Originally published in The Economist | NEW YORK
A new exhibition focuses on art that was made in or inspired by China between 1989 and 2008
HANGING from the ceiling of the magnificent rotunda that Frank Lloyd Wright created for the Guggenheim Museum in 1959 is an undulating black dragon. Twenty-six metres (85 feet) long, it is made almost entirely of the inner tubes of bicycles. Its head is a sculptural confection of broken cycles, its rear a writhing excrescence of black rubber loops. The visual etymology is obviously and satisfyingly Chinese. Then you notice hundreds of tiny black cars crawling all over its underbelly, like head lice on a schoolchild—symbolic of the moment when the country, in the headlong pursuit of economic growth, swerved from pedal power to petroleum.
From left, Kan Xuan, Yu Hong, Sun Yuan, Peng Yu and Qiu Zhijie are in the Guggenheim exhibition “Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World.” The backdrop is Qiu Zhijie’s ink-on-paper “Map of Theater of the World,” commissioned for the show.CreditGilles Sabrie for The New York Times
Where the Wild Things Are: China’s Art Dreamers at the Guggenheim By JANE PERLEZ
BEIJING — The signature work at “Art and China After 1989,” a highly anticipated show that takes over the Guggenheim on Oct. 6, is a simple table with a see-through dome shaped like the back of a tortoise. On the tabletop hundreds of insects and reptiles — gekkos, locusts, crickets, centipedes and cockroaches – mill about under the glow of an overhead lamp.
Sitting in a Zen-inspired studio in a converted school building on the Lower East Side, the Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang bemoaned how his native country’s art is often squeezed between pronouncements of record auction prices and denouncements of China’s one-party political system when it is presented in the United States and to some extent Europe.
Hei Hung-Lu (left) and Robert H. Ellsworth (right) in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, hunting for ink paintings in 1981. Courtesy Andy Hei.
“Objects are your best teachers,” Robert Hatfield Ellsworth liked to say. But now that America’s greatest Asian art dealer is gone, many of us recall Bobby as our best teacher. Collector, connoisseur, world traveller, scholar, author, generous donor and cultural diplomat, Ellsworth was the preeminent force behind the growth of the market for Asian art in America from the mid-1960s until his recent death, on August 3, 2014, in New York City. And while he is best known for his pioneering passion for Chinese archaic jades, early Buddhist sculpture, calligraphic rubbings, Ming hardwood furniture, Qing monochrome porcelain, and modern Chinese painting and calligraphy, he was equally influential in stimulating the fields of Indian, Himalayan, and Southeast Asian art. He also loved Japan: Among the first works of art that greeted us upon entry into his twenty-two room apartment at 960 Fifth Avenue was a superb Kamakura-period standing wood figure of the Jizō Bosatsu (Sanskrit: Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva). It was a likely mascot for a man remembered as a loyal friend and protector; a magnanimous being of grace.