Interview Time: June 30, 2014
Interview Venue: Teaching and Research Office of the History of Art, CAFA
Interviewer: Huang Bihe
CAFA Art Museum has launched large-scale retrospectives of the last two years of some learned teachers including Wang Shikuo, Yan Han, Gu Yuan, and Wei Qimei. Would you like to talk about the reason why the large retrospective of Situ Qiao was held in this period?
Cao Qinghui: I think it is the objective factor of reality rather than an academic one which makes the museum hold a research show of an old artist of their current work. In other words, a lot of accomplished old artists are worth being exhibited through such an academic research exhibition, to show their extensive academic research work. But to start and finish an exhibition often needs a chance and suitable conditions, based on the integration of fine weather and a favorable geographical position. That is to say, in addition to the premise of the same academic identity, it also needs to have a very clear and strong opportunity to start and ignite it (such as an artist’s birthday which is a common reason). So that CAFA Art Museum holds the exhibition of Situ Qiao during fine weather and a favorable geographical position as well as some practical factors. On the other hand, the series of exhibitions of old artists make you feel that it is designed and intentional, which actually reflect that CAFA Art Museum has a self-conscious academic consciousness to encourage the strengthening of the study of modern Chinese artists which does not appear to rely on exhibitions. I believe that the context of a case study will constantly expand, which is both the duty of the art museum and academic research. The end of the research exhibition for one old artist is the beginning of the next one for another. Therefore, CAFA Art Museum will certainly present the exhibitions of other senior artists after Situ Qiao’s, but the next candidate depends on chance and conditions. It is the general situation but I surely hope that the practical objective factor will gradually be weakened and the active academic factors play a key role, but for the promotion of an artist’s case study, it takes time to gradually improve, and needs the support from the high-quality public and private capital, as well as specialist scholars to participate in it.
The chief title of the exhibition is “Painting With Tears” and the title of each section of the exhibition is interesting, they are mainly extracted from the original words of the text of the document, the literature which is brilliant, and even a little “emotional”. It is obvious that the curator has considered the choice of the title over a long time, so could you talk about your idea during the process of formulating the title?
Cao Qinghui: As the curator of this exhibition, I hope to connect art and emotion which is an active choice, and is what you call “emotional”, and I focus on how to stir people. First of all, Situ Qiao was rich in artistic emotion, he didn’t graduate from a formal art school, but he staggeringly walked onto the road of art which was completely based on love and through self study, such a person must have an high artistic EQ! Love and hate were separated by him, and his work reveals he concentrated on painting and worked positively. This is the premise that I can and I want to stir up in people. On the other hand, the biography of Situ Qiao written by his wife Feng Yimei is also full of deep feelings, reflecting the intertwined affairs of the state, home and art, revealing not only the duty and responsibility of the intellectual, but also the birth, senility, illness, death, and joys and sorrows of the ordinary people. It naturally touched the viewer. This is the foundation that I can and I want to stir up. For the exhibition, CAFA Art Museum only collects 13q of Situ Qiao’s paintings, which is too poor in quantity and type to hold a retrospective. In my opinion it is impossible to hold a perfect retrospective of all aspects, and basically it isn’t my intention. I hope to select the most passionate creative node or work by the artist for the exhibition. The title “Painting With Tears” diverts from the early diary of the artist, and I think this sentence can summarize Situ Qiao’s artistic motivation, effect and emotion, including bitterness and joy, and the subtitle “Love and Hate in Situ Qiao’s Art World” is the interpretation based on this aspect. Finally, either highlighting artistic emotion, or the so-called emotional, it can also be said that as the curator I have naturally positioned the audience. When Situ Qiao was alive, he didn’t only show his drawing or open exhibition to the experts, so the audiences of the exhibition are not only professionals, together with all my colleagues I sincerely hope more ordinary citizens can visit the museum during the hot summer. But how to make the citizens visit the exhibition, how to make them enjoy themselves so as to forget leave, is it just because of the exhibited “artworks”? It is certainly not. I hope to hold a devotional and sentimental exhibition that can tell stories. So that the public can feel the plain compassion and gratitude, excitement and joy, carried by the artworks, including the hard efforts of work and the personal spiritual style. It allows them to understand the meaning of each title and the summarized sentence of the exhibition. For an outstanding artist, no matter what language and gesture is used to express it – he particularly hopes to see the reaction of the audience, and particularly hopes the audience can understand it. We hope through this exhibition, the audiences can understand the artistic choice and practices by a group of artists of the first half in the 20th century represented by Situ Qiao. If it isn’t realized, it is my duty, rather than complaining about our team and the audience, and can’t blame Situ Qiao yet.
