Saturday, October 16, 2010

Imperial Tectonics: Transformations I & II @ Mindy Solomon Gallery and The Morean Arts Center. Part I (of Three).

On Sept 4th, 476, Germanic tribes toppled the Roman Empire. They conquered the weakened prize, beating the once-greatest army in the Western World. They did not simply impose their culture on the Romans, but mostly adopted the language, laws, garb, and technology of the people they defeated. Defeat in the material sense doesn't always result in the culture of the defeated vanishing or being superseded. 

The cultural tectonics of clashing empires have complex, interleaving dynamics. This is happening today as the Chinese, whose communist government is keeping American capitalism afloat, economically colonize the US. This is one of the central themes of Transformation II at the Mindy Solomon Gallery (MSG), and its accompanying show, Transformation I, also curated by Ms. Solomon, at the Morean Arts Center. They're close enough that they could be considered aspects of a binary show.

Theo Wujcik is an influential artist and local legend who has consistently grown and evolved during his four decade-long career. He was a Master Printer at Tamarind, Detroit Lithography Workshop, became shop manager for USF's Graphicstudio, then a professor there. Portraits of artists he admired done in silverpoint, which is an exacting technique, brought him national attention. Some can be seen here and here. In 1979, after a divorce and immersion in the local punk culture, he co-founded Mododado with several local artists, which  used painted constructions of found objects, often combined with performance art. This lasted a few years, after which, inspired by the ubiquitous chain-link fencing found in the area at the time, in 1984 Theo incorporated this into a seminal painting called Tampa Tornado that would prove to be the first of many with this motif. There were paintings influenced by Art History, a later return to the chainlink style, personal and contemporary themes, like global warming. which can be seen here. Theo told me he began the Asian Invasion series, which comprises most of his work shown in Transformations I&II  about two years ago. 

In the show at the MSG, there are three paintings with circles and abstractions within their circumference. Two are singlets, one, titled Chinese Love Poem is a double set. See it here. Theo told me he was getting ready to paint, looked down into the open cans of paint and saw figures in the paint. This is remarkable. It reminds me of Michaelangelo saying: "I saw the angel in the marble".

There is a method of divination called scrying, in which one 'sees' by looking into different media, including liquids. The Chinese practiced this by looking into round crystal balls.

There's another painting in the MSG, along the wall opposite the windows facing the street [name?]. It is one of those non-hierarchical space pieces of Theo's that has the overall shape of a figure in stacked compositional elements. There's a large hand reaching in from the bottom, grabbing the figure by the genital area. A wry comment on the position Americans find themselves with China?

The First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (259-210BC) defeated all the feudal kingdoms, fusing them into a unified China. He also built the Great Wall of China, burned books, and once buried alive an army of 460 scholars whose crime it was to have owned forbidden books. Qin spent much time and money seeking immortality, unintentionally settling Japan, but he hedged his bets by building a city-sized mausoleum, still largely unexcavated to this day, complete with representations of heaven and earth, 100 rivers filled with mercury, and to protect it all, 8,000 slightly larger than life-size soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, all in ceramic, constructed modularly, with individual facial features. See here.

Wanxin Zhang had already graduated from the Art School in Jilin, in China when he first saw the terra cotta army en situ, in 1983. There were four pits excavated at the time, and he titled his recontextualization of these figures "Pit #5", giving his work its own sense of identity. In 1992, Wanxin and his family migrated to San Francisco. There he studied with Peter Voulkos, who along with James Melchert, and Harold Paris sparked Funk Art. This art movement is characterized by its concerns for social responsibility via bringing together of disparate elements, conffrontationally, often with humor and irony.

There are four Warriors facing the windows at the MSG. See here. Starting from the viewer's left, is "Wintergreen", a warrior who is also a seasoned traveler, complete with his backpack and bedroll on top. He is at ease, and brings back the boon learned on his journeys. If you look closely (bring the reading glasses) it is written all over him.  Next to him stands "Fatherhood", a warrior carrying a Mickey-Mouse ear-wearing baby on his chest. To his left is "Expert", a learned man, intensely focused. At the end is a Warrior titled "Trinoculars", wearing binoculars with a third lens, perhaps for the Third Eye? Is this the Wise Man?

There are also smaller versions of these soldiers. One that caught my eye was that of Mao, holding a Chinese Red baby up towards heaven.

Wanxin has brought out the warriors into the present and the rigors of peacetime and living a fully human life in today's world. The effect is that of a dual typology, of simultaneously seeing the juxtaposition of the militaristic rigidity of the originals with the complex and fluid dynamics of living in the present.

--- Luis

PS. Last, but not least, Art Taco would like to wish the Mindy Solomon Gallery a very Happy First Birthday.  Wishing you many more and may all your birthday wishes come true.  It's been a stellar year.

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