GUANG­DONG SHOWS THE WAY

An ex­hi­bi­tion of hun­dreds of paint­ings and sculp­tures shows how one prov­ince shaped Chi­nese art since the early 20th cen­tury.

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - Lin Qi re­ports. Con­tact the writer at linqi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The Na­tional Art Mu­seum of China is for the first time us­ing its 17 ex­hi­bi­tion halls to trace the artis­tic evo­lu­tion and in­flu­ence of a sin­gle prov­ince. The Des­tined to Re­form ex­hi­bi­tion, now on at the Bei­jing mu­seum, shows how artists from Guang­dong prov­ince shaped Chi­nese art since the early 20th cen­tury.

The show fea­tures more than 550 paint­ings and sculp­tures, which are on loan from pub­lic mu­se­ums, cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions and fam­i­lies of the artists.

The cen­tral cham­ber on the first floor, the most im­por­tant space in the mu­seum, has ground-to-ceil­ing photos of 21 prom­i­nent mem­bers of the Guang­dong artist col­lec­tive.

Guang­dong, which oc­cu­pies nearly one-fourth of the main­land’s coast­line, was in the fore­front of cul­tural ex­changes and so­cial trans­for­ma­tions over the past cen­tury.

The south­ern prov­ince was known for pro­duc­ing lead­ers of the 1911 Xin­hai Rev­o­lu­tion, which led to the end of monar­chy in China, and was the fore­run­ner of the coun­try’s open­ing-up and re­form.

It was also the birth­place of art re­form­ers who mod­ern­ized Chi­nese cul­tural tra­di­tions and was one of the places where con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese art first be­gan to flour­ish.

“For the last 100 years, Guang­dong has been the cra­dle of art. The first-generation artists from the prov­ince stud­ied art in Europe and Ja­pan in the early 20th cen­tury, and were also among the ear­li­est Chi­nese to be ex­posed to art move­ments across the world,” says Xue Yong­nian, a the­o­rist from the Bei­jing­based China Artists As­so­ci­a­tion.

He says that among them were pi­o­neers like Gao Jianfu (1879-1951), who called for re­forms in both so­ci­ety and art.

Gao, whose paint­ings are on show, co-founded the Ling­nan School of Paint­ing, an artists’ group in Guang­dong, which re­vived the dy­ing ink-brush tra­di­tion by in­tro­duc­ing oil paint­ing tech­niques.

Gao grad­u­ated from the 130-year-old Tokyo Fine Arts School, now the Tokyo Univer­sity of the Arts. And, with sup­port from Sun Yat-sen, a renowned states­man who led the rev­o­lu­tion that ended im­pe­rial rule in China, he was de­voted to the dis­sem­i­na­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas and art ed­u­ca­tion.

The Tokyo school pro­duced sev­eral mod­ern Chi­nese artists, such as Li Xiong­cai (19102001), a sec­ond-generation painter from the Ling­nan school, whose works are also on show.

The ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tures Li’s Pa­trol in For­est, which demon­strates his skill in de­pict­ing nat­u­ral scenery.

Chen Lyusheng, the for­mer deputy head of the Na­tional Mu­seum of China, says Guang­dong’s artists played a unique role in mod­ern Chi­nese art, not only be­cause they were open to for­eign in­flu­ences, such as oil paint­ing, but be­cause they cared about liveli­hoods.

“They ex­plored styles that suited the times and the needs of the peo­ple.

“And as they trav­eled to other parts of the coun­try, they in­flu­enced artists there. As a re­sult they be­came mod­els for Chi­nese mod­ern art.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion also cel­e­brates at­tempts to re­new the face of Chi­nese art by fea­tur­ing works of painters like Guan Shanyue (1912-2000).

A re­pro­duc­tion of his Jiang­shan Ruci Duo­jiao (How Beau­ti­ful the Coun­try Looks), is on show. Guan ex­e­cuted the 9-me­ter-long work with Fu Baoshi in 1959 on a State com­mis­sion.

The ink-brush paint­ing, which de­picts a mag­nif­i­cent sun­rise, was in­spired by a poem by the late Chair­man Mao Ze­dong.

Since its com­ple­tion, it has adorned the en­trance hall of the Great Hall of the Peo­ple in Bei­jing.

Con­tem­po­rary artists such as Liang Quan, 69, are also rep­re­sented at the show.

Liang, who has ex­hib­ited at home and abroad, ex­plores the idea of “empti­ness” in Zen Bud­dhism.

The ex­hi­bi­tion also pays trib­ute to fe­male artists from the first half of the 20th cen­tury.

One of them is He Xiangn­ing (1878-1972), who is known to­day more as a so­cial ac­tivist and as the wife of se­nior states­man Liao Zhongkai. Her paint­ings depict lions.

Li Jingkun, the head of the Guangzhou Acad­emy of Fine Arts, says: “Good art­works are records of his­tory, and by see­ing them, one can trace the evo­lu­tion of thought.

“View­ers can see how artists felt obliged to par­tic­i­pate in so­cial trans­for­ma­tions.”

For the last 100 years, Guang­dong has been the cra­dle of art.” Xue Yong­nian, the­o­rist, China Artists As­so­ci­a­tion

PHOTOS BY JIANG DONG / CHINA DAILY

The on­go­ing Des­tined to Re­form ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tional Art Mu­seum of China in Bei­jing fea­tures more than 550 paint­ings and sculp­tures by artists from Guang­dong prov­ince since the early 20th cen­tury.

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