Zeitgeist: Abstract Art of Eastern Origin is the latest offering from Asia Art Center's recent "The Spirit of the East" series and brings together important artists who were born in Mainland China then moved to Taiwan in the post war period and went on to influence the development of modern Taiwanese art, including founder of the "Fifth Moon Group" Lifang and other important members Chen Ting-shih, Yuyu Yang, Fong Chung-Ray, Chuang Che, and Han Hsiang-Ning; "Eastern Painting Group" founder Lee Yuan-chia and other members Chu Weibor and Lee Shi Chi, 'Lan Young Group" founding member Wang Pan-Youn. Others include "Free Art Society" founder Liu Sheng-Rong, who was born in Taiwan but later developed in Japan. This exhibition systematically showcases the evolution of Taiwanese art from traditional to modern and the rich diversity of this process. Through the research undertaken for this exhibition viewers are introduced to the great vitality of eastern culture in modern art and another exploration of "The spirit of the East". Asia Art Center is pleased and honored to have the generous support from the LYC Foundation in London to load 4 important ink and watercolour pieces of Li Yuan-chia "Taipei period" works. With this opportunity, Li's work has finally made his first presentation in Beijing.
The Chinese title of the exhibition Feng Lin Huo Shan (renamed as Zeitgeist in English title) comes from Chapter 7: Compete for Superiority in Sun Zi's classic Art of War, in which he writes: "As swift as the wind, as gentle as a forest, as fierce as a fire, as unshakable as a mountain." This quote represents dynamic images of different speeds and serves as a starting point for a visual analysis of the brushwork of abstract painting and composition. Other than the dichotomy of "cold abstraction and "warm abstraction" in Western art theory, we also focus on the Golden Mean approach of "combining activity and inertia" in Eastern dialectic philosophy, in an attempt to compare and organize the images, composition, brushwork and texture in works by the 11 participating artists. This is also part of a broader search for a dynamic spectrum in which there exists boundless potential between activity and inertia.
Abstract art rose to prominence in the West in the early 20th century and in the 1930s a group of young artists in Mainland China, most noticeably in Shanghai and Guangdong, launched the modernist art movement in China, though this was brought to an abrupt end by the outbreak of the second Sino-Japan war in 1937. It was not until the 1950s and 1960s in Taiwan that modern art began to develop again. Faced with their own unique historical and social background, artists who relocated from Mainland China to Taiwan were impacted by their exposure to Western modern art thinking, but also incorporated many traditional eastern elements into their works, including calligraphy, freehand painting, untrammeled style, Zen painting and Daoist philosophy. In other words, the development and internal logic of abstract art in Taiwan was imbued with a powerful sense of Eastern philosophy. In 2020, Asia Art Center will publish the book "Diaspora & Harmony: Fong Chung-Ray's Journey of Art," written by Cornell University Professor Pan An-yi. By detailing the life and work of Fong this work also systematically elucidates the development of abstract art in Taiwan and can therefore be considered a footnote to this exhibition. As Chinese art historian professor Kuiyi Shen from the University of California San Diego Ph.D. program in Art History, Theory and Criticism writes in the preface to this work: "The modernist art movement of the 1950s and 1960s in Taiwan represents an important page in the history of modern art ... these ambitious young people hoisted the standard of abstract art, reflected on tradition, challenged conservative artistic ideas and institutions, effectively tearing down the barriers between Eastern and Western art to create a method of artistic expression that was both modern and Chinese. In so doing, they set in motion the second wave of modernist art in China." Indeed, members from the Taiwanese art reform movement's "Fifth Moon Group" and "Eastern Painting Group" as well as modern art pioneers such as Wang Pan-Youn and Liu Sheng-Rong, they not only launched a modern painting movement that promoted post-war art in Taiwan, their artistic achievements were also extremely important for the formation of modern art ideas and the development of ink art in Mainland China.
Of the artists whose works are being shown at this exhibition, the paintings of Wang Pan-Youn (1909-2017) are simple and minimalist in terms of structure, while also extremely spacious, calm and tranquil; the "ink art" prints and sculptures of Chen Ting-shih (1913-2002) showcases an evolution from tradition to modernism and is imprinted with the times, representing the perfect combination of Western modernism and Eastern spirit; The "Stainless Steel Series" by Yuyu Yang (1926-1997) is imbued with Eastern aesthetics and Buddhist philosophy, the concise abstract shapes using the reflection of the mirror-finished stainless steel to incorporate the surrounding environment and viewers as integral parts of the work, to achieve a "harmony of heaven and nature"; the paintings of Liu Sheng-Rong (1928-1985) use thick oil with pasted burnt gold propitiatory paper in the shape of circles and square to create a unique visual language imbued with Chinese cultural characteristics; Lee Yuan-chia (1929-1994) based his ink painting language on ideas to create conceptual abstract works; Chu Weibor (1929-2019) broke through the two dimensions of graphic art by imbuing his pure and simple structures with Daoist principles of mutual promotion and complement; Lifang (1933-) is the only female artist at the exhibition and her works embrace paintings of nature and lyrical freehand, her simple and elegant colors combined with rapid brush work displaying a sense of literature and rhythm; Fong Chung-Ray (1934-) was deeply influenced by Chinese calligraphy and also researched Buddhism. He also incorporated Chinese characters into his abstract compositions, using collage forms to create painting texture, while also stacking layer upon layer of color; The creative source of Chuang Che's (1934-) work is to be found in landscapes and nature, blending traditional ink painting "brushwork" and Western abstract expressionism; The works of Lee Shi Chi (1938-2019) are a combination of Eastern tradition and western modern ideas, with his creative forms extending from prints to ink painting, abstract calligraphy to mixed media and installations; The art of Han Hsiang-Ning (1939-) is not only limited to spraying colors onto a painting canvas, but also includes such mixed media as ink on paper and digital inkjet image, instilling purely visual paintings with the elements of time and space.
Rather than characterizing the art works of the aforementioned artists as subverting or deconstructing traditional aesthetics and artistic concepts, it is more accurate to say they represent a modern perspective on the spiritual essence of Chinese culture. These artists have a deep understanding of Western culture, but at the same time they also have a clear grasp of the future direction of Chinese tradition. As such, their works are grounded in national culture, but also embrace openness. The creative works of these eleven artists showcase their own distinctive understanding and reconstruction of ancient Eastern civilization. Their art draws from the vitality of eastern culture and strives to express this through modern language, thereby creating a unique style based on a "The Spirit of the East" aesthetic and philosophy. Moreover, their artistic exploration underscore to the world the boundless potential for development inherent in Chinese culture both in this moment and the future.
Press release courtesy Asia Art Center.