Installation View | Courtesy Platform China Contemporary Art
Eastern and Western cultures are two evenly matched mountains. When you arrive in the west, looking at the mountains of the motherland, you can see the ups and downs of the mountains and the majesty of the mountains more clearly, and you will be more aware of what you must insist on, so as to walk out of your own path.
Yuan Yunsheng in the U.S.
Controversy nothing new to visiting Chinese painter, 1994
Platform China Contemporary Art Institute announces that they represent the famous artist Mr. Yuan Yunsheng while launching his solo exhibition Looking into the Distance on September 21, 2022. Look out is his view in the U.S. context. What is he looking at? This is the core of the exhibition.This exhibition presents the ink paintings created by Yuan Yunsheng during his stay in the United States, showing how he connected his personal practice with the distant tradition and how he thought about his own culture and the future of Chinese art at that stage. These works are exhibited to stimulate our reflection on the art now.
*Special thanks to the artist and his family, as well as close friends Wang Rui, Ni Jun, Yu Jianyou, etc. for their support.
Yuan Yunsheng was born in Nantong, Jiangsu Province in 1937. In 1955, he enrolled in the Central Academy of Fine Arts, and was taught by Dong Xiwen. In 1957, he was wrongly classified as a rightist and underwent two years of reform through labor. In 1962, his graduation work Memories of the Water Town caused a series of disturbances because of his painting language in pursuit of modern sense. After graduation, he was assigned to Changchun Workers’ Cultural Palace for 18 years since then. During this period, Yuan Yunsheng went to Jinghong, Lincang and other places in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province in 1978 to sketch. The Collection of Line Drawing Sketches in Yunnan came out and caused a sensation in the art world. In 1979, Yuan Yunsheng returned to Beijing and participated in the mural creation of the Beijing Capital International Airport. Water-Splashing Festival-Hymn of Life became a shining chapter in the history of modern Chinese art. He depicted the customs of the Dai people in a personal modernism decorative style caused a huge social controversy. As a cultural event in the late 1970s, it is regarded as an important symbol of China’s reform and opening up. In 1982, he went to the northwest to study and sketch, and wrote Regeneration: Trip to Northwest China, proposing to oppose the simplification of aesthetic standards and “pursue the true spirit of national art” 「1」. In the same year, Yuan Yunsheng was invited to visit the United States. During his 14 years of stay in the United States, he had a face-to-face exchange with western art and ideas, including meeting with pop artist Rauschenberg and abstract expressionism artist Willem de Kooning. During this period, Yuan Yunsheng made extensive exploration in his creation. In 1996, at the invitation of Jin Shangyi, he returned to the Central Academy of Fine Arts to teach and began to promote the re-engraving of Chinese traditional sculpture. Up to now, he has maintained a strong creative passion, and has continued to deepen his personal artistic practice.
Yuan Yunsheng at the antique market in New York, 1994. 8. Images courtesy of Wang Rui
Yuan Yunsheng, Look into the distance, 1991. Ink on paper, 136x70cm
“Looking into the Distance”, named after a painting by Yuan Yunsheng in his stay in the United States (1991), also responded to an interview published in Art & Design magazine in 1993, Looking at the East from the West: Mr. Yuan Yunsheng’s Talks on Art. 「2」 Therefore, the “Distance” in the theme of the exhibition has a displacement with the audience’s understanding. It reflects that Yuan Yunsheng, who was in New York at that time, had a close and distant relationship with his hometown, and that distance also includes the past and the future. Therefore, for him, “Looking into the Distance” is not only in the geographical sense, but also in the temporal and psychological sense. The aesthetic resources contained in Chinese culture have always been the object of his awe and constant exploration and pursuit.Compared with Yuan Yunsheng’s long and turbulent artistic journey, this exhibition is only a section representing his staged exploration, presenting his ink and wash paintings created during his stay in the United States (1982-1996). At the same time, the exhibition selects relevant literature, and presents Yuan Yunsheng’s artistic thoughts through on-site exhibition and online push, providing clues for the audience to identify his creative ideas.
Yuan Yunsheng with Willem de Kooning, 1982Yuan Yunsheng visit George Segal's studio, 1983
In China, there's always a chance a painting may become a backstop, 1983
Starting from 1982, Yuan Yunsheng started his 14-year life and creation in New York. Through close contact with American cultural circles, he clearly realized the situation and problems of western art, and deeply felt that Chinese artists must face the relationship between their inherent cultural identity and the context of western art if they want to stand on the world stage and talk to their counterparts in the west. In his view, adhering to one’s own cultural identity is the necessary subject consciousness for equal communication, and it is also the basis for learning from other cultural achievements. Yuan Yunsheng, who lived in a foreign country, was a mature artist. In the United States at that time, diversified contemporary art concepts were surging, and painting was already on the edge. Under the long-term strong impact of fashionable culture, Yuan Yunsheng still firmly projected his enthusiasm into modern art and his own tradition, and deeply realized the value and commonality of both. Therefore, he never gave up using oriental ink, brush and rice paper for creation. At the same time, he widely adopted a variety of new materials such as wax, oil and planks of wood, with an open mind, to get rid of all stereotypes. During this period, he created many paintings in ink and wash media. These works no longer focus on specific realistic themes, but are featured with free and rich pictures and vibrant lines, and often reflect people’s images among complicated abstract elements, all of which are filled with the energy of life. At that time, his faith and pursuit all showed the passion of a great soul.
