More than just a form of artistic expression, ink art and especially ink painting, sometimes referred to simply as “Chinese painting” (guohua, literally “country-painting”), is a cultural signifier that plays an important role in constructing national identity. This millennia-old ink painting language is the most representative characteristic of Chinese and Oriental art, and has been reinterpreted and extended upon throughout China’s art history. Now, in the 21st-century, contemporary artists who reference the Chinese ink tradition no longer have to conform to the basic components of ink painting—that is, working with ink, brush and paper. The genre has expanded to include new media, conceptual, performance and installation art, and continues to inspire young Chinese artists who do not even consider themselves ink artists. Still, “ink,” as a symbolic mark of China’s heritage, spirit, and culture remains firmly rooted.
Curated by independent ink painting scholar Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres, Revolution in Tradition: China’s post-ink painting era is a pioneering exhibition aimed at showcasing the exciting developments in Chinese art and its connection to the long tradition of ink painting. The exhibition will demonstrate how a group of important artists have, over the past decades, been highly active in developing, conceptually innovating, and even subverting the legacy of guohua. While some of these artists may embrace unorthodox materials and methodologies—Shang Yang (b. 1942), Gu Wenda (b.1955), Qiu Zhijie (b. 1969), Hao Shiming (b. 1977), and Ni Youyu (b. 1984)—each of these artists left his distinctive mark in the evolution of Chinese ink art by incorporating aesthetic and philosophical sensibilities of Chinese artistic traditions into a new and more international discourse.
In the past five years, contemporary ink art has increasingly become a favored topic for museums around the world, including the 2014 exhibition “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the “Ink: The Art of China” at the Saatchi Gallery in 2012, the “Shanshui– Poetry Without Sound?” at the Museum of Arts in Lucerne, Switzerland in 2011, and the “Fresh Ink” show at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 2010, among others. Responding to new and exciting developments in contemporary art currently emanating from China, Galerie Nathalie Obadia will be the first gallery in France to showcase the diversity of contemporary ink art practice. Juxtaposing the work of celebrated contemporary masters with current rising talents whose work is increasingly receiving serious critical attention, Revolution in Tradition will provoke the viewer into a reconsideration of the conventions underlying traditional art forms, and to confront the cultural implications of those conventions.
Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres, curator of the exhibition Revolution in Tradition: China’s post-ink painting era