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"Current Directions in Chinese Abstraction"
2003-07-10 until 2003-07-20
Art Scene China
Hong Kong, , CN China

"Current Directions in Chinese Abstraction" is a new dual exhibition of the abstract works of Nanjing artist Zhao Biru and Shanghai artist Chen Xin Mao that opens on July 10, 2003 at Art Scene China's gallery on Fuxing West Road. The aim of the exhibition is to show how abstract art in Mainland China is evolving in a distinctly modern and Chinese way.

Zhao Biru, who has been making art since she was a young child, studied art at the Wuxi Light Industrial Institute. Both she and Chen Xin Mao use a very thin Xian Chinese ink calligraphy paper, a traditional Chinese medium. Chen, however, comes from a more academic background as he holds an MA degree from Nanjing Art Institute and is now an art professor. While there may be differences in age, gender and level of formal artistic training, both artists make innovative use of their media and tangentially link their art to the West while also remaining essentially Chinese. 

What makes the work of these artists identifiably "Chinese" is not just that they may include Chinese characters or use Xian paper, but rather it is the artists‚ organization of space, the equal importance of neutral space versus active space, and how they unify elements to make the work integral. Finally, "Directions in Chinese Abstraction" explores the idea that part of being a contemporary Chinese artist is being cognizant of Western influence. Importantly, Zhao Biru and Chen Xin Mao integrate Western influence in a way that compliments - rather than co-opts - the artists‚ style.

Chen Xin Mao, a veteran artist, has had his work exhibited in important exhibitions globally, as well as at the Shanghai Art Museum. Chen‚s The Sires of History Book uses large canvases, a triptych of three panels, measures 240cm x 320 cm per panel. The artist uses high horizon lines, making the viewer feel enveloped in the work even if viewing it from several meters away. This work can be compared to well-known German contemporary artist Anselm Kiefer's Das Buch (the Book) for inspiration. Keifer's use of high horizon lines makes the landscape appear extremely close. Both Chen and Kiefer include books in their work, which serve as focal points and as a symbol of history and politics. Yet Chen's texture is less severe than the work of Kiefer because Chen uses essentially softer Chinese or Asian materials - watercolor on Xian rice paper - in addition to the mixed media materials of Kiefer.

Zhao Biru uses watercolor in a similar way, achieving an ethereal layered effect that feels as though it was submerged under water. Yet, heavy, overbearing geometric forms serve to anchor her pictorial planes in a visceral way. Some may compare this element to the highly symbolic and historically-referential works of Western abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell. However, Zhao frames her dark shapes in watercolors while Motherwell leaves them clashing against bare canvass. Thus, like Chen, Zhao's work is tranquil in a distinctly Chinese way, yet relentlessly intense. 

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