Yuan Yunsheng, Introspection, 1991. Ink painting on paper, 180x193cm. Yuan Yunsheng, Call from the cliff, 1991. Ink on paper, 136x136cm.
As Wang Min’an said, “Yuan Yunsheng activated the inherent fluidity and permeability of ink and wash, and he never restrained, modified or coded it, but allowed this energy and strength to surge wantonly on paper, multiplying, rushing and stretching in all directions. They are so powerful, squeezing and bumping against each other, as if to rush out of the painting, towards the edge of the paper.” 「3」 His feelings about Yuan Yunsheng’s artworks reflect that Yuan’s language of ink and wash paintings has some mysterious life energy. In his view, these abstract ink and wash paintings are constantly discussing about life. Life is always striving to get rid of the external constraints and return to the inner essence, and these paintings are penetrated by the power and intensity of the essence.
Yuan Yunsheng once talked about creation like this: “I have been doing this all the time. First, I will push my thinking to a complete abstraction, and then from here, I will expand its inclusiveness, seek a solid combination with appropriate images, so as to be free and unhindered. I have been pursuing something generous, broad and glorious”. 「4」
「1」 Yuan Yunsheng, Regeneration: Trip to Northwest China, Art, pp. 5-7, Issue 1, 1982
「2」 Zou Wen, Looking at the East from the West: Mr. Yuan Yunsheng’s Talks on Art, Art & Design, pp. 46-47, Issue 3, 1993
「3」 Wang Min’an, From Purity to Strength
「4」 Yuan Yunsheng, Self Preface, Chinese Sketch Classics Gallery—Yuan Yunsheng’s Sketches Collection, page 6, 1998
Yuan Yunsheng, Line·Form, Ink on paper180x193cm，1991Yuan Yunsheng, See·Mountain, 1991. Ink on paper, 180×193cm.
The above photos are all authorized by family members or photographers.
About the artist
Yuan Yunsheng at his studio at Pingxifu in June 2009 (Photo by Wang Rui)
Yuan Yunsheng was born on 4 April 1937 in Nantong city, Jiangsu Province. In 1962, he graduated from "Dong Xiwen Studio”ofthe Oil Painting Department of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts. From 1962 to 1980, Yuan Yunshengwas assigned to work in the Fine Arts Group at the Changchun Municipal Workers Cultural Palace of Jilin Province. In 1979, he created the mural Water Sprinkling Festival - Hymn of Life for Beijing Capital Airport; In 1980, he was transferred to the Mural Department of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts. From 1982 to 1996, he went to the United States to give lectures and lived in New York. He has been working at the Central Academy of Fine Arts since 1996. He used to work as the Director of the Fourth Painting Studio of Oil Painting Department, the Deputy Director of the Academic Committee of the Academy, and the PhD tutor. Currently, he is the Director of the Chinese Ancient Modeling Research Center of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, and the principal of the national major project "Replication of Traditional Chinese Sculptures and Establishment of Contemporary Chinese Art Education System”.
Important solo exhibitions:
2022 Look into the distance, Platform China Contemporary Art Institute, Beijing
2022 Journey of Yuan Yunsheng, Long Museum, Shanghai
2021 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
2019 EXTOL LIFE, Platform China Contemporary Art Institute, Beijing
2017 Self-Conscious to the Civilization Renowned Chinese Artists of Fine Arts in the 20th Century, National Art Museum, Beijing
2014 The Third Path—Yuan YunfuYuan Yunsheng paintings exhibition, Inside-Out Art Museum, Beijing
2014 Nantong Famous Artists Exhibition series-Exhibition of Works by Yuan Yunsheng, Nantong Central Museum
2010 Cooked Rice? – Yuan Yunsheng’s solo exhibition, Galerie99, Germany
1997 His work Struggle was displayed in the 47th International Art Exhibition Venice Biennale, Italy
1993 The Exhibition of Painting by Yuan Yunsheng, International Art Gallery, Beijing
1992 He held a solo exhibition at the Oriental Art Center in Los Angeles
1992 He held a solo exhibition at the Xuanmen Art Center in Taipei
1991 Yuan Yunsheng’s Recent Works，456 Gallery West Broadway, New York
1987 He held a solo exhibition at the Art Wave Gallery in soho, New York
1985 He held a solo exhibition at the Wheeler Gallery in San Francisco
1984 He stayed as a visiting art scholar at the Harvard University and held a solo exhibition there
1983 He held solo exhibition at the Vered International Art Gallery 70A Park Place East Hampton, New York
1983 Boston City Hall Gallery,Tufts University, Amherst College Museum, North Iowa University, Smith College
1980 Nantong Cultural Palace
1979 Central Institute of Design, Beijing
1978 Museum of Yun-nan and Fine Arts College of Yun-nan
About the exhibition
Curator: Wang Jiang
Venue: Platform China Contemporary Art Institute
Address: D07 Main 2nd Street, 798 Art District, No.2 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China)
Courtesy Platform China Contemporary Art Institute.