From December 7th to 13th, Tan Ping‘s debut solo exhibition of “A LINE” will be held in the National Art Museum of China, the most important art museum in China. It’s the first time for an abstract artist to hold a solo exhibition in the Rotunda of this museum. +40m, a piece Tan Ping was invited to create as a commission for this exhibition, will be on show. By examining Tan Ping’s oil paintings and engravings, curator Zhu Qingsheng, professor of Peking University and an important figure in Chinese contemporary art and criticism, will reveal the context of this most famous abstract artist in China.
+40m demonstrates that with the baptism of Chinese and western art, Tan Ping’s engraving is gaining independence and uniqueness. This embodies the spirit of social responsibility, which, despite his hard and bitter personal struggle, still steadily and freely advances. At the same time, having inherited the thousand-year tradition of Chinese calligraphy, it ultimately reduces to one line, which condenses his inherent poetry as well as the solicitude of humanity. This single line not only agglomerates the artist’s self-cultivation, knowledge, experience and consciousness for life, but is simple as well as rich, fully expressing the unspeakable and provoking every viewer’s endless inner sound.
Centring on +40m, Chinese Contemporary Art Archive from Peking University, under the leadership of curator Zhu Qingsheng, systematically and thoroughly explored Tan ping’s artworks. On the one hand, with the sorting of the context in which Tan Ping produced art, and an intensive study of and comparison between the histories of Chinese calligraphy and Western modern art, this reveals the innovation of Tan Ping’s “A LINK” and its distinction from the various styles and methods of contemporary art. On the other hand, retrospection of Tan Ping’s creating experience and by examining all the archives concerning Tan Ping’s painting art, they clarified the source and development of Tan Ping’s “A LINK”.
From the perspective of global art, Tan Ping, using the language of abstract art, has brought about a perfect convergence of eastern and western cultures in a time and space in which human sensibility and intellect unify. Moreover, new forms of media such as interaction will be introduced into this exhibition. The appliance of new media has brought abstract art to the cutting edge of contemporary art, and will change the traditional way of looking as well as the form of exhibitions.
This exhibition will invite directors of important modern art museums, curators and researchers from all over the world to attend the opening and forum. It will also undertake academic interviews and exchanges, so as to enhance the high-level academic interaction between Chinese contemporary art and the world.
A Line – Preface by Tan Ping
I believe, for a good piece of art, its inherent quality makes up for only one aspect of its evaluation. It is in the final synergy between the artwork and the exhibition space that art and its values come into full realization. Has the artist taken into consideration the ‘spatial’ elements during the creative process? How does he establish the relation between the artwork and the ‘space’? These questions ultimately define whether a piece of art is fulfilled in its entirety.
For any Chinese artists, to have an exhibition in the Main Hall of the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) is a lifetime event. One would put all the energy into the space and select one’s seminal works to be shown in the Hall. I have the honor to be the first Chinese abstract artist to have a solo exhibition in the Main Hall and I have given much thought to what it means, both for me and for the Museum, to carry out such an exhibition. Whether to show past works, or to create afresh for this particular space? To answer this question, I’ve made numerous field trips to the Museum and have been envisaging what kind of an abstract work would be able to engage this nearly 40-meter long, curved, seemingly authoritative space in meaningful dialogues. How to overturn people’s preconception about the classical exhibition space? How to make an abstract exhibition, a piece of abstract art a double challenge to both the audience and the space? How to assign new meanings to the conventional museum space?
Facing such a space, the first thing I decided is that I am going to drop the established, large-scaled, framed, two-dimensional canvas. However, for a single piece of art to resonate with the 40-meter curved space, it first has to summon enough strength and tension to occupy that space. At the very beginning, I considered using impactful scale and multimedia displays to create a strong, illusionistic presence, transporting the audience to another world. But after I left the Museum and went back to my studio to think, I realized that such an endeavor would be too arbitrary on the artist’s side and would downplay equal participation by the audience. Soon I began tracing the initial impulse, the very origin of my practice, seeking direct contact with the audience. It was then the Hall began to quiet down and a long, sinewy, curved line surfaced the wall.
