Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Imperial Tectonics: Transformations I & II @ Mindy Solomon Gallery and The Morean Arts Center. Part III.

Transformations I consists of work by Theo Wujcik and Wanxin Zhang at the Morean Arts Center on the same complex theme as that previously addressed hanging in the Mindy Solomon Gallery in Parts I & II.

The first thing that strikes the viewer of the Transformations I at the Morean Arts Center is how well this show is curated by Mindy Solomon. The sequencing and spacing of the works is first-rate -- and major-museum quality.  Having the extra floorspace to work with gave her a chance to show her considerable creativity.

Theo Wujcik's "Imperial Jade Quarter Pounder With Cheese", seen here. It's the all-too-familiar greasy burger US icon, appropriated and transformed by depicting it in Imperial Jade, a mineral that is or was more prized than gold in China. This is fusion between Chinese and US icons -- and values. Wujcik's work incisively explores the fault lines of art between these two Empires on many levels. He talks about a shift from NYC to Shanghai, China as the arts capital of the world.

Theo mentions an essay by Richard Vine, the Asian editor for Art in America, who has been writing about Chinese art for over a decade, illuminating Western arts consciousness via his articles and reviews. Rather than focus continually on some of the significant problems in the Chinese art scene, like lack of infrastructure in a fast-growing economy, and that galleries pay writers to write positive articles on their artists, Vine has emphasized the art and artists there.

Theo does too, in this show with portraits of Zhang Huan and Cai Cuo Qiang. This is something Theo has done before in one of his earliest series, "Mentors" (referenced in this article in Part I) and "Breaking with the Past" (2004) series. There are three portraits of iconic Chinese artist  Zhang Huan in this show. One of them is "Berlin Buddha", a large painting, referring to an aluminum mold/sculpture in which the figure of the Buddha is dry-cast using ashes. In the installation, the two are placed facing each other. See here. The ashen one quickly erodes away, while the metal mold remains unchanged. Theo shows the ashen Buddha eroded, and Zhang's head is to the viewer's left, looking out the 4th wall. There is another painting of  Mr. Huan, a portrait of his head titled "Zhang Huan 2010", in which he looks a little monk-ish. The third, is from a performance piece where Mr. Huan wore a (real) meat suit, and looking like a grotesque super-hero, ran down the streets of Manhattan, ending the performance by releasing white doves. Symbols of spiritual and physical strength? Theo emphasizes the superhuman aspects (brings to mind the inverse of a lucha libre wrestler) through a comic-book aesthetic. There is a very personal painting in this show titled "Artist/Artist's studio" of tendrils of smoke coming from a lit cigarette.

Wanxin Zhang has several clay sculptures in this show. One is titked "Wind Mark (Masked Man)" in which one of his warriors wears a jacket and a scarf (?) and what looks like striped prison pants. There is a disembodied ghostly white hand over the statue's head, on his right side, and it has placed an amorphous white mask over his face. Whiteface in a new context? Cultural identity pressure?

"Poet of the Battlefield" is a bespectacled warrior, this one in an peachy-orange glaze, head tilted back, mouth open, as if reciting a poem, his hands clasped around his abdomen, wearing a tie over his armor.

Wanxin has a clear self-portrait here. He is wearing a denim jacket on the back of which it reads in orange-red: "California Artist Too".

Identity, humans and art caught in the tectonics of empires and ensuing cultural diffusion. The exchanges between East and West are generating a fusion of styles and aesthetics.

  New York or Shanghai? Zhang Huan isn't waiting, he has a studio in each city.

Congratulations to Mindy Solomon and the Morean for a memorable collaboration on this show (or shows).

--- Luis

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