In a section that is called “Situ Qiao and His Paintings”, the literature, collected more than 30 comments on Situ Qiao’s works by the literary circle of his time. This is one of the features of the exhibition. Would you like to talk about what academic thinking on the section is based on? Your editor commented on shows that it are associated with current history, could you talk about it in detail?
Cao Qinghui: First of all, it is direct because we can find these materials left from that time. Secondly it is a research exhibition, so that it focuses on research rather than on simply exhibiting a painting, or writing a preface, but requires us to deliberately have an academic comb through, while it uses a “literature wall” to render the historical comments on Situ Qiao, which is the detailed embodiment of the research consciousness and academic combing through. It is certain that it is a hard job, but because it is hard, it is valuable and attracts interested audiences to read deeply and think about it. But there is also a difficulty that people would be away from reality in order to “show respect to the respected and well-known person” like Situ Qiao in the art circle. I think if it starts from research, really starts from criticism, one shouldn’t avoid people’s evaluation and opinions on Situ Qiao’s art of the time, only a relatively integrated presentation can hold the audience and more objectively understand the evaluation of Situ Qiao, and through the evaluation appreciate the dynamic state of Chinese literature and art circles in the 1930s and 1940s. It is certain that proper editing and processing is a necessity which should consider historical practice as the basic principle. We can see that there are main stream opinions of Situ Qiao’s art separated by individual opinions, the main stream opinions are related to the understanding of the artistic sociology (such as the opinions of Lu Xun, Guo Moruo), individual opinions are related to the knowledge of artistic ontology (such as the opinions of Fu Lei, Ye Jianyu), I hope that the spectator can fully listen to the voice of history, and appreciate the true meaning, instead of a simple binary opposite selection and making public one’s stand. In addition, arrange a literature exhibition that can make the public who are not familiar with Situ Qiao quickly understand the artist with the help of the comments and introductions of Lu Xun, Guo Moruo, Shen Congwen, and Fu Lei. About the issues of yesterday and today that you asked about, I would like to say, to research an individual case does not only aim at the research itself, instead it is necessary to have a relationship with current artistic creations. Can you say that all the foundations of artistic issues of that time have been effectively solved today? I don’t think all are done. So what are the old artists thoughts, selected, successful or failure they must have a relationship with contemporary artists. Their experiences are a good teacher for the successors.
Speaking of Situ Qiao, it is important that he had contact with Lu Xun and the left-wing progressive literature and art, but the audience who don’t know this experience find it hard to connect with the clues from history, please talk in detail about how you deal with this issue in the exhibition?
Cao Qinghui: One of the differences between holding an exhibition and writing a text of art history is that an exhibition is supported by material, and is a material of logic, which demands that we take existing objects as the foundation. We know that Lu Xun had written comments for Situ Qiao, Situ Qiao had painted a portrait for Lu Xun, Situ Qiao also painted illustrations for Lu Xun’s novels after the founding of the People Republic of China, this relationship is easily written with texts of art history, but it is hard to showcase it with the use of material in the exhibition. Because the essential items or material for evidence are not collected by CAFA, we have to temporarily borrow them, some succeed while some fail. Therefore, when planning an exhibition, you have a good idea but when it is carried out, it is discounted, so that we should think of how to make up the discount, or how to go around it. Such as we may borrow “Five Polices And A O” painted by Situ Qiao, but we can’t borrow the portrait of Lu Xun. Any of the narrative ways actually have limitations, for example, if you open a book, you will feel the narration clearly, but you can’t see the real object. While the art museum’s narrative characteristic is the presentation of real items, and aims to give priority to real items to build a clear narrative logic, I like to try my best to reach my target.
The exhibition construction is basically a time sequence, but it establishes a section called “Rose Village”, to showcase Situ Qiao’s painting of his wife and daughters as well as related content, would you like to talk about why you want to establish this section, how to deal with personal topics in the public exhibition space?
