Chinese cupping (and other eccentricities)

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Zhang Hongtu, Shitao (Ten Thousand Ugly Inkblots Variation)- van Gogh (detail)

Opening Reception, Friday, September 30 from 6-8 pm at the JSMA

We stood over the statue of the corpulent Chinese man, his body stretched out on what appeared to be a block of ice. Across the folds of his back perched champagne glasses, suctioning his skin into perfect round lumps.

“One of the glasses shattered earlier,” said Anne Rose Kitagawa, the Schnitzer’s chief curator of collections (among other titles). Apparently, other museums had experienced similar difficulties with the sculpture. “He came with lots of replacement glasses,” she said with a smile.

Kitagawa, Debbie Williamson (aka my boss aka SLUG Queen Holly GoSlugly) and I were previewing East/West: Visually Speaking, an eclectic exhibit featuring about a dozen Chinese artists that opens tonight at the Jordan Schnitzer.

It’s an eclectic collection from about a dozen Chinese artists who all have something to say about the East, the West and relations between them. But whatever you do, don’t take them in as having a single message.

“I hope the pieces’ individual messages don’t get lost,” said Kitagawa. “They all have different things to say, and the messages don’t necessarily relate to each other.”

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a sculpture of a dragon with two smiling babies perched on top, waving Pepsi bottles gleefully in the air. It’s a luridly colored piece of pop art that skirts the line between advertising and satire with a blatant message on globalization (Luo Brothers, Welcome the Famous Brands to China).

That piece is in sharp contrast with my favorite one, an enormous painting by Zhang Hongtu that duplicates a famous painting by Ching dynasty artist Shintao in the style of van Gogh.

It pays perfect tribute to Shintao’s mischievous style- he hid radical messages behind eccentricity- but is also a reference to the traditional rules of Chinese court painting.

“Chinese court painters were all about history and tradition. They would emulate past painters, who were emulating past painters, and on and on,” Kitagawa said. The trick was finding a way to present original ideas or tweaked styles within these constraints. So Hongtu is paying respect to tradition and history and at the same time radically altering it.

You should seriously go see this painting. It’s swirly, textured surface will make you so tempted to reach out and touch you’ll be drooling.

NEWS!: Tomorrow or the next day I’ll be writing about Xiaoze Xie’s Amplified Moments (also opening today at the JSMA with a speech by the artist. Go to this thing!). Oh, and I GOT TO INTERVIEW THE ARTIST! Stay tuned…

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