Contemporary Chinese Artist Has One-Man Show at Seattle Asian Art Museum

Contemporary Chinese art is the first thing you see when you enter the downtown Seattle Art Museum. There in the lobby, hanging from the ceiling in what appear to be precarious positions are cars, actual cars, with flashing light sticks emerging from them. It’s unforgettable, the work of a Chinese art star, Cai Guo-Qiang, who now resides in the United States and has had one-man shows in such prestigious institutions as the Guggenheim in New York.

Well pop into the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park to see the work of another highly regarded but very different contemporary Chinese artist. This one, Wang Huaiqing is not yet well known in this country, though his reputation in Asia is significant. He creates exquisite works that draw you in the way Cai Guo-Qiang’s cars make you want to step out of the way.

Most of his paintings and prints are nonfigurative, a modern take on classical Chinese painting. True, there are a couple of Mao images from the days of the Cultural Revolution, but the rest of his work superimposes a Western and modern aesthetic on Chinese tradition.

The works are displayed in two galleries. The gallery to the right of the Museum entrance contains images made in the earlier years of his career. The gallery on the left holds the most contemporary pieces. Take your time in both rooms.

See if you can identify the pieces of traditional furniture that he renders in contemporary fashion. For instance, look at “Intimate Compartment—The Bed of Han Xizai.” It’s a depiction of the pleasure zone of a reputedly corrupt government official of a thousand years ago. Note the use of red, a color that represents power as well as passion.  Can you make out the bed?

In addition to furniture, he’s depicts architecture. My favorite piece in the show is “Forgotten Garden.” It shows no plants. It’s a dark canvas, but in its center is a brightly lit, stark corridor. I defy you to look at it and not be pulled into its secret space.
In this exhibit you’ll do well to read the wall text. The works are aesthetically pleasing by themselves, but the rich cultural context and meaning provided by labels adds a whole other dimension to the experience.

Through April 11, 2011

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