The ge­nius be­hind the ’85 wave

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE - By LI JING li­jing2009@chi­nadaily.com.cn

In 1985 Amer­i­can artist Robert Rauschen­berg trav­eled to Bei­jing to held a solo ex­hi­bi­tion, ROCIChina, at the in­sti­tu­tion now known as the Na­tional Art Mu­seum of China. More than three decades on, his work has re­turned to the Chi­nese cap­i­tal for a sec­ond ma­jor show.

Rauschen­berg in China, a ret­ro­spec­tive of the late artist’s work, opened at the Ul­lens Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Art on June 12 and runs un­til Aug 21.

“Re­view­ing Rauschen­berg is equiv­a­lent to re­view­ing the de­vel­op­ment of Chi­nese con­tem­po­rary art,” said art critic Li Xiant­ing.

In the 1980s, he said, China’s ex­po­sure to Western art was limited to re­pro­duc­tions in cat­a­logues, and the un­der­stand­ing of art was largely con­fined to aca­demic paint­ing, sculp­ture and print­mak­ing.

In con­trast, Rauschen­berg’s en­thu­si­asm for pop­u­lar cul­ture and re­jec­tion of the se­ri­ous­ness of ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ists led him to con­cen­trate pri­mar­ily on col­lage and em­brace ma­te­ri­als tra­di­tion­ally out­side the reach of artists. He would cover a can­vas with house paint, or ink the wheel of a car and use it to cre­ate a draw­ing on pa­per.

The 1985 ex­hi­bi­tion re­ceived more than 300,000 vis­i­tors over three weeks.

“He brought great ex­cite­ment and stim­u­la­tion to Chi­nese con­tem­po­rary art, es­pe­cially to nonartists,” Li re­called.

“He chal­lenged Chi­nese au­di­ences — that stuff like that could be called art.”

Con­tem­po­rary artist Li Xin­jian added that Rauschen­berg’s work in­spired an emerg­ing gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese artists that would later come to be known as the ’85 new wave.

“Vis­it­ing the ret­ro­spec­tive ex­hi­bi­tion now, you find he is very dif­fer­ent from 30 years ago,” he said.

Rauschen­berg in China at UCCA is the first ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion since the artist’s death in Florida in 2008. Among the works on dis­play is The 1/4 Mile or 2 Fur­long Piece, which is re­garded as one of his most im­por­tant cre­ations.

Stretch­ing 305 me­ters and made up of 190 parts, the piece was com­pleted over a pe­riod of 17 years, from 1981 to 1998, and re­flects the ma­jor themes through­out his ca­reer, from his white paint­ings, “com­bines”, card­boards and “gluts” to col­lages com­posed with found im­ages as well as the artist’s own pho­to­graphs.

There are also some Chi­nese el­e­ments, such as the in­clu­sion of photos he took while in the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

David White, one of the ex­hi­bi­tion’s two cu­ra­tors and the artist’s for­mer long-time as­sis­tant, said, “It is a very jour­nal­is­tic record of Rauschen­berg’s in­volve­ment with the world, in all kinds of ma­te­rial.”

He de­scribed the artist as out­go­ing, up­beat and gen­er­ous, adding, “It shows in his art (in terms of) the open­ness and wel­com­ing of all kinds of ex­pe­ri­ences.”

Susan David­son, his fel­low cu­ra­tor, re­called the artist as a ter­rific cook: “He cooked like he painted; he just kept adding more ma­te­ri­als.”

Rauschen­berg kept adding and re­vis­ing The 1/4 Mile over the years. The first ma­jor dis­play for the work was in 1987 when it went on show for a year at the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York. Yet the artist con­tin­u­ously added more ma­te­rial, and in keep­ing with his ide­ol­ogy of “non­in­ten­tion” the work has been pre­sented in var­i­ous con­fig­u­ra­tions over the years.

UCCA direc­tor Philip Ti­nari said the ex­hi­bi­tion marks the first time the full piece has gone on show since 1999, when it ap­peared at the Mas­sachusetts Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art in North Adams.

Re­view­ing Rauschen­berg is equiv­a­lent to re­view­ing the de­vel­op­ment of Chi­nese con­tem­po­rary art.” art critic

In ad­di­tion to The 1/4 Mile, vis­i­tors can also see Study for Chi­nese Sum­mer­hall, two port­fo­lios of im­ages taken dur­ing Rauschen­berg’s first trip to China in the sum­mer of 1982.

These rare im­ages were made as stud­ies for the 30-me­ter scroll- like work, which was also one of the cen­ter­pieces of the ROCI China show. On show are also doc­u­ments and archived ma­te­rial from the 1985 ex­hi­bi­tion.

Rauschen­berg’s in­ter­ac­tions with China started in 1982 when he made a trip to one of the world’s old­est pa­per mills in Jingx­ian, An­hui prov­ince, to col­lab­o­rate on an art pro­ject.

That trip re­sulted in his 1985 ex­hi­bi­tions in Bei­jing and Lhasa, cap­i­tal of the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion. It also in­spired him to found the Rauschen­berg Over­seas Cul­ture In­ter­change, a se­rial pro­ject of in­ter­na­tional ex­hi­bi­tions held be­tween 1984 and 1991 in coun­tries in­clud­ing Mex­ico, Chile, Venezuela, Ja­pan, Cuba, the then-So­viet Union, Ger­many and Malaysia.

The se­ries cul­mi­nated in a ret­ro­spec­tive at the Na­tional Gallery in Wash­ing­ton in 1991.

LI JING CHINA DAILY

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