Empire Bookends: Basketcase

 Yellow DanShengContemporary artist Laurens Tan (Tan Sikao 谭思考) has been making and exhibiting graphic, video, performance, and sculptural works in several locations – Sydney, Las Vegas, Beijing – for many years.  A selection of Tan’s recent Beijing-oriented works in now being shown in the Steve Sun Art Gallery at the University of Chicago Center in Beijing. The exhibition, entitled “Empire Bookends: Basketcase,” features two standard-sized Beijing tricycles (sanlunche 三轮车) and a series of sketches and graphics.  The tricycle sculptures recall this most mundane piece of mobile urban infrastructure – the ubiquitous vehicle for trash management, snack vending, used-goods collecting, deliveries – in a humorous art context.


Tan’s previous versions of the tricycle have made witty allusions to disciplined urban crowds, the viewpoint of the foreigner in the city, and the aggressive presence of written Chinese characters over and inside every thing.  New graphic and sculptural work for this exhibition is inspired by the comedic but uncanny object of the rubber chicken, and by its plucked and cleaned street-market counterparts, the real dead – or just killed – chickens offered up for urban family meals.

Tan’s artwork in and from Beijing renders the gritty down-to-earth realities of the city as sleek and gorgeous objects reminiscent of post-modern architecture and product design.  At the same time Tan redirects our gaze to find beauty in the actual mundane city that surrounds us.


Dan Dry, Pictures from an institution: University of Chicago campus scenes

Eighteen framed photographs by Dan Dry decorate the Center in Beijing, most along the west corridor, shown here.  Dry is one of America’s most widely recognized photographers.  His 400 national and international photography, advertising, and design awards include being named the National Press Photographers Association’s 1981 Photographer of the Year.  A member of the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph staff, Dry also spent eight years as a contract photographer for the National Geographic Society.  The photographer fir 14 coffee-table books on colleges and universities, he has contributed images to scores of books, including America 24/7 and A Day in the life of America, the only book of photography to top the New York Times best-seller list.  Dry is a contributing editor at the University of Chicago Magazine, where his work has appeared since 1991.


冰逸 Bingyi, Dragon River

Dragon River was created at Xiuli in Anhui Province.  Part of a larger print, this portion is five meters in length and 260 centimeters tall and adorns the south wall of the Center in Beijing’s Events Space.


Past Exhibits:

September 2013- August 2014

Hung Liu: Crane and Butterfly

Hung Liu’s “Crane Dance” and “Wings” (photo by Yuxuan Li)

Born in Changchun, China, in 1948, Hung Liu was first trained as a muralist in the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing. She went to the United States in 1984 to attend the University of California, San Diego, where she studied with Allan Kaprow, a pioneer of “environmental art” and “Happenings.” Hung Liu became a faculty member at Mills College in 1990, and since then has lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has exhibited internationally at premier museums and galleries, and her work resides in prestigious public and private collections around the world. A large retrospective of her art was held in early 2013 in the Oakland Museum of California, recognizing her position in the field of contemporary art.

Hung Liu’s unusual life experience and artistic training infuses her work with a unique richness and visual quality, combining powerful portrait-like figures with fantastic and abstract images. She routinely discovers her subjects from Chinese history and culture, while simultaneously exploring new ways to bring past and present, East and West into dynamic visual conversations and interactions.

This exhibition consists of three works in two different mediums. Crane Dance and Wings are hybrids of the painting and printmaking processes, composed of alternating layers of resin and oil-based pigment to generate a complex impression of depth and three-dimensionality. Where these two paintings both incorporate images of the white crane as a traditional symbol of auspiciousness and immortality, the three lithographic prints in Butterfly’s Dreams are inspired by a famous parable from ancient China, in which the philosopher Zhuangzi dreamed that he became a butterfly. Waking up, he wonders whether it was him who dreamed he was a butterfly, or was it a butterfly who dreamed he was Zhuangzi.