Cao Qinghui: The reason I must establish this section, as I mentioned before, is because the support of Situ Qiao’s wife played a main role. In my opinion, the reason why Situ Qiao is Situ Qiao is because he has a good wife and an happy family. It is no exaggeration to say that Feng Yimei gave Situ Qiao’s life. Without Feng Yimei there was not Situ Qiao in art history? As an educated woman born into a wealthy family, Feng Yimei chose the poor artist Situ Qiao as her husband and gave birth to two daughters, took care of his sick body, sharing wealth and woe with him while drifting from place to place. She was the first audience of Situ Qiao’s work, and the major source of economy for the family. After Situ Qiao died, she wrote a widely read biography of her husband. What a wonderful woman she is. If there is a competition to find Chinese good wives, Feng Yimei will win the prize. As you said above I am emotional, it is this section I really want to focus on stirring. First of all to recall, and secondly to promote, instead of preaching. In my opinion when the audience see this part, they feel that it is close to their lives, because every person has his/ her family, his wife or her husband, brothers or sisters. We hope through this section to deliver more positive emotional energy to present society with a changed life and values. How to deal with this personal topic in a public space, in addition to Situ Qiao’s paintings of his wife and daughters, we plan to arrange Situ Qiao’s daughter Situ Shuang to talk about the stories of the old family photos, it is more authentic through a daughter to talk about her parents and sister, affairs of the state, family and art, and viewers are interested in and will accept it. This part of the content will be arranged to display on the wall, in addition a brochure will be made, he hopes the audience will like it.
You said it is a storytelling exhibition. Does the section “Rosy Village” reflect the intention?
Cao Qinghui: That’s right. In addition to this section, we reflect it in the other sections, such as the diligent presentation of “Put Down Your Whip”. I hope through three-dimensions to present the work, so that at first the exhibition borrows the original work from the National Art Museum of China, secondly the exhibition borrows the draft of the work from the family, thirdly the exhibition captures the memorial words of Situ Qiao’s creation written by Feng Yimei, fourthly the exhibition copies the drama script of the same name in 1938, fifthly the exhibition intercepts the related fragment of the old movie “The Eighty Hundred Miles Road Clouds and Moon (Distant Journey)”. We are trying our best to reasonably, effectively and artistically design the content in a unit. I particularly ask the exhibition team to build a large reading table in the center of the exhibition hall, on which it displays related publications, letters, and scripts of Situ Qiao, and Situ Qiao’s biography written by Feng Yimei, opposite to the reading table is the original “Put Down Your Whip” and the video. I wish to transform the exhibition hall into a space in which the spectators can read and learn, so that the spectator can slow down and enjoy the original, literature, biography, video, it will be perfect if it offers everyone a free coffee.
The research exhibition is a long-term work. Does the idea, planning, and the final rendering realize your expectations? What are the difficulties, what are the regrets?
Cao Qinghui: The exhibition team walks towards the anticipated target as much as possible. The so-called anticipated target refers to the fact that I get what I want, the design I assume can be realized, which is in need of cooperation from each department of the art museum as well as the other brother institutions, as a result, it is a project, a curator is only one part of the project. All the parts work together in order to approach the target. All the difficulties we encounter, overcome or compromise are a part of our experience so as to hold an exhibition in future. Actually if we think about this question in philosophy, it is possible that the process of approaching the target is more important than the implementation of the goal. To go back to your first question, although many case studies show old artists are caused by a variety of chances, these chances can be wasted if you don’t concentrate on them. Therefore, we hope to do our best to make it perfect, in addition to the exhibition we synchronously plan the related publication, and the action of the audience and the academic circle will evaluate whether the exhibition is good or not, in addition to your standards. There’s no doubt that we will feel a variety of regret after finishing an exhibition, but it’s normal, because experience is gradually accumulated through regret. But on a broader scale, it is not the issue that I regret, instead I regret the large numbers of artists who are worth holding exhibitions for but we can’t do it for a while; moreover there are too few exhibitions, as a teacher that researches modern Chinese art, I would like to and hope to have more opportunities to present such exhibitions for the audience.
(Interviewed and written by Huang Bihe from CAFA ART INFO, reviewed by Cao Qinghui)
Translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO.