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Chambers Fine Art is pleased to announce the opening on September 15, 2018 of Shang Yang: New Works. The exhibition will be held in two locations, in Chelsea and at ArtFarm, Salt Point, NY.
Although individual works by Shang Yang (b.1942) have been exhibited in the United States, his work has never been shown in depth. The current exhibition, only the fourth in his lengthy career, will concentrate on work produced in 2017-2018 and will be accompanied by a substantial catalog in which essays by John Tancock and Wang Min'an provide essential background for an understanding of these ground-breaking works.
Although born in 1942 in Hubei province, China, Shang Yang was nearly forty years old when he first won wide acclaim with the painting Boatmen of the Yellow River in which he abandoned the Socialist Realist style that prevailed in China at the time and embarked on a career of restless experimentation that continues until the present day.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, '85 New Wave appeared, the wide-spread proliferation of artist associations that occurred in China in response to the influx of information regarding contemporary art, literature and philosophy in the West during the 1980s. Although Shang Yang was less affected than artists of a younger generation by the stylistic experimentation, he entered a brief period of stylistic polymorphism. The most important of these phases occurred in 1988-1989 when he executed a group of abstract paintings titled States in which the focus was on the nature of the materials.
In 1992 he painted Great Landscape, a stylistically hybrid commentary on the way in which the environment in China was being affected by rapid urbanisation and the unbridled development of capitalism. Shang Yang's landscapes became increasingly tormented, the omnipresence of volcanoes representing the powerful, destructive forces welling up inside seemingly stable outer forms. An important development occurred in 2002 when Shang Yang painted Dong Qichang Project - 2, a large horizontal triptych that reflects on the degradation of the environment. This was to be the first of a series of thirty-eight remarkably diverse large-scale paintings in which, using Dong Qichang as a reference point, Shang continued his exploration of painterly effects and found materials.
Another turning point that is the immediate precursor of the works in the current exhibition occurred in 2012 when Shang Yang decided that Dong Qichang Project -33 was lacking in the tension that was a crucial aspect of his sprawling compositions. Over a period of two years, he partially dismantled it, retaining some elements in different locations in the composition and adding others, resulting in the ten-panel work Remaining Mountain. This led to further variations on the Dong Qichang Project, and was the precursor to the related series Remaining Water. Remaining Water No. 1, 2015, was created in response to the Three Gorges Project that Shang has referred to as "a huge sociological and environmental disaster."
Shang Yang's deep concern with the deterioration of the physical environment has only deepened since then. "Yes," he has remarked, "I am absolutely pessimistic. There is a wide-spread recognition that global warming is undeniable." The alarming proliferation of extreme weather conditions in recent years has only deepened his despair.
The works that have resulted from this attitude - Decayed Landscape, Cataract, and Cataract Sections - will reveal to Shang Yang's admirers that far from resting on his laurels, he has entered a new level of daring in the restless experimentation that has characterised his entire career. Although not included in the present exhibition, Decayed Landscape - 1 (2017) reveals a new urgency in Shang's response to the global situation, the aggressively scrawled word "decaying" virtually obliterating what remains of Dong Qichang's world. In Chelsea, two new additions to this series - Decayed Landscape -2 and Decayed Landscape -3, developments of the pictorial language first established in the Dong Qichang Project will be accompanied by four works titled Decayed Book, each one representative of a major component of civilized discourse, Literature, History, Philosophy, and Logic. As Wang Min'an asks in his introductory essay, "What is the cause of all these decayed landscapes and bad earth? Shang Yang exposes the background: the decaying of the landscape results from the decaying of humanistic knowledge and the decaying of ideas."
At ArtFarm the Cataracts and Cataract Sections will surprise even those most familiar with the arc of Shang Yang's career. What exactly are these mysterious abstract works, the Cataracts mostly presented like unidentifiable relics in Plexiglas boxes and the unframed Cataract Sections that hang in front of the wall rather than being attached to it like a painting? The Cataracts derived ultimately from the first Painting Albums of 2008 in which the partial removal of a layer of synthetic material from the surface of the works was a revelatory moment for Shang. "There was pleasure in tearing," he commented recently.
The Cataract Sections lack the visual evidence of destructive actions that characterise the Cataracts and are much more impassive. From a distance they resemble geological specimens but closer inspection reveals that all kinds of extraneous matter are included in the mix. Are they beautiful or are they repulsive, or are they both at the same time. As described by Wang Min'an, "Shang Yang uses chemical substances directly as ready-made materials.....Why does he use such materials? There is no doubt that these chemicals are the most serious causes of the destruction of the earth. In other words, on one hand Shang Yang displays the reality and the results of the destruction of the Earth, on the other he displays the materials which are destroying the earth." Cataract -Mysterious Object represents a new departure for Shang Yang, a three-dimensional object fabricated from resin and cellphone placed on the floor that emits a feeble light at irregular intervals.
Shang Yang believes that the role of the artist is to reveal profound truths about society, not in a didactic manner but through creating works of art that stimulate viewers of his works to ask questions, not only how they are made but what they mean. Decayed Landscape, Cataracts, and Cataract Sections are exemplary in both respects.
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