Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Review of Huang Chih-Yang from New Chinese Art at the Asia Society

With a proliferation of blockbuster shows outside New York, ie. Van Gogh in D.C., Monet in Boston, Delacroix in Phildelphia and M. Cassat in Chicago and the majority of exhibitions in New York being video, performance, photography and installation I was recently jolted by the unique vision on display at the Asia Society Gallery of New Chinese Art. This exhibition brings to the stage a variety of imagery from divergent sources within Chinese culture both domestic and expatriate. The work that moved me out of my complacency was by the artist Huang Chih-Yang and is an exhibition unto itself of eight large hanging scrolls, contemporary visions of the figure painted in ink on paper. Huang’s work exists beyond the cultural boundaries of traditional brush and ink on scroll because of its bold scale and modern psychological edge but it also springs from this ancient continuum in a primal and very vital way, in the same way that the large portrait pieces done by Lucien Freud of Leigh Bowery draw on the tradition and historical anomaly of western easel painting. But first, the consideration of scale in contemporary art which in Huang’s work is totally appropriate and which also harkens back to ancient Chinese sources, ie. The caves at Dunhaung and Shaanxi. Huge scale itself should not be a ploy to mask deficiencies or even be a prerequisite for contemporary art but when combined with a mastery of all other components that pull together and complete a work of art, outsize scale can deliver an amazing punch. I’m thinking of Chuck Close’s portraits, his most recent being free and painterly work so alive and vibrant because he has finally used the paint in a sensuous and authoritative way. So scale can enhance or detract but when used successfully and succinctly as Huang does here one perceives and it resounds with a durable and deep resonance to both ancient and contemporary sources.

What so fine tunes Huang’s art is it’s build upon those very traditional sources. His brushstroke is a muscular rendering of volumn and form at once a visual abstract panorama of lush vibrant marksmanship and then in full focus the delineation of the figure with a complete psychological component. “Zoon”, the Chinese character that titles this series refers to craziness and reflects Huang’s concern with emotion, fear, taboos and fantasies. Unlike many of the new Chinese artists he has not adopted the language of minimalism but instead draws on native Taiwanese folk tradition and skews it with a momentum imbued with the modern elements of fragmentation and deliberate chaos that resists the authority of the newly industrialized Taiwan. These monster humans are not civilized people…as Huang says…”Man is such an animal. I am such an animal.” His work deals with the myriad elements of natural environment, traditional culture, urban modernization and unmasked human nature. His work creates a panorama of elemental human emotion and a physicality driven by a staccato industrial brushstroke and most importantly breaks with the conditional notion of a static “Chinese” art and instead creates a powerful new mix of cultural vision in sync with the larger world we now inhabit.

Stephanie Bell Behnke

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