Back to Nantong: The largest retrospective of Yuan Yunsheng’s art career is on display


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Exhibition View of “Back to Nantong”—Yuan Yunsheng Art Exhibition

Yuan Yunsheng cannot be ignored whenever there is a discussion about artists who have exerted a huge influence on the history of modern Chinese art history. He has become a significant case for study on Chinese art since the middle and late 20th century. Many problems that he encountered are related to Chinese society and art, the high degree of correlation is rarely seen in art history during this period. Every period, and every part of his artistic development can be connected to a chapter in the art history related to the development of modern Chinese society.

 “Back to Nantong”—Yuan Yunsheng Art Exhibition is the largest retrospective exhibition featuring Yuan Yunsheng’s artistic career, and it is also the first large-scale solo exhibition of renowned artists planned and held by Nantong Art Museum and a case study exhibition on the subject of “Nantong Phenomenon in Chinese Art.” The exhibition is divided into five sections which are a concentrated display of research achievements, with a total of 655 works covering sketches, oil paintings, sculptures and so on.

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Exhibition View of “Back to Nantong”—Yuan Yunsheng Art Exhibition

The birth of the “Water-splashing Festival—An Ode to Life” presents an equal-scale replica of “Water-splashing Festival—An Ode to Life” and various creative manuscripts when he created the work, including the sketches of Yunnan landscapes and line drawings of characters created in his early stages, with a total of more than 120 pieces.

The research on the history of “Memories of the Water Town” displays the originals and related manuscripts of “Memories of the Water Town” created by Yuan during his undergraduate graduation, with a total of more than 160 pieces;

The formation of the gifted teenager showcases more than 170 drawings and sketches by Yuan Yunsheng before he went to study at the Central Academy of Fine Arts;

Changes of styles since the 1980s, features more than 80 works  in various styles after Yuan went to study in the United States in the 1980s and his return to China.

The study of traditional Chinese modeling highlights Yuan’s efforts to change the unreasonable teaching structure that has been based on Western sculpture as the only model in China for nearly a hundred years. Over 100 works are exhibited.

About the Artist

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Yuan Yunsheng, born in Nantong, Jiangsu Province on April 4, 1937, graduated from the Third Studio directed by Dong Xiwen, Oil Painting Department, Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in 1962. In 1979, he participated in making mural paintings for Beijing Capital International Airport and taught in the Mural Department of the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts and CAFA. He gained attention from art and intellectual circles with the portraits of Xishuangbanna people, as well as a large fresco “Water-splashing Festival—An Ode to Life” commissioned by Beijing Capital International Airport. In 1982, he was invited to visit the United States until 1988 and taught at Tufts University, Massachusetts University, Smith College, Harvard University. During his stay, he created a large number of mixed media works on paper. In September 1996, he was invited to be the Director and Professor of the Fourth Studio of the Oil Painting Department, CAFA. He initiated the research project “Reproduction of Traditional Chinese Sculpture and Establishment of Contemporary Chinese Art Education System”, attempted to seek inspiration and new enlightenment from traditional Chinese sculptures, frescoes, portrait stones, portrait bricks and other “non-painting systems”.

His recent important solo exhibitions include: “Regeneration”, Platform China Contemporary Art Institute, Beijing (2021); “The Restoration of the Memory –A Study of the History of Yuan Yunsheng’s work ‘Memories of the Water Town’”, CAFA Art Museum, Beijing (2021); “Extol Life”, Platform China Contemporary Art Institute, Beijing (2019); “Self-Conscious to the Civilization: Renowned Chinese Artists of Fine Arts in the 20th Century”, National Art Museum, Beijing (2017); The Third Path—Yuan Yunfu Yuan and Yunsheng Paintings Exhibition, Inside-Out Art Museum, Beijing (2014).

His works have been collected by important art galleries and institutes at home and abroad.

Courtesy of Nantong Art Museum, edited by CAFA ART INFO. 

About the Exhibition


“Back to Nantong”—Yuan Yunsheng Art Exhibition

Curator: Chen Lvsheng

Duration: 2023.1.17—2023.5.7

Venue: Gallery A, B on the second and third floors, Nantong Art Museum