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Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Utopia That Can't Be Realized

In my recent review of Between Past and Future at ICP and the Asia Society I did not specifically mention the work of Wang Qingsong. Wang is probably the artist in the show who is most well known to American audiences thanks to the substantial press he has received here in the last year.

His large photo Night Revels of Lao Li is one of the centerpieces of the ICP portion of the show. It embodies most of the ideas the curators wanted to explore with the exhibition: rapid social change, engagement with history in this new era, the cultural hybridity created with the collision of east and west, and the reworking of traditional artistic forms in new media. (Wang makes an image of this piece available on his website along with a reproduction of the scroll painting that inspired the work.)

The new issue of NYFA Current presents an interesting essay by Wang as part of its In Their Own Words feature. Wang discusses the instigating ideas for his work, his working method, and details about the creation of two recent pieces--China Mansion and Romantique.

He closes the essay with this sentence:
Like in China Mansion, the communication in Romantique is forced, manufactured, chaotic, and confusing--a fabricated prosperity and happiness, like a utopia that can't be realized.
His closing remark, about a utopia that can't be realized, struck me as being an apt epithet for both the exhibition and the current state of Chinese culture. Marxism didn't bring the utopia that was promised, and now capitalism is beginning to show its failures as well. The artists in Between Past and Future may be some of the first to highlight this fact for the world.



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