Friday, November 4, 2011

China Institute: 65th Street btwn Park and Lexington

The China Institute in the upper east side is a cultural center that offers lectures, language courses, musical performances, and art exhibits. I went to the institute to take a look at their current exhibition (through December 11, 2011) "Blooming in the Shadows: Unofficial Chinese Art, 1974-1985" of paintings from 3 artist groups: the caocao she (grass society), wuming (no name), and xingxing (stars group).

The Wuming group was made up of artists who met in secrecy.  Many of them came from families that were disjointed, with the parents and/or the children sent away by the government to labor camps or farms.  Their art was considered subversive and they met by forging transportation papers and met in remote rural areas and in private homes to paint.  Their hardships were innumerable and their art dramatically expressed their melancholy and desolation.

The caocao she group formed with the purpose of putting together an artists exhibition.  Their non-traditional (non-government approved) style led them to name themselves the grass society, alluding to their irrepressible nature, like "weeds that persist after spring flowers fade."   Their abstract ink paintings and oil paintings are interestingly very similar to western abstraction.  There is definitely an Asian feeling, but there is a modernism that is remarkable in Communist China in the 70s and 80s.

The Xingxing group's name is a reference to how the artists are stars, independent from the "sun" (Mao Zedong) around which all things cultural revolved in China.  The collection on exhibit at the institute is small, but among the paintings, wood carvings (see cropped photo of a sculpture above), and modern mixed media pieces, my favorite are the Ai Weiwei pieces.  I especially liked the silhouette of Marcel Duchamp made from a coat hanger and the teetering wooden stool with 5 legs--how fun is that?

Unfortunately, there is no photography allowed in the galleries, so the only way you'll get to see this amazing collection is if you go to the institute yourself.  Admission is $7/adult and $4/students and seniors, but free on Tuesday and Thursday evenings (6-8 pm).  Please make a visit and take the time to read the descriptions of each collection.  You'll get an incredible insight into life in Communist China after the Cultural Revolution through 1985 (when modern art was officially permitted by the Communist Party).

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