2013.10.10 Thu, by Translated by: 梁舒涵&李银
Glance: Softness Visible

“Darkness Visible” — group exhibition with Chakaia Booker, Ray Smith, Robert Longo, Joyce Pensato, Rashid Johnson, Xiao Bing, Xin Song, Cao Jigang, Sun Guoqing and Du Chunhui.

National Art Museum of China (NAMOC, 1 Wusi Dajie, East District, Beijing, China, 100010), Sept 10-18, 2013

“Darkness Visible” asked some sizeable questions around the already-prodigious theme of “darkness,” In brief — what are contemporary Western artists doing with the theme of darkness? What is the relationship between this and what Chinese artists are doing now, and in relation to their own traditions of black ink painting and calligraphy? Are the latter’s subtleties still in place today, conveying the “yin/yang” balance between dark and light — and indeed between all natural and human elements? Last but not least: “Is there a dialogue between China’s past and present, and between China and the rest of the world?” The China bias, here, is clear.

Du Chunhui, “The Clouds”, oil on canvas, 200 x 450 cm,2010-2012.
杜春辉,《烟云》,布面油画,200 x 450 cm,2010-2012

These dark visions were those of five Chinese and five American artists, co-curated (mostly electronically, we can assume) by NAMOC curator Zhang Qing and New York-based Art in America editor Richard Vine. It was a weighty display of 19 works, of which the American contingent contributed more in terms of 3D media (including sculpture and rubber tires), popular culture (there is a Batman image) and direct art-historical reference (“Unguernica” by Ray Smith, after Picasso ); the Chinese side adhered mainly to landscape on large grounds. The press release remarked on this in a way one can’t ignore. The American artists’ “visual boldness” and attraction to dramatic subjects was compared with the Chinese artists’ tendency towards “mistiness and a sense of slow time,” which the text suggested is “milder and, arguably, wiser,”

Ray Smith, “Mariana”, charred wood, (body) 122 x 183 x 122 cm, (head) 244 x 122 x 122cm,2012.
雷•史密斯,《玛丽安娜》,木雕,身:122 x 183 x 122 cm;头:244 x 122 x 122cm,2012

A mild and slow, or a dramatic approach to darkness? Thinking in these terms — (which seem rather black and white) in suggesting what is wiser — seriously influenced our perceptions of the works, which otherwise might have come across only visually as so much dark matter. Especially considering the literary connotations of darkness (the exhibition’s organizers also invoke John Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost” and its account of original sin), is it possible to have a “wise” approach to such a theme?

Apparently, at NAMOC, it is. And it was the Chinese artists that had this approach — not the imported ones. Sadly, it was difficult to see this as much other than NAMOC’s standard soft-power art-handling, and it cast a dark shadow over the show as a whole.

Xin Song, Tree of Life series, “Message from Nature”, paper cut on black photo paper, 170 x 267 cm, 2008.
宋昕,《树的生命系列-自然的讯息》,综合材料,170 x 267 cm,2008