September 1 2017, SCOPE
SCOPE What's Happening | Zhu Wei On the International Influence of Ink Painting
As an honest man who's rare in the contemporary art world, Zhu Wei's painting always goes straight sharply into the heart of a matter. He is the first artist adopting concept into ink painting. He depicts his feelings toward the present society by inheriting traditional techniques and cultural mentality. He makes the tradition and contemporary a combined force to rebuild some kind of cultural confidence through drawing upon the current nutrients. So far, it has been thirty years.
The "Virtual Focus : Zhu Wei 1987-2017" held at the National Gallery of Indonesia in Jakarta is a terminus of an exhibition tour, which had been held at the Today Art Museum in Beijing, the Art Museum of Nanjing University of the Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Singapore. A touring exhibition though it is, its structure varies from place to place. The exhibition in Jakarta gathered about 30 pieces of works from around the world, including 4 groups of large-scale sculptures. They covered almost all phases of the artist's career, not only to show context of the artist's artistic creation of all these years, but also in a way of imprinting the era, to delineate the exploration and development of Chinese contemporary ink painting.
Whether contemporary ink can keep up with social development in terms of both format and content, whether it can reflect reality, are the most important issues that contemporary ink are facing with. Curator Lu Hong believes that "in an era of novelty and individuality being overwhelming emphasized, Zhu Wei perfectly keep the tension between 'innovation' and 'tradition'. His exploration is invaluable to his contemporaries. We can learn from him that it is essential to preserve tradition as well as to try to innovate when we want to express ourselves. Especially in the current contemporary art world when a trend of global homogeneity emerges, keeping a rooted identity or maintaining a special expression is extremely important."
On the other hand, the influence and authoritative voice of contemporary ink art has always been an urgent problem. Since the early 90s, Zhu Wei has entered a relatively standardized international art system. When his works has been constantly collected by the world's leading museums and collectors, Zhu Wei has also become the first representative Chinese contemporary ink artist being promoted to the international stage. Through an on-the-spot investigation, his Indonesia exhibition this time provided us with the opportunity to observe the influence of ink painting abroad as well.
The Influence and Voice of Ink Painting - A Dialogue between Scope and Zhu Wei
Scope: Although this is not a retrospective, thirty years from 1987 to 2017 is indeed a period of time. In the past three decades you have witnessed the development of Chinese ink painting, and since the 90s, you have attended a large number of overseas exhibitions. Based on your experience, what is the current situation of the influence of Chinese ink painting?
Zhu: Objectively speaking, the influence of ink painting is limited only to Asia and among Chinese around the world. In face it's exaggerating to say Asia. It's only China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macao and Southeast Asia. For India, Central Asia where the ancient Egypt and Babylon cultures located, and the Two Rivers in West Asia region, there were two different ancient civilizations and cultures, both of which have longer history than China in the world.
When ink painting spread to South Korea, they changed its name to "Korean painting". When ink painting came to Japan in the Song Dynasty, the Japanese strictly followed the existing format of ink painting. Since the exotic ink painting has never been changed or developed in Japan, today's Japanese ink painting still retains features of painting in the Southern Song Dynasty and artistic conception of theliterati painting, which is called "Nanhua (Japanese Literati Painting)". Although being in Asia and close to East Asia, most of the Southeast Asian countries are island countries. Before building up their own language system, they experienced late development of civilization and the later European colonization. Language system of some of these countries, such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia, are evolved from European language. Their writing and pronunciation is more similar to European language. Other countries like Philippines and Singapore simply use English as their official language. Both situations formed a natural barrier to Chinese hieroglyphs culture.
Scope: In the current trend of increasingly homogenization, the connotation of Chinese art has been largely hollowed out by the concept of "contemporary". Although ink painting is grown in China, penetration from outside world and cultural dislocation from inside both made it no longer pure. It easily brings tensions to ink painting's cultural identity as well. How do you understand the relationship between contemporary ink painting and contemporary Chinese art?
Zhu: Ink painting carries values of slave system and feudal society as well as trace of social development for thousands of years. The function of ink artworks is more to describe or record, to show artist's skill, or to just complain, than to introspect. That limits ink painting's depth, breadth, and even its highest level as an art form. There is a vast difference between values of ink painting and contemporary art, which continually affect the development and dissemination of ink painting in the past and in the future. That is so called internationalization.
Scope: Context is always a base point when talking about many issues. From a global perspective, the Chinese contemporary art is actually in a state of aphasia, while the authoritative voice of ink painting is precisely in the hands of Chinese people. What is your opinion on these two different phenomena?
Zhu: Aphasia is a sure thing. It takes more than a hundred years for the Western contemporary art to develop from its initiation to today's achievement. When a contemporary art exhibition was held at the National Art Museum of China in 1989, it was the beginning of Chinese contemporary art. The curator stood on the steps of the National Art Museum and announced loudly to the world: the Chinese artists spend only ten years to complete the journey that the Western artists have gone through for centuries. This sentence proves everything.
Along with oil painting, contemporary art is an exotic as well. If you use somebody's IP (Intellectual Property), you must respect his/her habits, custom and preferences. You have to understand its context, so as not to make a fool of yourself. Being modesty is not a bad thing. First come, first served. We need more veneration as well as education.
Ink painting is another thing. It's our own original. With a history of more than 2,700 years, and 2,000 years longer than the history of oil painting, the authoritative voice of ink painting is always in our hands. When Li Xiaoshan said "Chinese painting already reached a dead end", his statement has never been questioned by any Western art critic or art historian. It proves the authoritative voice is in our hands, and only we can explain and predict ink painting's future. Of course, we hope more countries and more artists from all over the world can enter in this art form, as it already did in the Western contemporary art, to serve for human being's ultimate ideal.
Scope: Even the authoritative voice of ink panting is in our own hands, its influence is still very limited. It's difficult to establish a real equal dialogue with the West, and in the meantime, an evaluation system of ink painting has never been set up successfully. What do you think could be the reason for these?
Zhu: It's the different values. Values and theory system recognized by an artist is the basis of any form of art. Art is never a nonsense play. Our contemporary art looks ugly and poor because we are only imitating the surface, but never going deep down to the reasons. Our artists are seldom able to understand these values, thus some artworks looks so awful that even the artist himself is dumbfounding. How can we establish a dialogue based on imitation? It's like a primary school student tries to have an in-depth conversation with a university professor, not to mention the equal dialogue.
The evaluation system of ink painting has always been there, but its values orientation is far away from the Western contemporary art, as far as a donkey's lip cannot match a horse's jaw. I will not dwell on it here.
About Zhu Wei
Born in 1966, Zhu Wei is a contemporary artist and an explorer of Chinese contemporary ink art. His ink paintings began to show up in large international exhibitions from early 90s, and have since been featured in over 200 exhibitions world-wide. More than thirty different albums of his paintings and retrospectives of his artworks have been published. 43 domestic and foreign museums have added his more than 70 artworks to their collections.
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《Scope艺术客》 对话 朱伟