Art | Abstract China

Qian Jiahua
Blue Space, 2016
Acrylic on canvas

The World is Yours, as Well as Ours
White Cube Mason’s Yard
London | UK
15 July > 17 September 2016

Liang Quan
Looking for Another Earth,
Ink, colour and paper collage on canvas
Photo © White Cube (Ben Westoby)

The modernisation policies instituted in the late 1970s by Deng Xiaoping, offered Chinese artists opportunities – albeit limited and carefully-controlled – to explore and learn about the art that was being produced elsewhere in the world. At the same time, they were given the chance to work independently of state commissioning and outside the hitherto exclusively sanctioned socialist realist style. The result was work in a profusion of different styles, including abstraction.

If Kazimir Malevich’s abstract painting Black Square (1915) had symbolically blanked out Russia’s past, Chinese abstract art would develop into a symbolic way of welcoming back China’s.

A selection of contemporary Chinese abstract art goes on show from today at White Cube Mason’s Yard, where it can be seen that in terms of approach and materials, the artists have chosen to reference the values and artistic creations of their own history that had been systematically eradicated during the Cultural Revolution.

Zhou Li
Enjoyment of Water No.5,
Mixed media on canvas

Jiang Zhi
The world is yours, as well as ours – Display 31,
Oil on canvas

Yu Youhan
Abstract 2007.12.1,
Acrylic on canvas

Liang Quan (b 1948), for example, creates mixed media collages that incorporate rice paper and ink as ‘abstract diagrams of traditional Chinese landscape’. Strikingly modern and graphic, Jiang Zhi’s (b 1971) paintings – meticulously rendered copies of the fractured images that occur on computer monitors as a result of data glitches or system errors – nevertheless retain a strong link to traditional Chinese landscape painting. Also influenced by natural surroundings such as the mountainous areas of southern China, free-flowing charcoal lines and ink washes, overlaid with solid arcs and circles of white paint, in delicate, harmonious compositions are features of Zhou Li’s (b 1969) work.

Liu Wentao
Graphite on canvas

On the other hand, Yu Youhan’s (b 1943) ‘Circle’ paintings are an exploration of the ying and yang concept of harmonious unity expressed within Taoism. Liu Wentao (b1973) takes inspiration from a central tenet of Taoism, producing works made with densely drawn pencil lines that interweave to create ambiguity between ‘the concrete and the void’. Liu studied in America, where he saw and was influenced by the minimalist works of Agnes Martin and Ellsworth Kelly. But at other times, as in Qian Jiahua’s (b 1987) spatial compositions that comprise solid blocks of colour, anchored with borders and lines that subtly disrupt the flatness of the image, the Chinese historical references are unclear.

All of the artists included in The World is Yours, as Well as Ours at White Cube Mason’s Yard were born, live and work in China.

All works © the artists, courtesy White Cube

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