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Chen Yanning
Chairman Mao Inspects the Guangdong Countryside
(1972)

   
       
 

Paint the town...

   
 

Chinese Red!

   

 

  

 

Art and China's Revolution, currently at Asia Society, is of particular interest because it is one of the first shows to exhibit the work of leading Chinese artists from 1949 to the end of the 1970's.  This period encompasses the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976) when Mao Zedong unleashed a period of repression especially cruel to artists. 

During this time, art schools were shuttered and artists publicly humiliated and sometimes tortured.  Older Chinese artists trained in traditional Chinese techniques such as calligraphy and ink painting were sent to the countryside to be 'reeducated.'   While some professed to enjoy themselves as they communed with their peasant compatriots, for many reeducation amounted to little more than forced labor. 

Using Soviet Social Realism as a template, the Maoist government encouraged socially relevant work and urged artists to abandon the techniques of the past which they associated with bourgeois decadence.  The paintings and posters depicting Mao, including Tang Xiaohe's Strive Forward in Wind and Tides (1971) and Chen Yanning's Chairman Mao Inspects the Guangdong Countryside (1972), both oil-on-canvas, closely resemble Soviet revolutionary works in their composition and use of bold colors.  In the Chinese paradigm, Mao has replaced Lenin as the focal point.

In spite of the numerous restrictions imposed by the Maoist government, some artists continued to create works about non-revolutionary subjects in secret.  The No Name Group was a group of artists who believed in 'art for art's sake' and painted still lives, landscapes, and portraits.  In order to evade possible sanctions, they created small paintings that could easily be hidden or carried away should they have to make quick escapes.  Li Shen's exquisite Golden Lotus Pond (1975-78 ) with its mustard yellow lotus leaves and dark olive weeping foliage, measures a mere 9 5/8 by 7 3/8 inches.  Ma Kelu's 1975 Morning Snow, rich in shades of white that verge on light blue, depicts a serene winter scene.

It is especially encouraging that some of the artists exhibited in Art and China's Revolution such as Xu Bing and Zhang Hongtu, both of whom endured the rigors of reeducation, have gone on to international success in the contemporary art world.

 

See: Art and China's Revolution is at Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue, New York City, September 5 - January 11

 

Tags:  art  china   color

 

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Ma Kelu
Morning Snow (1975) 

 

 


Zhang Hongtu 
Untitled (Peasant) (
1972)

       
 

 
       
     

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