Marius BERCEA, CAI Guoqiang, CHEN Tingshih, CHUANG Che, CHU Teh-chun, CHU Weibor, DONG Shaw-hwei, Ben EDMUNDS, Howard FONDA, FONG Chung Ray, FOUJITA Tsuguharu, GAO Xinjian, Handrio, Noriyuki HARAGUCHI, HONG Zhu An, HSIEH Tehching, JU Ming, Keith Haring, KOON Wai Bong, Susumu KOSHIMIZU, LEE Tsai-chien, LI Chen, LIU Dan, Crystal Lupa, Takesada MATSUTANI, Yoshitomo NARA, Etan Pavavalung, Chiharu SHIOTA, Fadjar SIDIK, Adam Parker SMITH, Atsuko TANAKA, Katarina Janečková Walshe, WANG Panyoun, WU Guanzhong, Meguru YAMAGUCHI, Guy YANAI, YANG Chihung, YUN Gee, ZAO Wou-ki
The inauguration of Asia Art Center’s Taipei flagship space is an important milestone in the gallery’s quest to nurture and enrich the arts. “Transgression,” the title of the opening exhibition, conveys the ideals of transcendence and limitless creativity. As the artist Li Chen has said, “Great works of art are usually conceived in the paradox between the pure and the extreme.” Transcending boundaries is a fundamental creative force in artistic expression that enables both artists and audiences to break free from the constraints of contemporary time and space, to reconstruct the imagined reality proposed by an artwork and outline a new aesthetic framework. In the contemporary era of rapidly globalized visual experiences, art has become a means to explore the boundaries of the philosophical mandala. The ability to analyze and comprehend art is no longer limited to appreciation at the perceptual level, and interaction with art requires more intuitive awareness rooted in cultural understanding. Through this critical shift, art becomes a channel of open exchange that allows people to see and refer to certain blind spots that are invisible to the world.
In 1982, the Asia Art Center anchored its entry point in art history. Since then, the center has expanded its initial focus on post-war Chinese art to the global horizon—the title “Transgression” further echoes the unrestricted expansion of the Asia Art Center. Through the collective integration of historical experiences, we can better understand the value and significance of each artwork in the contemporary era so as to establish a broader, more comprehensive artistic vision.
Although the concept of “Chinese and Western Fusion” has fallen out of favor in contemporary arts discourse, it is an issue that Chinese artists have been unable to escape after the introduction of modern art. The modernist and progressive philosophies brought over by European and American powers posed great challenges to traditional Asian cultural, social, and economic structures. Chinese artists living abroad face even more complex challenges, such as defining how to express one’s cultural heritage in the form of modern art and negotiate one’s identity in a foreign landscape, using a non-native artistic language. Finding answers to these questions is a lifelong endeavor for many diaspora artists. Tsuguharu Foujita, a representative of the School of Paris; Chinese artists Sanyu and Walasse Ting; as well as Zao Wou-ki, Chu Teh-Chun, and Wu Guanzhong, who are known in France as the “Three Musketeers” of Chinese Modern Art, are particularly distinct examples of the diaspora dilemma. If the contributions of these artists were all reduced to an essentializing framework of East-West dichotomy and integration, it would be difficult to clearly explain the unique challenges they faced in their respective eras. After all, the term “Chinese and Western Fusion” is a symbolic construct which entails that every diaspora artist undertakes the project of developing their own unique codes of self-identification.
In the 1950s, after the Second World War, Abstract Expressionism swiftly took over the global mainstream. After the center of the art world shifted from Paris to New York, avant-garde art developed rapidly alongside the pace of globalization over the next 20 years. During this time, the Asian art scene began actively responding to this new wave of art. Nevertheless, various regions in Asia are still piecing together fragments of their culture. Under the circumstances set in motion by the Cold War, the strong cultural development of advanced countries resulted in considerable setbacks in the artistic ecology of other regions.
Around that time, Taiwanese artists including Chu Weibor, Lee Tsai-Chien, Chuang Che, Fong Chung-Ray, Chen Ting-shish, and several others in the late 1950s to the 1960s formed numerous art associations — such as the Fifth Moon Group and the Eastern Art Association — and organized various types of collaborative exhibitions in response to the new Western gaze upon a land yet untouched by avant-garde art. Having cultivated a progressive spirit, they broke away from traditional aesthetic conventions and re-evaluated the symbiosis of Western art forms and Eastern culture and language. After that, the frenzy of painting groups catalyzed the development of modern art in Taiwan and was a pioneering force of the modern art movement in the following decades.
After the war, Japan desperately sought refuge from the despair of defeat, and the consequent drive for innovation seeped into the psyches of post-war artists and eventually involved into a code of conduct. The Gutai Group thus became a channel through which artists Atsuko Tanaka and Takesada Matsutani pursued artistic freedom. In order to break through rigid social structures and restrictions, Noriyuki Haraguchi, Susumu Koshimizu, and Nobuo Sekine form a delicate balance among all reactionary passions through materiality and distill the absolute spirit of material and medium in their works. Japanese post-war art accepted Western avant-garde forms, but its essence was born out of traditional Japanese culture. The essential Zen Buddhist philosophy all harmas are empty of characteristics manifests in the delicate interactions between the spiritual and the material, exemplified by the Gutai and Mono-ha movements.
