Saturday, January 19, 2008

Contemporary Chinese Neo-Pop Art Being Shown At ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries

Contemporary Chinese Neo-Pop Art Being Shown At ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries

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Kang Can Cheers With Me, 2007, Oil on Canvas, 59x47 in.

CORAL GABLES, FL.-“Six 21st Century Chinese Neo-Pop Artists” includes oils and original works on paper by established artists such as Lu Peng and Liu Yan as well as emerging artists Li Bo, Kang Can, Xiong Lijun, and Yang Na.

“Although their styles are very different, the themes of Chinese neo-pop art often refer to the materialism and narcissism of the younger generation,” noted gallery director Virginia Miller. “Some artists present their views on their society’s corruption by Western influences, or contrast the punk rock culture with traditional Chinese images.”

The veteran gallerist noted that one of the frequently reported phenomena in the fine art world in recent years has been the skyrocketing demand for contemporary works from Asia, particularly China.

In a typical report in Time magazine, Simon Elegant states that “contemporary Chinese art is one of the hottest genres anywhere.” He goes on to observe that “in the past 18 months Sotheby’s has created a stand-alone modern Chinese art division, and Christie’s showcases the art alongside such modern masters as Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning.”

Reflecting that widespread international interest, the exhibition at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries has attracted the attention of both collectors and the art press.

The January issue of Art Premium, the leading art publication from Puerto Rico, features the show on its cover and in a heavily illustrated five-page article by staff writer Isabel Batteria. Wynwood, the hot new art magazine in Miami, gives the exhibition a six-page spread. The critic for Miami New Times, Carlos Suarez De Jesus, covered the show in the lead of his first column of the year, complete with a color photo.

“We had no idea we would receive such widespread critical attention,” said Miller. “And we’ve had many e-mails and dozens of calls from as far away as Belgium, Spain, Singapore, and Hong Kong.”

A virtual tour of the exhibition at www.virginiamiller.com shows that its two dozen works vary widely in style and subject matter, but several themes predominate.
Canvases and paintings on paper by the two older artists, Lu Peng and Liu Yan, contrast ancient art traditions, such as personalized calligraphy, Chinese opera and court portraits, with the burgeoning nation’s contemporary culture, while the younger artists focus on social satire and political statements.

“Lu Peng mines imagery from pre-revolutionary and revolutionary China as well as the consumer-oriented society of the past fifteen years,” observes art historian Lydia Thompson. “His paintings are a chaotic assemblage of people and symbols from China’s political and cultural history, evoking chaos, freedom, optimism and dismay.”

“Liu Yan creates a collage-like painting surface from China’s cultural detritus: pages of old books, gold foil, mulberry paper and reproductions of famous imperial portraits of a Qing emperor and empress. She then works in a pastiche of imagery and icons from traditional China and contemporary international popular culture, revealing the tensions that lie beneath China’s integration into global culture.”

Xiong Lijun’s oversized paintings with their jaunty young women rendered in fluorescent colors are described as “a masterful depiction of modern metropolitan youth culture” that “embody infinite enthusiasm, energy and imagination as well as boldness and independence of character,” according to China Daily.

Yang Na’s stylized portraits of women are “a composite of a commercial visual language of what is considered ‘sexy’ and ‘trendy,’” states Dr. Thompson, adding that the young artist’s inspiration comes from “mass media, cartoons, movies, videos, Internet games and toys.”

Paintings by Kang Can, another younger Chinese artist, feature an infant being crushed by a giant hamburger, drowning in orange juice, or napping atop a huge cigarette— all referring to pervasive Western influences and the Chinese edict restricting families to a single child.

Still more political are the paintings of Li Bo, who discards conventions of composition and scale and simply places his realistic subject matter, all images pulled off the Internet, in equal size along a centered line placed against a neutral gray background. A thoughtful examination discloses that he is protesting such current practices as the sale of prisoners’ organs, prostitution by young girls, and government propaganda broadcasts.

“Although pop-art has been historically associated with Western culture in America in particular,” noted guest curator Pierrette Van Cleve, “the political, social and artistic magnitude of the current movement continues to challenge this young generation of Chinese artists with similar momentum to forge ahead into unexplored territory.”

“These are pioneering Chinese neo-pop artists,” said Virginia Miller. “Only time will tell whether this is a pivotal moment in the long history of Chinese art, but at this moment these works are a hot commodity on the market.”

Located in downtown Coral Gables, ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries is Greater Miami’s longest-established fine art gallery, entering its 35th year. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment.

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