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Southern People Weekly 《南方人物周刊》

Vol.104, No.31 总104期

December 11 2007 二零零七年十二月十一日刊


Artist Zhu Wei             Indigenous Art is at risk

Picture on p.69:

above: Vernal Equinox No.3; Left: New Pictures of the Strikingly Bizarre No.2; right: Woodblock No18

"According to the aftermath today, the art from contemporary China is falling behind.  You cannot distinguish its motivation and starting point because it is just a copy of Western art.  When others have come with originality and become the “first”, can you still be the “second”?  Eventually, it is just a copy, trying hard to follow. "

Southern People Weekly Reporter Li Zong Tao, reported from Beijing

When talking about his solo exhibition from 23 November to 6 December in Hong Kong, Zhu Wei was not thrilled because it was another example about “Who is manipulating Chinese contemporary art”. 

Zhu Wei’s studio is located at Pingod area, right next to Today Art Museum.  From his studio, I (the reporter) could see Zhu’s famous portrait of Deng Xiaoping which has appeared on Time magazine, and the Diary of the Sleepwalker which was inspired by Tian Gong Kai Wu/ Heavenly Creation, and etc. Ever since the beginning of his career, the artist has been using xuan paper and brush to paint the fine-brush paintings (gong-bi hua). 

“If art has lost its attraction, the problem lies on the artist.  From the aspect of technique, modern artists cannot beat their predecessors because there are too much temptation and distraction; too little time for immersion and practice.  In terms of content, artists today do not return to the essence of mankind and hence, lose the ability of employing the power of humanity to paint.”  Works from Bada Shenren, Shi Tao, Gong Xian which exude an attitude of rebellion and retreat are thus, the long-term meditating source for the artist.   

Learning from Bada Shenren

Bada is Zhu Wei’s favorite artist.  No matter it is for his composition or emotion, Bada influences Zhu Wei a great deal, such as Bada’s signature fish eye created by a big white circle and an ink dot within.  In Bada’s “Fish and duck hand scroll” (1689) and Zhu Wei’s “Beijing Story” (1993), they both reflect the “bai yan” (literally translated as white eye -- Chinese word for despite) among the crowd and the fish.  Perhaps it is natural for the fish to look up, or at one side, or stare at the outer area, so that they could find their direction.  Yet, how about human being?  Situated in an ever-changing world full of disasters, fear, dangers… the future is unknown and life is uncertain.  All the emotions: powerlessness and hopelessness, anger, dullness, and helplessness are all the reasons for a person to despise.         

In “Square 9”, there is an inscription of the lyrics by the Rock singer-- Cui Jian on the position where a conventional inscription used to be placed in a traditional ink painting.  Once named as a punk painter himself, Zhu Wei has a close relationship with rock music and independent films.  In 1995, he painted a 19 meters stage curtain for Cui Jian and his band to go on a tour.    

The final painting in the well-known Utopia series is about 7x8m, which is the largest ink painting today.   

Earlier on, the artist has painted a monochromatic painting, but thought it was not good enough.  It was until 2 years later that he transformed it into a sculpture.  “The result was excellent.  I did not make sculpture for the sake of it, but since the original idea was unsolvable in 2-D, I tried 3-D instead.”  This set of two forward-inclining chunky figures dressed in Zongshen suit is in fact the “China China”  that the IBM company has bought with an enormous amount from Zhu Wei’s solo show in New York during 2003. 

Having experienced trends like  “Post 89”, “Political Pop”, “Cynical realism”, “Bopi”, contemporary art shows weariness due to the lack of nutrition from local elements.  Sophisticated artists are also beginning to avoid these vulgar labels.   

After years of painting, is there an improvement?  “It takes one’s effort to master ink painting and I feel my skill has matured.” answered Zhu Wei.

When is your best condition in painting? “When I am innocent and fearless.” the artist replied.  

Critics are annoying

“Critics now, dare not touch on ink paintings.  To them, it seems unreasonable to put it together with contemporary art.  They think ink is nothing contemporary!  So, they cannot comment; no comment on ink painting means it is not included in the game.  This is so unfair.” 

“Critics are supposed to have an alerting function to the creation of art.  But it is a trend for people to take the convenient path by making easy statement now.  It is as if when someone grows a boil on his forehead and you do not warn him when you see it.  But only until that the boil is about to fester, then you say ‘Oh no!  Your boil is about to fester—you really got to be cautious… ha ha ha…’ What good does it do?” 

When auction houses simply “cough” a little nowadays, galleries and wealthy businessmen all quickly shift to oil paintings.  Opportunistic investors who have a keen eye would evaluate an artwork by its medium first.  If it happens to be an oil painting, they would recognize its value.  But if the work is a piece of ink and color on xuan paper, they would just shake their head.  “That is to say it is only after the Westerners have approved your work, then you could be popular.”  And so Zhu Wei admitted, “I do not have one painting that has such ‘selling point’.”  And so he missed the old times when people overthrew landlords; when people searched for a title deed and rolls of ink paintings out of someone’s house. 

Recently, the enrollment of the Academy of Art also indicates the decadence of ink painting.  Whilst the quota for traditional ink painting only allows 3-4 students but the application is still so few, hundreds of people pack into the oil painting department.  Zhu Wei said “ I used to only feel that my art was mistaken because of its technique, but now, I feel the whole medium is becoming inferior.  Ink painting is getting less attention and it seems that we are admitting to ourselves that our indigenous elements are less superior.  In this case, are we not hindering ourselves?”  

Zhu Wei said that he valued an artist who has the ability to provide a direction for others to move forward.  “According to the aftermath today, the art from contemporary China is falling behind.  You cannot distinguish its motivation and starting point because it is just a copy of Western art.  When others have come with originality and become the “first”, can you still be the “second”?  Eventually, it is just a copy, trying hard to follow.” 

From his eyes, Chinese contemporary art history seems to be a succession of movements embracing foreign art.  “Those who are truly benefit from this process are limited but most will simply compromise. Eventually, the forms of indigenous art will soon disappear.  Among all kinds of exhibitions where Western art plays as the mainstream, the fact that Chinese contemporary art exists as an entertainment still remains unchanged.”  




朱伟 本土艺术很危险      


本刊记者 李宗陶 发自北京  








早年他画过一张单色画,觉得不好看。过了两年多,改成雕塑,“效果真的很好。我不是为做雕塑而做,而是这个主意平面解决不了,才用三维。”那两个倾斜站着的中山装小胖子,就是2003年朱伟纽约个展上被 IBM公司高价买走的《中国 中国》。