Modern Chinese art at the Cantor Arts Center

The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University currently has an exhibit titled “Within and Without: Transformations in Chinese Landscapes” that will run through January 12, 2015. It is a great opportunity to view modern art from Chinese artists.

There were a few paintings that I really liked. One was a large piece by Gu Wenda (谷文達) called “遺失的王朝G十六,” with a large character and a mountain landscape. The character took up most of the scroll, overpowering the landscape on the bottom. It is the opposite of classical scrolls, where the landscape is the main focus and words play a supporting role. “午夜的太陽” by Liu Guosong (劉國松) is an example of his “space paintings.” The sun or celestial being is much larger than land. In this case, it was the sun. The main focus of the painting is on a bright orange-red sun rather than the land below.

A painting by Qui Shihua (邱世華), called “untitled (landscape no QSH 22)” looks like white canvas, but then a landscape starts to appear. I wondered if my eyes were seeing beyond white or if was I imagining a landscape. “Sky Moat” by Lu Fusheng (盧輔聖) consisted of clean lines forming a mountain. However, it played on traditional paintings because it was blue all over. The ratio of white (paper) to blue (mountains) favored the mountains.

I also had the opportunity to attend a lecture by lecture by Gu Wenda. I first became familiar with Gu Wenda’s work when I read about his installation “forest of stone steles”. Through the lecture, I became more aware of his exploration of the juxtaposition between east and west, and of language. In “the mythos of lost dynasties”, a fabricated seal script explores the understanding of these characters. As it is, seal script is only legible to calligraphers or scholars; people who know Chinese might know basic ones that are taught as examples. Gu created a script that is completely illegible, whether one knows Chinese or not. It might look like seal script and has the style of seal script, but it is not.

The “forest of stone steles” is another one of my favorites in the exploration of language. Many of the celebrated works of calligraphy come from steeles. However these stone steeles that Gu has made is another play on words. Tang dynasty poems were translated to English, then the English was transliterated to Chinese. The written Chinese characters are supposed to sound like the English translation. But, as with all transliterations, the sounds are not exact, especially since multiple characters put together make up one English word. Again, it’s a poem that is not understood in that particular language – the characters put together do not make any sense.

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