LONG MUSEUM WEST BUND
|Exhibition Narrative and Poetry||Victor Wang|
From July 22nd to October 8th, 2023, Long Museum (West Bund) will present Huang Rui's solo exhibition “The Name of Absence". This exhibition is Huang Rui's largest showcase to date, bringing together over 60 artworks spanning four decades, including The Star Period, Courtyard Series, Space Structure, Space, Painting Cubic Installation, Inside-out Dao, Absence Series, and Performance Art Photography. It is a new and revised exploration of the artist's creative journey.
This exhibition embraces two distinct curatorial approaches, providing viewers with a unique and multifaceted perspective on Huang Rui's artistic evolution. Firstly, it builds and expands upon the research and questions raised in his most recent large-scale exhibition in 2021, further exploring and pushing the concept of abstraction and its unique characteristics in China. Secondly, the exhibition integrates poetry written by writer and curator Victor Wang as a guiding narrative and framework, influencing the exhibition’s layout, composition, and arrangement of artworks on display.
Both the artist and writer have utilized the idea of “Tao (Dao)” in Taoism to organize the flow and layout of the exhibition. Often translated as ”way” in English, this approach allowed the show to break free from the traditional chronological approach in making survey exhibitions, and from the traditional binary between abstraction and figurative art. By embracing the fluidity of the Tao, the exhibition unfolded around three key pivotal works - “Oxygen No.1” (1981), “Portrait”(1975), and “Heaven, Earth, Man – Heaven” (2023) - complemented by a series of early performance pieces and key series of abstract works. Through this unconventional approach, the exhibition questions the division between figuration and abstraction, and sheds light on the profound influence of music, poetry, and performance in shaping the development of Chinese contemporary art, particularly in Huang Rui's remarkable artistic approach to abstraction and post-figurative art.
“The Name of Absence” exhibition unfolds over several distinct chapters and poems, each unveiling different facets of Huang Rui's artistic evolution which include photography and performance while contemplating how music, poetry, and East Asian philosophy have influenced the development of abstract painting in China and Huang’s work. Drawing on the legacy of music and poetry are important elements, notably, the exhibition pays homage to the pivotal encounter between Huang Rui and Jean-Michel Jarre, the ‘godfather’ of French electronic music, in 1981. Inspired by Jarre’s music, Huang Rui created the “Oxygen” series, responding to the invitation by Jarre to capture the essence of his music through interactive paintings, thus opening one important door to abstraction.
The choice of poetry, as an underlining structure in both the work and exhibition, stems from Huang Rui's artistic development and serves as a testament to the profound influence of poetry in shaping his creative journey. His connection with writer and poet Beidao, established in 1969, and his active participation in the Underground Poetry Salon in 1971, marked a pivotal moment in his artistic path. Moreover, the significance of poetry extends beyond Huang Rui's personal growth, playing an often overlooked role in China’s modernity.
Throughout the exhibition, Huang Rui's exploration of abstraction unfolds, specifically through the artist’s Absence Series, and in his new work “Heaven, Earth, Man – Heaven” (2023), and again through a series of spatial interventions and layout, revealing a distinctive approach that transcends a mere dialogue with Euro-American abstraction – but a form that goes beyond that. In the artist’s most recent work, “Heaven, Earth, Man – Heaven”, the customary ontological frameworks of viewing art from the front are relinquished. The conventional Western paradigm in painting, whereby the contemplation of painting is confined to frontal engagement, is untangled, and a novel tridimensionality painting takes form, with neither front nor rear. Instead, an assemblage of surfaces intersects in a multi-perspective trajectory, unveiling themselves to the viewer with each step, as they walk through the space and around the work.
In his Absence Series, Huang Rui employs a unique technique of the ‘no-dao’, creating two layers of space within the canvas. By excavating a hole in the surface of the painting and suspending it at a distance from the wall, he establishes a fascinating interplay between the cavity and the surrounding architecture, forming a new spatial perspective that challenges the traditional notions of picture-plane relationships. Implementing a type of Wu Wei (无为) to abstraction, which allows the work to unfold naturally without resistance – harmoniously incorporating both the viewer and the exhibition space. This dynamic interaction not only opposes the two-dimensionality of the picture but also embraces it, leading to a captivating contradiction that transcends traditional abstraction into an immersive picture installation, one that shifts from a flat plane to a three-dimensional realm of architecture.
Performance art, alongside photography, holds a significant place in Huang Rui's artistic practice, and its importance is underscored in the exhibition by the inclusion of early historical performance works such as “Another Bridge” from 1995, shedding light on the profound relationship between performance and photography that emerged during this pivotal period in contemporary art. These performances not only offered a fresh avenue for self-expression but also became a powerful means of conveying essential ideas after China’s reform and opening-up, which often could only be done through the power of abstraction.
About Huang Rui
Born in 1952, based in Beijing. He was a founding member of the groundbreaking Chinese avant-garde art group The Stars. In 1979, he made the first public appearance of his work at the “Stars Art Exhibition”. In the 80s, his practice centered on painting, and his works were influenced by Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism. In the 1990s he began to explore more diverse and experimental art-making techniques, including installation, performance art, photography, and prints.
His major solo exhibitions include ”The Art Life of Huang Rui”(Jupiter Museum of Art, Shenzhen,2021); “Ways of Abstraction” (UCCA, Beijing,2021); “Animal Time: 1204-2009” (Coudenberg Museum, Brussels, 2009); “Chinese History in Animal Time” (Museo delle Mura, Rome, 2009); “Huang Rui: The Stars’ Times 1977-1984”(He Xiangning Art Museum, Shenzhen, 2007); “Chai-Na/China” (Les Rencontres d’ Arles Photography Festival, 2007); “Huang Rui Exhibition” (Osaka Contemporary Art Center, 1990). Select group exhibitions include ”Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2017); “CHINA 8” (Various Venues, Germany, 2015); the Venice Biennale (2013); and the “Stars Art Exhibition” (East Garden of the National Art Gallery, Beijing, 1979).
About Victor Wang
Victor Wang, curator, he is currently Executive Deputy and Artistc Director of M WOODS Museum. Wang has curated collaborative exhibitions with institutions such as Palais de Tokyo, Paris, Tate Modern, London, The National Gallery, Berlin, and the first collaborative exhibition between the British Museum (U.K.) and a non-state-run art museum in China.
Wang has recently curated the first large-scale museum surveys in China of artists such as: Ann Veronica Jannsens (2023); Salman Toor (2023); Martin Margiela (2022); Bruce Nauman (2022); Man Ray (2021); Ryuichi Sakamoto (2021); Giorgio Morandi (2020); and Richard Tuttle, (2019), all at M WOODS Museum, and Haroon Mirza at the Sifang Art Museum in Nanjing, (2019), Katja Novitskova at Cc Foundation in Shanghai (2017), and Neïl Beloufa at the chi K11 art museum in Shanghai (2016).Wang has previously served as curator of Frieze LIVE at the Frieze Art Fair in London (2020), and curator for PHOTOFAIRS in Shanghai (2018).
Wang has given lectures on curating at several universities, including The Courtauld Institute of Art in London, Goldsmiths at the University of London, and he is a regular guest tutor at the Royal College of Art, London. Additionally, he is the founder of the Institute of Asian Performance Art (IAPA).