Further south, post-war and post-colonial Indonesia also developed its own unique modern art style. The most distinct divide in the Indonesian New Art Movement (also known as Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru or GSRB) between Bandung and Yogyakarta reflects the conflicting political views throughout Indonesia at the time. Bandung was once the political center of the former Dutch colony, thus it was heavily influenced by Western avant-garde aesthetics, while Yogyakarta was once the ancient capital of Indonesia, so it promoted decolonization and nationalism. The tense political atmosphere between the two cities shaped very different art communities. However, despite these tensions, avant-garde artists in Indonesia such as Handrio and Fadjar Sidik still sought to achieve a balance between aesthetics, form, and national traditions, not only repairing Indonesia’s post-war history but also redefining the image of post-war art in Southeast Asia.
The Spirit of the East
Following the accumulation of artistic exchanges between Eastern and Western cultures after the war, the “Spirit of the East” arose as a new conceptualization of contemporary art. However, the Spirit of the East is not only an artistic style that expresses cultural differences, nor is it an alternative code shaped by blindly feeding back to Western vocabulary. It breaks through the boundaries of contemporary art with an attitude of the “other” in order to distinguish its position. Just as Zen returned to the East through Western conceptual art, cultural introspection/retrospection has proven to be an indispensable method for aesthetic development since ancient times. Especially in this context characterized by the rapid turnover of globalized images, the fusion of different artistic styles, as well as repeated forms and themes, the value of contemporary art is increasingly difficult to distinguish, making creations with cultural heritage increasingly rare. The Spirit of the East provides an alternative aesthetic outlet for contemporary art. For example, Xu Bing transformed language and literature into a dialectic of classical philosophical thought as he blurred the boundary of written characters as cultural vessels through calligraphic reconstruction. Cai Guo-Qiang evokes the serendipitous flow of classical ink rhyme through his use of gunpowder; however, despite appearing harmless or even beautiful at first glance, the material is extremely lethal. Cai leverages this paradox as a metaphor for the progress of contemporary civilization, which also carries a comparable destructive impact. In addition, Li Chen’s ink black sculptures, lightened by gold and silver foil, are imbued with an aura that emits a sense of “monumental levity,” and naiveté. In terms of composition, they reflect neither traditional sculpture nor modern forms, thus eliciting a quiet tension that elegantly alludes to the Zen philosophy concept of being the void that is not the vacuity.Hsieh Teh-ching uses his own body to estimate the passage of time through personal, prolonged, and repetitious acts of confinement or ritual, embodying the essence of an ascetic monk—through his integration of performance in his artistic practice, Hsieh dissolves the boundary between art and life. To Gao Xingjian, who valued individualism and autonomous thought, practiced painting as one of his various means of creative expression. He manifests his aesthetic conception of Zen and Eastern philosophy in traditional Chinese ink wash painting through abstraction, demonstrating the overall value of cultural foundation. Ultimately, just as the Renaissance made Western aesthetics mature after centuries of inheritance in Europe, innumerable artists who traversed the spiritual path of the Spirit of the East. In addition to the aforementioned artists, many other diaspora artists devoted themselves to other places and other avant-garde art movements that emerged in Asia after the war, eventually promoting an even more diverse and unique artistic framework.
Moreover, Li Chen, who has been collaborating with Asia Art Center for almost two decades, created a series titled “Ethereal Cloud” in 2011; selected works on paper from the series, in juxtaposition with sculptures, will be presented in a curated program. The eccentric shapes of his works seem like cumulonimbus-shaped stone, or bear a similarity to cursive calligraphy resembling flora and fauna; their presence includes an “extraordinarily bizarre” feat that is both highly grotesque and self-reproductive. The culture of ancient Chinese imagery is embodied by the changing shape of ethereal clouds. Li stated, “The Ethereal Cloud series as a whole is deliberate but also an expression without intent, a nonexistence of consciousness; as the work can be viewed from four directions, they showcase the “cloud” as a fluid matter that has begun manifesting its unrestrained characteristics in distinct forms.” The sense of free style in Li Chen’s Ethereal Cloud ultimately elicits the originality of the abstract art of the East.
Global Contemporary Art
Regardless of the development of the Spirit of the East or the international contemporary art, the synthesis and evolution of Eastern spirit and Western aesthetics has long been a basic understanding that cannot be ignored in the development of art globalization, and the two are no longer separate entities. In the contemporary era where cultures are becoming increasingly homogenous, the expression of local cultural identity has become a critical pursuit. However, contemporary art must also respond to the influence of its temporal environment and capture or echo the current zeitgeist. This premise is also at the core of Asia Art Center’s philosophy for sustainable management. We examine each artist’s creative process and influence and determine their position in the global spectrum, so as to construct the context of the Asian Art Center more comprehensively.