Wu Hung, curator


刘虹于1948年生于中国长春,出国前就学于中央美术学院壁画系。1984年她远赴重洋,前往美国加州大学圣地亚哥分校继续深造,其导师为“环境艺术”和“艺术发生”的先驱阿兰 卡普若。她从1990年开始在米尔斯大学任教,至今一直在旧金山海湾区生活和工作。她的作品多次出现于世界上第一流的美术馆和画廊中,也是许多公共和私人收藏的对象。她的大型回顾展于2013年上半年在美国加州奥克兰美术馆举行,进一步确定了她在国际当代艺术界中的地位。


这个展览包括了它以两种不同媒材创作的三件(组)作品。 《鹤舞》与《翼》结合了绘画和印制的工艺过程。以多层树脂和油色的交替叠积强化了画面的深邃和三维感觉。这两张巨大的画幅都使用了仙鹤这一题材,这是中国传统文化中吉祥和羽化成仙的象征。而《梦蝶》系列则包括了三幅石印版画,其灵感来自中国古代思想家庄子所写一个著名寓言:一天庄子梦见自己化为一只蝴蝶。醒来以后,他思考着到底是自己在梦中化蝶,或是蝴蝶梦见它化成了自己。

巫鸿, 策划人


October 2012- August 2013

Xu Weixin’s Seven Miners Series

Realism is plural. Xu Weixin’s realist painting differs from naturalistic and photorealistic images on the one hand, and from critical realist and revolutionary realist pictures on the other. Whereas Naturalism and photorealism superimpose art onto life, Critical Realism and Revolutionary Realism promulgate political and moral doctrines through representation. Xu instead conducts in-depth observation of ordinary people in ordinary situations and depicts what he sees. Doubtlessly he hopes to reduce the gap between art and reality, but the purpose is bring life into art, not to equate art with life. In this sense his vocation is close to that of Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), the French painter who first advocated Realist Art in reaction Classicism and Romanticism. Courbet promoted “mimicking people and things in daily life that one can touch with one’s own hand.” Although he was a committed social reformer and even participated in the revolutionary movement of the Paris Commune, he did not push the agenda of “sublimating life” to his political cause.

The similarity between Xu Weixin and Courbet thus also implies a huge difference between them: separated by over a century, Xu’s resurrection of a more direct and rudimentary type of “social realism” necessarily responds to more recent trends in realism after Courbet’s time, especially Socialist Realism as the officially sponsored style in modern Chinese art. A general phenomenon in Chinese art since the 1970s, in fact, has been the rise of various rectifications of Socialist Realist Art, including Scar Art and Native Soil Art within the realist camp, aestheticism in academic art, non-representational abstract art, and contemporary Conceptual Art. The last three reject not only Socialist Realist Art specifically, but also the visual language and purpose of Realist Art in general. From here we can define Xu Weixin’s historical position and understand the significance of his paintings: he is conducting experiments within Realist Arts and reflecting upon this artistic tradition in the contexts of both modern painting and contemporary Chinese art. His recent “Coal Miners” series best articulates such rethinking, as the pictures in the series all reject typification and idealization, and as his effort to “let the subject speak” liberates realism from the grasp of ideology. He portrays coal miners laboring in private-owned local coal mines, many of whom come from the countryside. They do not represent “workers” as an anonymous social class or “ordinary folk” in an abstract sense, but they are people of flesh and blood who have names and distinct personality. He demands that everyone see these people. He has therefore enlarged their images to the proportions that have been reserved for great leaders, so that no one can evade these men who are often kept invisible in art, even in Realist Art.

Wu Hung, Curator                                  9.18.2012


September 2011- September 2012

Left: Bi-Directional Sniper Rifle The logic of war is not that of killing and being killed, but between killing and killing. Shooting your opponent is also pulling the trigger against yourself. Right: Caged Freedom The wings of freedom push open windows of freedom; windows of freedom fetter the wings of freedom—it is freedom itself which hinders freedom.

Wang Luyan’s Paradox: Political Fable   

One of the most important Chinese Conceptual artists working today, Wang Luyan (b. 1956) has been actively engaged in the Chinese avant-garde art movement from its very beginning. He was a member of the Stars Painting Society and participated in the group’s ground-breaking exhibitions in 1979 and 1980. During the ’85 Art New Wave movement, he helped found the New Measurement Group, a radical initiative of three conceptual artists that existed from 1988 to 1995. Guided by analytic geometry, the group explored the possibilities of communicating experience and perception through quantitative measurement as opposed to random individual effort.

