The Long Museum celebrates the tenth anniversary with "Being in the World"


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The Long Museum's tenth anniversary coincides with a time when we have been unable to be in the world. The Covid pandemic has led to societies around the globe being in confinement. This exhibition is conceived in response to our yearning for social encounters and for being in the world - all through the prism of the artist’s eye. The human figure dominates. The assembled paintings and installations encompass artists’ self-portraits, family albums, strangers in surreal scenarios, groups gathered in social activities.

Being in the World takes us on a journey through four ‘episodes’ each themed after one work. Episode One focuses on the single figure, on artists’ self portraits and the relation between artist and model. The paintings in Episode Two capture the dynamics of families, friends and lovers. Episode Three features depictions of groups who may be strangers or colleagues, workers or revellers.

Episode Four takes us into the realm of abstraction where artists use colour, light and form to generate sensory environments. We move from looking at the body from outside, to occupying the body from inside, in order to encounter the material reality.

There may be one dominant subject – the human – but there are a multitude of aesthetic approaches. Ranging from collage to hyperrealism, they reflect major movements in modern and contemporary art.

Episode One

Crystal Landscape of the Inner Body, 2000

Chen Zhen

A ‘crystal landscape’ of glass organs is a self-portrait by Shanghai artist, Chen Zhen. He suffered an incurable illness but found catharsis by imagining his organs as shining and eternal. This poignant work opens a section dedicated to the psychic, formal and narrative potential of the portrait.   

The human head is richly symbolic – it supports the crown, the dunce’s hat, the veil, all signifiers of status. The head leads, judges or controls.  Formally it is a sphere on a plinth, with planes and hollows. The face is a medium for expression but can also present an inscrutable mask. It can stir memories, longing or regret.

Artists’ self-portraits might just say ‘I am the artist’, a bold assertion for women or artists of colour who have been sidelined in art history. The head, torso or full figure may be a way of exploring colour, contour and line.  For some the self-portrait is a study in mortality. The body may also be a vehicle to the inner self, an arena of feeling or of the unconscious.

Episode One also features many portraits of others. They might be studies of models in the studio or a stranger the artist has seen or imagined. Their clothing, attitude and surroundings give us clues to their personal stories.

Some figures are steeped in mystery. We might interpret them as symbols of longing or alienation; or characters on the brink of a thrilling adventure!

Episode Two 

The Last Great Adventure is You, 2014

Tracey Emin

Written in light is a love letter by the British artist Tracey Emin. This artist grew up in a seaside resort that was once ablaze with neon signs.  Instead of advertising a bar or entertainment, this sign addresses a lover or a friend, in a public affirmation of love.

This section of the exhibition explores intimate human relations. A relationship can be between parent and child, siblings, lovers, friends or enemies. The connection may be momentary such as an encounter between strangers.  There may also be a failure to connect – within the closeness of two people there may be an unbridgeable chasm.

Relations generate drama – parental love or family strife; sexual desire fulfilled or frustrated; the platonic exchanges of friendship; the charge of unease or fascination excited by a stranger; conflict between enemies. A binary structure also offers artists a tableau, where two or three forms become compositional elements held in balance or pitted in opposition.

Episode Two stages a series of encounters – between real people or emblematic figures. We recognise the comfort, the attraction and the tensions of being with those who are close to us.  Whether the scene depicted is in China or from the rest of the world, this relational dynamic is universal.    

Episode Three

Civil Tapestry, 2016

Theaster Gates

African American artist Gates recycles the discarded hoses of the Fire Department in his native city of Chicago. They are symbolic of the high-pressure hoses used by the police against civil rights protestors in the 1960s. He has stitched them together to symbolically unify a community who suffer economic and political segregation.  

Civil Tapestry represents the concept of individuals coming together to create a civic body united by identity, place or ideology.  The works in this section show the universal aspects of social interaction.

They include depictions of artistic, rural, industrial or artisanal workers. There are paintings featuring individuals brought together by learning, or through attending an event. Other groups appear united through cultural acts such as joining a parade; or leisure activities such as playing snooker.  There are also depictions of those bound together through their ethnicity or class.

