19 Solo Shows About Painting (Bi Jianye, Huang Liang, Jia Aili, Jin Shan, Liao Guohe, Li Qing, Liu Weijian, Lin Yen Wei, Ma Ke, Qin Qi, Qi Wenzhang, Sun Xun, Sun Wen, Song Yuanyuan, Wu Guangyu, Xiao Bo, Xiao Jiang, Xu Ruotao, Zhou Yilun)
Platform China, Caochangdi, Beijing, China
12 March – 31 May, 2011
Over the last few years Platform China has established a strong programme of shows, displaying refreshing latitude with respect to exhibition formats and presentation of artworks.
A couple of highlights for me included the extravagant group show “Jungle” from early last year. This expansive show continually refreshed itself over its two-month period, inviting the artists to adapt their installations and bringing in new artists. In what seems to have been a precursor to the current trend in Beijing of withdrawing the curator from the process of the show, “Jungle” eschewed such a figure or even an strong theme leaving the results in the hands of the artists (for better or worse).
At the end of 2010 “The Third Party” (which I reviewed on this site) represented the opposite stance in relation to curation, with Beatrice Leanza taking, if not centre stage as curator, then at least a dominant role, corralling the large collection of alternative practices.
And so we reach the current offering: “19 Solo Shows About Painting” has been produced by the Platform China Contemporary Art Institute as the first of what they propose will be an annual series of shows. Stepping back into curatorially-bereft territory, “19 Solo Shows…” mirrors the format of “Jungle,” with an extended collection of artists and a sprawling layout taking up a large part of both of Platform’s buildings. But this time the focus is squarely on painting and its presentation.
The gallery is divided into multiple, more or less well-defined rooms or areas, each of which is given over to a single artist. Aside from some interruptions, the spaces are treated fairly simply, with collections of paintings arranged on the walls in mostly innocuous configurations. Many of the artists have politely arranged their works in the space and have utilised the provided A4 sheet to give details of their pieces, and include a convenient plan showing their locations. The sheet also provides an opportunity for the artists to write a short statement in addition to the works.
Overall the feeling I got from moving through this show was surprisingly flat. “19 Solo Shows…” doesn’t fail to provide plenty to contemplate, but wandering through these rooms I was struck by how unengaged I felt with it all. There are the requisite examples of specific objects intently focused upon to take them back to a ground zero of form and meaning from which they emerge to reappropriate their relations with their neighbours (for example, Huang Lian’s series of small canvases); paintings from photographs to alienating effect (Lin Yenwei’s ageing statuary in public parks); and the ever-popular “bad” painting. Where a strong attitude was evident (for instance in the scatological works of Liao Guohe) the presentation meant that the results simply fade into the background.
Some artists managed to overcome these conditions and stood out from the crowd. Sun Xun’s ink painting on a long paper scroll was presented strongly, unrolling diagonally across the floor of the grey room, anchored at both ends by breezeblocks, portraying a series of animals in the artist’s characteristically confident brushwork; Li Qing’s take on the legacy of mid-20th century Italian artist Lucio Fontana’s slashed canvases, brought the metaphysical into the everyday in a childishly playful way (although possibly too childish); Song Yuanyuan with his self-aware multiplying painted interiors, accreted architectural elements and physical deformations of the canvas; and, Zhou Yilun’s painting/installations displayed a touch of hysteria in their surreal subject matter. Architectural adjustments to the spaces, such as a vertically raking wall added an interesting element of viewing instability to Liu Weijian’s otherwise pedestrian works (perhaps echoing an intervention left over from the “Jungle” show – Liang Shuo’s disconcertingly angled treads on Platform’s staircase).
Ultimately though these elements were less to do with the paintings themselves, and more with attempts to work with the format of the show and possibilities for installation with painting. This was implicitly recognised in the title’s significant use of the word “About,” which I read as attempting to shift the meaning of the individual solo shows from simply an exposition of the artists’ works and onto an investigation of how those works fit into a milieu, including their place in the world.
As much as large group shows are welcome, they can sometimes end up with the same result one gets with art fairs – providing a concentrated means of seeing many works in one place, but suffering from a tendency towards homogenisation and an unwelcome sense of exhaustion in the viewer. “19 Solo Shows About Painting” provides no real surprises with regards to painting itself and left me with little to take home. Beyond the painting though, the possibility of such a show and the fact that institutions like Platform are able to put them on in China, provides much hope.
Author: Edward Sanderson