The spirit of rationality continues to enliven his recent works, which often take the form of giant two-dimensional designs for machinery, guns, tanks, screws, scissors, bicycles, and wrist watches. Take a closer look at these paintings, however, one finds that these “designs” are actually “re-designs” or “anti-designs” which render the depicted objects dysfunctional, and in this process challenge the conventional rules and assumptions. One such work is seen in this exhibition: a sniper rifle whose bullets fly in both directions to harm the target as well as the shooter. Together with the other two paintings, it reflects on some fundamental dilemmas in international relations and political ideology.                                                     Wu Hung, Curator           October, 2011


作为目前中国最重要的观念艺术家之一,王鲁炎(1956年生)从中国前卫艺术的一开始就积极地投入了这个运动。作为“星星画会”的成员,他参加了该画会在19798 和1980 年组织的具有历史意义的两次展览。随后在席卷全国的‘85美术新潮中,他与另外两位观念艺术家一起创办了具有前沿性的“新刻度”小组。从1988至1995年,该小组依据解析几何原理,探索以量化刻度的方式交流批次的经验和知觉,以排除个人的盲目主观卷入。

这种理性精神继续激活着他最近的作品。这些作品常以巨大的二维设计的形式出现,描绘了机械、枪支、坦克、螺钉、剪刀、自行车及手表。但如果仔细观察,我们发现这些所谓的“设计”实际上应该被称为“再设计”或“反设计”,因为这些图像不是肯定而是取消了物件的实际功能,在这个过程中向约定俗成的规则和设论提出挑战。这个展览中的一幅画就是这样的一个例子:画中D10-07型阻击步枪中的子弹将向着两个方向发射,既朝着敌人也朝着射手自己。与其他两张画一起,这幅画反思着国际关系和政治理论中的一些本质性的两难。                         巫鸿 (策展人)                     2011年10月

Symmetry of Violence “When aggressors use violence against victims, victims are transformed into aggressors and aggressors into victims. The image of violence is symmetrical.” (translation of Wan Luyan’s statement)

Artist’s Statement

Art is not just for sensual pleasure. To me, art is a way of thinking through visuality; visual analysis and demonstration separate an artist from a philosopher or thinker.

All things exist in relation to other things, and paradox is a universal phenomenon.

Wang Luyan                August 20, 2011



事物存在于关系之中,悖论则是普遍的存在。                    王鲁炎      2011年8月20日


August, 2010- September, 2011

Zhan Wang, Jia Shan Shi No. 86

(text by Wu Hung)

Zhan Wang’s contemporary interpretations of traditional Chinese ornamental rocks are now featured in many world-famous museums, from the British Museum to Metropolitan Museum in New York.  By applying a pliable sheet of steel over an actual rock and hammering it thoroughly, he has been able to achieve a form that reproduces every minute undulation on the surface of the stone.  He once explained these works:

Placed in a traditional courtyard, rockery satisfied people’s desire to return to Nature by offering them stone fragments from nature.  But huge changes in the world have made this traditional ideal increasingly our of date.  I have thus used stainless steel to duplicate and transform natural rockery into manufactured forms.  The material’s glittering surface, ostentatious glamour, and illusory appearance make it an ideal medium to convey new dreams [in Contemporary China.]

To Zhan Wang, “glittering surface, ostentatious glamour, and illusory appearance” are not necessarily negative qualities, and his stainless-steel rocks are not designed as satire or mockery of contemporary material culture.  Rather, both the original rockeries and his copies are material forms selected or created for people’s spiritual needs; their different materiality suits different needs at different times.  The problem he addresses is thus one of authenticity: Which rock– the original or his copy– more genuinely reflects contemporary Chinese culture?  Interestingly, the Chinese call natural rockeries jia shan shi, or “fake mountain rocks.”  According to Zhan Wang, such rocks, even if made of real stones, have truly become “fakes” when used to decorate a contemporary environment.  But his stainless-steel rocks, though artificial, signify the “genuine” of our own time.

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