Beijing’s De Sarthe Gallery Highlights a Playful Side of Chinese Contemporary Art

  • Installation view of “Artists at Play” at de Sarthe Gallery. Image courtesy of de Sarthe Gallery.

Covering the entire main gallery space in pastel-colored chalk and an off-kilter assemblage of wooden desks, chairs, and cabinets—representative of those used by many Chinese families during the 1970s and ’80s—artist Wang Lijun has transformed the main hall of de Sarthe Gallery Beijing into a dreamy scenario evoking surrealism, childhood, and nostalgia. Titled Remodel (2015), this installation serves as the perfect introduction to “Artists at Play,” a group show of Chinese artists Zhou Wendou, Ma Sibo, Wang Lijun, Wang Guofeng, Tian Qi and Sun Yitian. The works reflect on our present and future while embracing the joy of the creative process, particularly the lighter and more whimsical elements of the artists’ practices. 

Having studied in China and France, Ma Sibo counts impressionism and Mark Rothko among major influences, as well as Edward Hopper’s representations of lonely of urban life. His piece, Carousel (2011), triggers these same notions of nostalgia. The artist often takes his subject matter from scenes he observes and photographs during walks around Beijing—images that take on a surreal, dreamlike atmosphere as they become the subjects of his oil paintings.

Zhou Wendou lives and works in Beijing and Madrid. Fragile State - Blue, Green, Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, White, Yellow (2004) is a continuation of his pop-inspired, neon-trimmed basketball hoop series. “The basketball hoop is the target for the players, but netting the ball means breaking the neon tube. It’s a trap of self-destruction,” Zhou has said of the series. A collection of the artist’s miniature sponge sculptures and conceptual photographs, created while living in Spain, such as Baguette (2004), humorously question why art takes itself so seriously. 

Tian Qi and Sun Yitian both studied at CAFA (China Central Academy of Fine Arts), and both young, female artists contribute to the whimsical energy of the show with their bright and colorful works. Tian’s mixed media canvases have a playful, almost cartoon-like quality to them, as the artist illustrates and explores different sides of her personality through her colorful vignettes, a surrealist atmosphere, and characters such as the rabbit girl in I Don’t Know You, But I Know Your Shadow (2015). Sun’s colorful contemporary work pops with bright, eye-catching palettes and unexpected, tongue-in-cheek subject matter.

Wang Guofeng’s work North Korea 2013 No.4, (2013), is from the artist’s “Utopia” series. An image of the crowds at the last Mass Games in North Korea’s Wuyi Stadium, the large-scale photograph captures a crowd gathered to watch performers singing and dancing at the event which took place in August 2013, meant to capture the quintessential spirit of the people. Known for using photography to explore contemporary society, the artist often blows up the pixels of oversized images. The work has darker notes than the rest of the exhibition, serving as commentary on the complex relationship between politics and the arts—especially in China.


Jennifer Baum Lagdameo



Artists at Play” is on view at de Sarthe Gallery, Beijing, Aug. 15–Oct. 16, 2015.


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