Group tableaux can be epic in tone and scale – they may be festive or memorialise a lost way of life. Images of dancers linked through gesture also create joyous visual compositions.   The paintings in Civil Tapestry often depict communities at a moment of societal change so entering the genre of history painting.

Episode Four

Infinity Circle, 2018
Raphaël Fenice

We look into what appears to be a circular mirror. Tiny lights spiral through a dark glass to lead our eye down an endless tunnel of light. Instead of finding our reflection in the mirror, French artist Raphaël Fenice has given us a glimpse into infinity.

Infinity Circle explores how the phenomenal world of light, space, matter and structure impact on perception. Artists may use simple geometric forms such as the cube or the sphere; but they repeat or combine them with light and colour to generate a feeling of transcendence.

The works here also use pure colour or mark-making to evoke the sensory experience of the earth, sea or sky. They evoke the sensation of looking to a horizon, feeling the heat of the sun, or watching twilight, through epically scaled abstract paintings. Some are airy and ethereal - others rough and tactile as if translating the surface of a rock or tree bark.    

The final episode of Being in the World moves away from identification with a figure; and from the stories generated by group scenarios. The art here is abstract, phenomenological, engaging us in a journey through space and time. It takes us to the edge of the sublime.

Exhibition View

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Poster.pngList of artists 

★Listed in alphabetical order by artist's last name


Ai Xuan

Rita Ackermann

Marina Abramović

Mamma Andersson

Lucas Arruda


Tony Bevan

Michaël Borremans

Huma Bhabha

Sarah Ball

Bae Yoon-Hwan


Chao Ge

Chang Qing

Chen Zhen

Miriam Cahn

George Condo

Chang Shuhong

Cheong Soo Pieng

Chen Danqing

Chen Fei

Chiu Ya-Tsai

John Currin

Chua Soobin


Ding Yanyong

Duan Jianwei

Marlene Dumas


Mimosa Echard

Tracey Emin

Mandy El-Sayegh


Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita

Fei Yifu

Maria Farrar

Dan Flavin

Raphaël Fenice


Paul Gauguin

Antony Gormley

Geng Jianyi

Guo Runwen

Theaster Gates


He Duoling

Hu Shanyu

Grace Hartigan

Han Young-Wook

Shara Hughes

Thomas Houseago

Jenny Holzer

Barkley L. Hendricks

Hu Jiancheng

David Hockney

Huang Rui

Loie Hollowell

Shirazeh Houshiary


Tetsuya Ishida


Rashid Johnson

Ji Xin

Jin Shangyi

Rachel Jones


Yayoi Kusama

Izumi Kato

Scott Kahn

Alex Katz


Luo Zhongli

Li Tianyuan

Luo Erchun

Li Jikai

Liu Xiaodong

Lee Ufan

Liu Wei

Liu Wei

Lee Jin-Woo

Lee Kun-Yong


Amedeo Modigliani

René Magritte

Ana Mendieta

Kerry James Marshall

Mao Yan

Zanele Muholi


Ouyang Chun

Toyin Ojih Odutola


Pan Yuliang

Pang Maokun

Gatot Pujiarto

Otto Piene


Qi Zhilong

Qin Yifeng


Neo Rauch

Mark Rothko

Gerhard Richter


Su Tianci

Shen Ling

Song Kun

Shen Xiaotong

Shih Yung Chun

Amy Sherald

Shang Yang

Dana Schutz

Jenny Saville


Tang Yunyu

Emmanuel Taku

Wolfgang Tillmans


Peter Uka



Adrián Villar Rojas


Wang Chuan

Wang Huaiqing

Wang Yin

Wang Qiang

Wei Ershen

Wei Rong

Wang Jinsong


Xu Mangyao

Xie Nanxing

Xiong Yu

Xu Beihong

Xia Junna

Xia Xiaowan


Yang Liguang

Yan Li

Yu Hong

Yan Lei

Yang Feiyun

Yang Fudong

Yin Zhaoyang


Yu Youhan


Zhang Qianying

Zhang Jian

Zhang Xiaogang

Zhou Chunya

Zeng Fanzhi

Zhang Enli

Zhao Shou

Zhao Zhao

Courtesy of the Long Museum.