White Box Museum Of Art (798 Art District, No.2 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing) Mar 9 – Apr 9, 2013
For art that muses over the nostalgia of the past, “monumentality” is a necessary characteristic: Caspar David Friedrich’s desolate monasteries or Gothic cathedrals, John William Waterhouse’s distressed “Lady of Shalott,” or John Everett Millais’ “Orphelia” sinking in the river — there is a sorrowful sublime whether it be figures, architecture, or landscapes.
Yet the “demise” in Wu Xiaochuan’s work is rather more comprehensive a concept, which is to say that the times are not the focus of consideration here. The subjects he depicts include all kinds of images that can conjure forth associations with death: ten leaders from modern times who died from unnatural causes (“Incomplete Forms: Ten Portraits of Kings,” 2010–2012), several mausoleums of the Tang emperors (the style of which easily reminds viewers of Anselm Kiefer), old newspapers, human skulls, horse and sheep bones without clear traces of time or age, as well as ancient architecture such as temples and pagodas and so forth. What is more, many of Wu Xiaochuan’s paintings have the air of sculptural reliefs: extremely dull tones and thickly lathered paints on the canvas, with diagonal jabs purposely added, which thereby manifest the physiology of rocks in tomb murals. With such images about death, Wu Xiaochuan attempts to realize a sense of transcendence and something that is “antique and indestructible” (1). Yet what indeed is this eternity discovered amid demise?
(1) “Artist’s Description,” The Demise of Things: Works by Wu Xiaochuan (Shaanxi Renmin Chubanshe, 2013), 88.