It is a sensational moment, starting from projecting an illusionistic space with large-scale, multimedia presentation, to eventually settling down on wood-cutting, one of the most basic techniques in print-making, primitive even. Now a rounded knife and a long, wooden panel, like rivals in a dual, wait in quiet for the call to charge. To work a knife on a 40 meter long panel requires complicated preparations: from choosing the right knife, to tuning the scale of the knife to that of my body; the wooden surface demands both the dexterity of the knife but also a certain level of crudity of the marks it leaves. The 40 meter long line was done with a single, continuous breath in six hours. The moment the knife touches the panel is like that of a sharp blazer cutting through the skin, marching slowly and ever deeply into the dark surface. Six hours of undulating movement submerges me entirely into the ‘moment’ of my life, as if all my energy, experience, my understanding of art, and my internal struggles, all are sealed by the pivotal moment the knife collides with the panel. Only so can I speak out the spiritual territory that I have aspired to, even though its visual indication is all but a curvy, white mark on a dark surface. The six hours seem infinitely prolonged with the knife marching inch by inch, almost creating suffocation as a result of intense focus. During the process, serious reflections on “life” scarcely enter me. The beauty and rhythm of the line does not recall any particular moment of sadness, or gaiety. I am only feeling intensely the advancement of the knife and the resistance it has met, while a cracking sound is made. I have to keep an eye on the direction and shift of the knife, and yet not think too much, as a walking person wouldn’t be conscious of his walking. The instant I set my knife on the wooden panel it carves out a spiritual release, as the knife moves spontaneously with my life’s tempos, leaving many dots that connected to form the line.
We begin our understanding of the world from a circle. When a boy first picks up a drawing pen, the first human figure he draws is a circle. As he grows, he adds small circles to the big one, to create arms and legs. I remember how, as a school child, my urge to “destroy” would rise so powerfully. The seed of unrest in the soil of my soul was reluctant towards any form of confinement. The school bell preluded the after-class hours, and the mindless doodling on textbooks composed a childhood rhapsody. Roaming the streets, I picked up a small wooden stick from nowhere, fled from one Hutong to another, scratching the Hutong walls with the stick in my hand. It thrust through a wall, stopped, then another wall, and another, leaving long, curvy lines that mark my youthful destruction. My most vivid memory of that age, 12 or 13, was the desire to ‘destroy’, and its carefree state. Today, as I am standing at the Hall of the Museum, facing this long wall, should I return to that state-of-the-past? Would I fulfill a spiritual excursion with this 40-meter long line, once again in that mental state of the unsettled youth?
A long undulating line, with no beginning and no end, at a quick glance it even resembles an electrocardiogram, recording the nuanced twinkles of the heart at every seconds. As you move along the line and observe the subtle changes and gradation in details, a myriad of associations come flooding in: it could be a minimalist line on a flat surface, or the poetic cascade descended from Heaven, or even the lighted horizon right before dawn. This moving line, situated at the heart of space and time, continues to discharge energy of the imaginative and the creative like a lightning strike.
About the artist
Tan Ping was born in 1960 in Chengde, China. In 1984, he graduated from the Printmaking Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts and received a bachelor’s degree. In the years 1984-1989, he worked as a lecturer of the Printmaking Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. From 1989 to 1994, after winning West German Cultural Exchange Scholarship Deutschen Akademischen Austauschdienste (DAAD), he studied in the Free Art Department of Kunst der Hochschule, Berlin, and received a master’s degree and the degree of Meisterschule. From 2002 to 2003, Tan Ping worked as Director and Professor of the School of Design, Central Academy of Fine Arts. And from 2003 to this day, he has been Vice-president and Professor of the Central Academy of Fine Arts.
About the curator
Zhu Qingsheng(Laozhu) was born in 1957 in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu. In 1982, he graduated from the Oil Painting Department of Nanjing Normal University and received a bachelor’s degree. In 1985, he graduated from the Art History Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts and received a master’s degree. He received his Ph.D.’s degree from Heidelberg University in 1995. Now, Zhu Qingsheng is professor of Peking University, and he serves as head of Vision and Image Research Center, Peking University.
About the exhibition
Duration: 7th-13th Dec., 2012
Opening: 4:00 pm, 7th Dec. (Friday), 2012
Symposium: 2:00-4:00 pm, 7th Dec. (Friday), 2012
Venue: NAMOC (National Art Museum of China), Beijing
Address: No. 1 Wusi Dajie, East District, Beijing, China
Organizer: NAMOC (National Art Museum of China), CAFA (China Central Academy of Fine Arts)
Courtesy of Tan Ping and His Studio.