistication in handling both Western and Chinese cultural knowledge gave him valuable resources with which to contribute to the task of assimilating lessons from elsewhere while building a national culture [in China in the 1930s].” Nevertheless, after 1949, and especially during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), Teng’s paintings were denounced as spiritual pollution. He was condemned to manual labor and few of his paintings survived.
At the time of these debates on national identity in the United States and China, Mark Tobey reflected on “the art of the future,” writing that it “cannot germinate in antagonism and national rivalry but will spring forth with a renewed growth if man in general will grow to the stature of universal citizenship.” The present exhibition provides audiences in the twenty-first century with the opportunity to consider and compare the mature work of both Teng and Tobey and to reexamine twentieth-century debates on their artistic endeavors beyond the ideological inflections and Cold War rhetoric of their day. 


David Clarke, in 2011, had written on the subject, though in the case of this exhibition its pairing with the Noguchi/Qi images is particularly powerful. Certainly worth a visit.