Suzhou Museum presents “Su Xinping | Everything is Still and Timeless”

TIME: 2019.12.11

Poster of Su Xinping Everything is Still and Timeless.webp.jpg

Everything is Still and Timeless

By Li Zhenhua

“For me, dusk is the best part of a day, everything under the setting sun is pure, serene and beautiful, everything is still and timeless.”

by Su Xinping, excerpt from Yin Jinan:Man and Horse 1989

Everything eternal might simply be fleeting, and in a solitary moment of interaction with nature, will a person’s birth and death elicit that same empathy? Everything solid eventually vanishes like mist and smoke. Memories and thoughts are activated, and with this information and the continuous renewal of images, viewers discover that the future comes from the past, that this is a cross-section of historical research, a path of memory and nostalgia with no way back.

“For me, dusk is the best part of a day, everything under the setting sun is pure, serene and beautiful, everything is still and timeless.”

by Su Xinping, excerpt from Yin Jinan:Man and Horse 1989

Yin Jinan’s sadness and loneliness, which follows this white horse, is the key to this past moment. The white horse is still walking, and the person stands lonely on the earth. Can we feel the same way about both manmade and natural spaces? All of this is present in Su Xinping’s work, imbued with a baseless sorrow. Will you perceive it in the space? At that time, people’s spaces were constantly changing, ideas were being fused and borrowed, and both private and public spaces invaded the everyday lives of modern people. If there was something ordinary, then their souls could rest. Social media and computer hardware have forced people to work day and night. How can people return to the world, looking at a white horse on a vast plain? The predicaments and poetry of the 1980s corresponded to the development of that time, so where were people going? People were not exactly that white horse, which does not want to look back; fate and nature were also distant unknowns and people always walk in their direction.

The artistic activities of Xinping together with other young painters from academics constitute a kind of artistic phenomenon, which we may tentatively call ‘the Reformism’ in the modern art. The main purpose of this group of artists is to preserve the kernel of ‘the New Trend Art’ but at the same time, discard its disadvantages for favoring romantic passions. They also strive to allow the subjective mind to expand so much so that it results in the conceptualization as well as crudity of works, and to create modern works by fully utilizing and developing the academic language.

excerpt from Gao Minglu:Far- Leading Silence and Tranquility The prints of Su Xinping, 1991

With the rise of the New Wave in the 1980s, was there still a difference between interior and exterior? Were art’s internal transformations and external movements peeling apart in the art historical narrative? Should art be free? Does art need to introspectively explore the mind? Does art need an audience, or has it always been a form of self-knowledge? Is art medium or spirit? Art occupies space, but it may simply be a moment of spiritual transcendence. All of this was discussed and practiced, and other disciplines and methods were incorporated. Art is a discipline, but it is also archeology, epigraphy, seal cutting, new media, and a massive void. As Gao Minglu once said about realism: history is always clearer than reality, and the past is always lovelier than the present.

Art in the 1980s and 1990s

The extension of medium, material, and method is like the development of philosophy, which borrowed theories from evolution and psychology; people’s ways of understanding the world are constantly progressing and changing with new discoveries. Su’s era and time were forceful players in the contemporary. The conceptual commonalities between old and new art and the continued exploration of other fields created another mediascape. In galleries, auctions, and large-scale exhibitions, the pictorial presentation of art currently occupies the majority of people’s cognitive systems. Knowledge of artistic materials also consumes significant mental capacity. For Su Xinping, artistic creation may be the natural medium for the extension of the body, which is constantly advancing and expanding.

They explored art itself and their own style and language, then engaged with methodology. The ’85 New Wave in China made even broader discoveries. Contemporary art began to engage in dialogue with global culture, and when the contemporary art system changed, the evolution took place all over the world. An understanding of today’s artistic system must begin with the people and events that drove systemic change from the 1960s to the 1980s. These people and events, which constructed the context and relationships of contemporary art, also influenced market movements and the values of the majority of people. Looking back to the 1980s and 1990s, was there a trend that arrived quietly? Apart from the political attitudes of resistance, does art have its own inherent logic of renewal and progress? In the 1980s and 1990s, people were buying into pictorial empathy that was then directly enveloped by the market, thereby constructing another independent world.

