Asian Variegations

When 8 Dec 2011 - 23 Dec 2011
Where Chelsea Art Museum
556 West 22nd Street at 11th Avenue
New York, NY 10011
United States

Yen-hua Lee, Open and Closed, 2011. Courtesy of the artist

December 8 – 23 2011

Opening Reception: December 8, 6 – 8pm

Press Release:

Chelsea Art Museum is pleased to present Asian Variegations, curated by Dr. Thalia Vrachopoulos.

When referencing Asian art, many historic scholars have quoted Okakura Kakuzo’s The Ideals of the East, which contends that “Asia is One.” Alternately, in his seminal book Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art, Ernest Fenollosa also treated Chinese and Japanese arts together[1]. However, Fenollosa’s intention is not only to seek similarities but mostly to ascertain the differences between the arts of China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Some of the most obvious general characteristics differentiating them are no longer relevant as they apply to conventional conceptions of Asian art, and not necessarily today’s globalized contemporary artist. For example, an important characteristic of traditional Chinese art is symmetry as opposed to Japanese art that embraces asymmetrical compositional styles. But these seemingly steadfast rules cannot be applied to the limitless boundaries of the modern artist or a contemporary context where, for example, canvases stripped of all color and form can be considered art.

The exhibition’s individual works may – to an extent – demonstrate important cultural and individual similarities and distinctions. Sam Cho, Wei Jia, Jinsoo Kim, Hisako Kobayashi, Lin Yan, Wang Ying, Hijo Nam, Yen-hua Lee and Lonnie Hong are in their mature period of their careers. Whether in painting, photography, or sculpture, they demonstrate both abstract and figurative modes. Wei Jia, Jinsoo Kim, and Hisako Kobayashi use an abstract style that is nevertheless fraught with content. Lin Yan, Wang Ying, Sam Cho, Hijo Nam, Yen-hua Lee, and Lonnie Hong work in an abstracted way inasmuch as their work contains some recognizable elements. However, in these works also, the subject matter contains issues of great personal as well as collective significance.

Jinsoo Kim’s abstract work deals with the conceptual underpinnings of art in that they examine the way we perceive the world. Consequently, his works depict spatial ambiguity while playing with 2-and-3-dimensional spatial constructions often favored in Korean art. Sam Cho’s oeuvre also engages with perception but in the subject of digital media and its representation in flat as well as rounded forms. However, Cho also imposes humanism into the lifeless and cold idiom of science and electronic technology. Lonnie Hong’s work references natural elements, but its man-made materials prompt a dialogue between the contrast of nature and culture. Hong’s pieces are small but are then collated into larger installations resulting in a synthetic statement. Hijo Nam’s Brooklyn Night (2010) is not so much a direct, raw representation as it is a combination of memories of a Brooklyn street and a manifestation of the artist’s own introspection and nostalgia for her home country of Korea. In particular, the work references Han, which in Korean can be understood as a cultural and emotional melancholic state of isolation that, in Nam’s case, is brought on by a profound longing for home. Hisako Kobayashi’s Quiet Intensity (2011) examines the primal rhythms within the ethereal layers of the painting. Kobayashi’s symphonies in color contain layer upon layer of cloud-like brushstrokes reminiscent of the Kamakura Period’s Swift Raigo works, which are a Japanese style of painting that would be brought into the home of one who is near death. Ranging from deep purples and ocean green overlaid by soft white netting, the work is meant to impact the viewer with its poetic delicacy. Wei Jia’s work, while abstract, utilizes literal hand-made paper materials alluding to calligraphic characters. Jia’s softly layered and colored hand-made paper forms appear like ethereal floating sea creatures. Jia deals with dualities such as light on dark, and soft against hard materials with calligraphy that render his work even more flat and conceptual. This is a cultural proclivity evident in the very philosophy of Taoism, which embraces opposites in the path to enlightenment wherein the yin and yang forms are both full and empty simultaneously.

Lin Yan’s cast and torn paper works and black and white tones can be traced to the duality that exists between yin and yang, dark and light, and full and void, but her works are so much more complex. Yan’s American Pie (2011) and Gray City #5 (2010) omits details and colors that may readily identify the subject matter, such as flags or the colorful façades of buildings. The simple forms speak to her relationship to minimalist aesthetics and post-modern modularity. Wang Ying’s Mermaid (2010), depicts a winged form lying in a bathtub that is surrounded by a diminishing body of water. It may be that Ying’s Mermaid alludes to an old Chinese legend but it could also be a comment about the artistic exchange that occurred during the World Expo 2010 wherein Copenhagen’s treasured Little Mermaid statue was shipped to Shanghai and was then temporarily replaced by a video installation by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. The background of Ying’s work is imbued in a red post-apocalyptic hue, emphasizing the Mermaid’s distressed plight and could very well be reflective of the recent controversial events surrounding Ai Weiwei’s imprisonment.

Taiwanese artists in the recent decade use aboriginal or Austronesian art as a model to comment on contemporary issues and society. For instance, Yen-hua Lee appropriates found books from all over the world and takes them out of context by incorporating her own markings and drawings within the existing texts. Her artistic vocabulary takes form in its simplest shape in Open and Closed (2011).

Despite the artistically and culturally disparate artists represented in the exhibition, the works collectively rely on trans-cultural dialogue. In essence, it argues that Asian art is as rich and varied as that of the West and that the creation of art is a constant learning process. Furthermore, the exhibition intends to encourage the variegated dialogue between older and younger artists, as well as contends that the complexity of global cross-pollination and artistic dissemination between countries and continents will only enhance future artistic developments.

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