L'OFFICIEL Art, November 2013, Cover Story
Zhu Wei: One's Documents, Everyone's Current Moment
By Wang Xiaomeng
With 23 artworks and more than 50 pieces of documents about these artworks, the "Zhu Wei Solo Exhibition" opened on November 3rd showed us as completely as possible Zhu Wei's more than 20 year's creation. In addition to his representative 10 series works, the systematic and complete documents also witness the growth and development of the artist. This is one person's documents, as well as a history of Chinese contemporary ink painting. Meanwhile, each painting in the exhibition is also a reflection of the current moment that everyone cannot avoid.
An Exhibition Has Been Brewing For Five Years
If there is a voting for the top ten exhibitions in China's art world in 2013, the "Zhu Wei Solo Exhibition" opened at Today Art Museum on November 3rd will definitely be among them. The walls of exhibition space were painted black, and Zhu Wei's 23 works were hung evenly and chronologically on walls of the two exhibition halls. Around each painting, there are domestic and foreign media documents about this piece in 20 years, and text descriptions both in Chinese and English. When the light overhead passed through the dark space and landed on the glass frame of each painting, a wonderful mirror-shaped reflection appeared on the ground, making the whole scene on the edge of a dream. When the audience walked alone the walls to watch the paintings, they also seemed to have stepped into a fantasy art world.
The invitational exhibition was put on the agenda as early as in 2009, but Zhu Wei had no enough works all the time, that's why after the museum has been managed by three directors, the exhibition is eventually held. The exhibition plan was settled down at the beginning of this year. Considering there are still only a few new works, Zhu Wei and the curator Zhu Zhu set the tone of this exhibition as a documental exhibition.
When you enter the exhibition hall, on your left is a 5-meter-high wall full of excerpts from articles by many critics, in Chinese and English. Each word was posted up letter by letter. Zhu Wei told us that was the most difficult part of the exhibition preparing. Only the carving of these words costs 30 thousand Yuan, and pasting them on wall costs two whole nights. The reason that so much effort was put is out of Zhu's respect for art critics. In his view, in the past 30 years' development of Chinese contemporary art, no matter good or bad, many artists have obtained some fame or fortune, however, the art critics didn't benefit from it. Thus, he put these texts in the most prominent position in the hall.
An Exhibition Without Business
The 23 artworks on display came from about a dozen of series created by Zhu Wei in more than 20 years. Half of them were borrowed from private collectors overseas, and the other half were borrowed from the collection of museums and institutions abroad. Zhu Wei joked about it, "this exhibition is sold at a loss, without a single business." But in fact, the market of Zhu Wei's artworks followed closely the pace of the market of Chinese contemporary art. As early as in 2007, his work Untitled No.1 was auctioned at 114 million HKD at Sotheby's Hong Kong; and, his Ink And Wash Research Series created in 2012 was auctioned at 747.5 million HK dollar and made a individual auction new high in Poly's autumn auction in Hong Kong this year.
Zhu's foreign collectors include Uli Sigg and the Burger Collection ( the latter is a famous collector of Chinese contemporary art), as well as the platinum sponsor of New York Metropolitan Museum of Art Jack and Susan, and so on. Zhu Wei tried his best to borrow works from his collectors. Although a large part of his works cannot be borrowed back, to his relief, paintings finally appeared in the loan show have included several his representative works.
The museum is responsible for inviting guests. Even so, there are still so many foreign collectors and audiences coming to the exhibition, which exceeded Zhu's expectation. During the exhibition there was a sideshow. One of Zhu's overseas collectors cannot visit the spot in person, so he asked a friend who works in Beijing to come and say hi. When the latter talked to Zhu Wei, he mentioned he was coming in that collector's place to see whether Zhu Wei is still alive. Zhu Wei was stupefied and thought: what? Is the collector looking forward to my death just because he purchased two of my paintings? It turned out to be a misunderstanding in translation. The collector means to see if Zhu Wei lives well, and if Zhu Wei is still in his original state of creation.
Although it was a misunderstanding, Zhu Wei once again felt the respect from these overseas collectors to artists. Especially in recent years, after he ended the cooperation with Plum Blossoms Gallery in New York, Hong Kong and Singapore, and got in touch with more domestic collectors, he found himself had undergone a cataclysmic change as if became a beggar. While in some other countries, artists are respected by collectors like spiritual and cultural mentors. This comparison made it hard for Zhu Wei to adapt to the current situation in Chinese contemporary art scene.
A Personal Documental History
In addition to the 23 paintings, more than 50 pieces of published documents about Zhu Wei's works and creations also played an important role in the exhibition. There were 136 pieces at first, but because of space limitation, only more than 50 of them are finally on display. Many of them were published by well-known international medias, including Time magazine, who had reported Zhu Wei for 4 times, and CNN, who entrusted the famous director Kama Hinton to film a 17-hour-long documentary of Zhu Wei in 1997, and who reported Zhu as the most popular artists selected by Hong Kong medias in 2000... These documents has almost witnessed the entire career of Zhu Wei's creation, which few artists in China can match in its systematicness and comprehensiveness
For the documents collected is so comprehensive, Zhu Wei is very grateful to Plum Blossoms Gallery which he had cooperated with for more than 10 years. Zhu said, since his collaboration with Plum Blossoms at the end of 1993, the gallery kept collecting all the original documents of media reports about each of his solo or group exhibition, and sent them to him every time. At first Zhu Wei could not understand why they did so, and in 1993, he even lost 7 reports by Hong Kong media about his solo show. It was only later that he realized the value of these reports. They witness the history of an artist's growth and development. In some degree, they are even more convincing than artworks. From this experience he learned the obvious difference of professionalism between local gallery and gallery abroad, and even he no longer works with this gallery, he still retains the convention of collecting documents. Moreover, half of the media who wrote these reports have stop publication now, which makes these documents more valuable.
Everyone's Current Moment
Zhu Wei seems to be a more or less raunchy person in life. He wore casual clothes in the exhibition opening, holding in hand a Nokia mobile phone that was already discontinued long time ago. But when it comes to work, Zhu Wei is always as careful as possible. An important detail is that in his studio, almost all of the furniture has been equipped with wheels, and even the flowerpots have been supported by pads with wheels, whose purpose is just to make them ready to move and make room for the creation of large works. Being careless about his appearance while careful about work, it seems that Zhu Wei is an outdated person, although in his artworks, he depicts the present life all the times.
In Zhu Wei's opinion the contemporary ink painting, especially Meticulous Painting, is only one step away from reproduced painting, since the traditional Meticulous Painting has always underlined the importance of aesthetic and decorative features, which is contrary to the contemporary art. If technique and material are changed, the ink painting won't be ink painting any longer, so, when it's impossible to change the technique and material, only by concerning about the present life that Meticulous Painting can find a breakthrough. Thus it can keep a distance from commercial painting as well as ancient Chinese painting, and become real contemporary art with contemporary spirit and connotation.
Throughout Zhu Wei's works, one of his main clues is political. In his view, the new China has experienced several movements since its founding. No matter the Cultural Revolution or the Reform and Opening Up, they had direct impact to everyone's life and penetrate into every aspect of society. To describe the present is the most important subject, because of which, Zhu Wei's artworks are often classified as Political Pop. When the concept was bought up, Zhu Wei said, Pop Art is a response to commercial and popular imagery in the west, such as Andy Warhol's can, describing a symbol of popular commercial culture which is closely related to people's life. Only when Pop Art spread to the Soviet Union and China it became Political Pop. Comparing to the western popular commercial symbols, the political symbols are more deeply rooted in the hearts here, and to a certain extent, this is the most popular current moment for everyone.