In looking back on the 1980s in China, we may be able to understand more through the thinking of the people Zha Jianying interviewed in her Interviews with 1980s Cultural Figures. In looking at its sources and development from multiple cultural perspectives, this phenomenon naturally has self-referential implications after twenty years. The parts with Acheng and Chen Pingyuan are excellent, and I went back to read Acheng’s The King of Children, The King of Trees, The Chess Master, and some later writing to understand the modern predicament that tumbled out of village hometowns. After Reform and Opening, there were simple lifestyles and semi-rural, semi-urban social landscapes. People only found nostalgia amidst the massive changes that came with development. This is the white horse that Su abstracted, with the distant silhouette of a white horse, a sleeping herder, and the plains and earth that only have highlighted silhouettes. The connections between them are literary, reflecting a sense of symbolism. This is a synthesis of the entire 1980s, finally represented in pictures. This is part of the same lineage as the films Yellow Earth and Red Sorghum, but quieter and more introspective.

“Reviewing my works of recent years, I found almost all of them were painted with strong light. At first, I did in this way for its brilliant effect rather than consciously. Then, after a few visits to the steppe, I gradually realized that the sunlight often rendered me a sense of inexplicable delusion, with dizziness and fantasy. The world was static and unreal, followed by mystery and fear. With the experience repeated, after a while, it naturally became a part of the picture and was out of my consciousness. Finally, I knew it was what I had sought and what I needed.”

by Su Xinping, excerpt from Yin Jinan:Man and Horse 1989

In early modernist transformations around the world, the stories they experienced were elaborated in everything from pictures drawn from specific events to art that was independent from historical events and time. China in the 1980s and the West after World War II have an interesting connection. Dada, Fluxus, and relational aesthetics represent another set of connections. In 1916, Duchamp and Dada were the end of modern art, and modern art was affirmed by the market and the public. Art is diverse, and the most contemporary thing is not always best. Artists could tell a story and reveal true emotion, or, like Su Xinping, they could return to the plains and feel the intense sunshine. This might seem strange to you, because we all find ourselves within a media-based society.

Greyscale, Space, and Symbolism

The exhibition attempts to study the relationships between space and color in Su Xinping’s paintings from the 1980s. Because there is only black, white, and grey, the spaces are occupied by concise imagery. Pillars are always present in the images, like symbols of human civilization. If the spatial tension between herders, white horses, and eagles are returned to a spatial, immersive experience, viewers shift from being onlookers to being people in the painting. I really wanted to experience the 1980s plains under the intense sunlight, the romantic freedom of herding life, and the unobstructed intimacy between man and nature. These elements are the abstraction of the spirit and imagination, situated in the space. In Su Xinping’s calm and introspective attitude, the response to greyscale and space are consistent with the emotion in the works.

From the outside, the Suzhou Museum, designed by I. M. Pei, looks like a cluster of old-style buildings, referencing traditional residences in Suzhou. However, the interiors are simple and restrained, complete with a traditional thatched pavilion. The Suzhou Museum was completed in 2006, including a space designed with art exhibitions in mind. This space is arranged in a similar fashion to the museum’s other spaces, and the light and shade fluctuate with the exhibitions. The gunpowder pavilion that Cai Guoqiang created in 2006 and the thatched pavilion that I. M. Pei placed in a corner reflect the echo between the traditional and the present. Layered mountains and a pool in the center are connected to the spatial settings of the thatched pavilion and modern exhibition galleries, linking heaven and earth.

Spatial relationships are Su Xinping’s response to the greyscale and simplicity of the entire building, but they have also permeated his work since the 1980s. He hoped to, from the relationships between light and dark in the spaces in his paintings, further consider man and their times. It is a 1980s monologue by Su Xinping, but it is also a spatial dialogue with the late I. M. Pei in the same cultural context.

If you can appreciate the beauty of 1980s literature, it’s not difficult to understand the purity of Su Xinping’s painting. What you see and the empathy you feel are both present.

Li Zhenhua

October 25, 2019

Written in Zurich

About the exhibition

Su Xinping | Everything is Still and Timeless

Curators: Li Zhenhua, Tang Yu

Opening: 4:00pm, December 14,2019

Exhibition Dates: 2019.12.15-2020.2.12

Venue: Contemporary Galleries, Suzhou Museum

Host: Suzhou Museum

Central Academy of Fine Arts

Support: AIMER

Courtesy of the artist and Suzhou Museum, for further information please visit