Permanent Abstraction: Epiphanies of a Modern Form in Escaped Totalities

On November 6, 2016, Permanent Abstraction: Epiphanies of a Modern Form in Escaped Totalities open at the Red Brick Art Museum in Beijing. The exhibition is curated by Su Wei and Sonja Lau.

We can see in “abstract” painting the imagination of the nation and the state and also private sensibilities, but despite this “abstract” painters are marginalized and sadly often not given a historical position. However, this might only be the case if we perceive “abstract” painting from a modernist aesthetic perspective. From the 1930s onwards, revolutionary ideology and from the 1950s onwards, the aesthetic ideology of mandatory realism, constructed a narrative that dominated Chinese culture. “Abstract” art was like a “present absentee” in these two societally and government-guided ideologies; “abstract” art experienced Chinese political and cultural history along with the rest of art, but it did not seem to exercise its political power or ability to construct history, its intrinsic perceptual power and long-standing inability to openly present its aesthetic sensibility meant it failed to claim its historical position. What we perceive as “abstraction” was repressed, broken, and without historical foundation; it existed in the shadows, scattered to all corners of history, so an aesthetic imagery form became an “abstract” structure.

Today in the Chinese contemporary art world, with a lack of this historical and contextual linkage, “abstract” art is currently flourishing as both imagery and form. “Abstraction” received political affirmation precisely because it made no outwardly apparent references. In the meantime, we can all sense that the political value system carries a dose of nihilism, and that economic value is all that is allowed to be expressed. This veneration of the economic has permeated the still inseparable cultural and political worlds. If we foster a cognitive dialogue with a Suprematist painting, these values suit the completely “abstract” structure: economics, as the only set of foundational principles allowed, are omnipresent, and thus the final site for values are a reference to a sense of lost time and space. To a large extent, the self-referential political/economic vacuum, dictates the space for artistic creation.

Based on this focus on “abstract” structures, we might boldly infer that the history of “abstract” art as a canon does not give a full account of the history of the genre. This history compels us to look back and discover a new historical conclusion and interpretive space. “Permanent Abstraction” refers to a historical story that has not yet disappeared. “Abstract” methods move between the political and artistic realms, which are parasites of one another and move in ways that suit one another. Due to the differences in historical experience and aesthetic ideas brought about by spatial and temporal dislocation, Chinese aesthetic traditions and modernist transplantations did not emerge as the primary threads of this exhibition. We tended to intensify the disappearance of a totality that was absolute, which blurred the temporal and spatial transformations of history and coexisted with both the past and the present. “Permanent Abstraction” parodies a complex “eternal” attitude to time, drawing also on its absoluteness and authoritarianism. It is the “abstract”, this modern identification of the everlasting but ever changing, a historical space-time transformation, but at the same time, it is also a kind of self-affirmation and self-mockery. On the basis of the interpretation of the metaphors of the images, the exhibition will use two narrative threads, “continuation” and “repetition”, to stimulate the transformation, penetration and diversification of this artistic trope, as well as the unattainable desire that the authoritative and dominant narrative cannot illustrate.


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Su Wei, Sonja Lau

Ding Yi, Eugen Popa, Li Jin, Liu Ding, K.M. Максимов, Ni Haifeng, Pang Xunqin, Triplicate Studio (Sui Jianguo, Zhan Wang and Yu Fan), Shi Zhenyu, Tang Jixiang and Yu Guohong, Wu Dayu, Wu Yinxian, Xie Nanxing, Yan Lei, Zhang Wei, Zhuang Yan

Organsied by:
Red Brick Art Museum