Contemporary Chinese Artists Highlight the Complexities of Simple Life

In light of recent exhibitions, including the Focus: China section at The Armory Show, “Ink Art” at The Met, and Ai Weiwei’s traveling survey “According to What?”, contemporary Chinese art is more present than ever. Looking at prime works from these exhibitions—like Xu Zhen’s heavily impastoed “Under Heaven” paintings, glossy “scholar’s rock” sculptures by Zhan Wang, and Ai’s subversive installations—“simple” is one word that doesn’t come to mind. At Chelsea’s Klein Sun Gallery, six contemporary Chinese artists upend conceptions of simplicity and contemporary China, in a new group exhibition, “simple life is interesting!

“Social and human changes are quickly accelerating in contemporary China,” explains the show’s curator, Janet Fong. “The more one is engaged in the mundane, the more complex one’s mindset becomes.”  Inspired by the mythologized “simple life,” the artists present artworks—from painting and sculpture to audio installations—that draw upon everyday life to emphasize its inherent complexities. Fong furthers, “This exhibition sets out to free the American audience from their preconceived ideas of life in China—it presents simple life as an entry point and a different perspective through which they may experience China as depicted by these six young Chinese artists.”

Acrylic paintings by the artist group No Survivors seamlessly embody the exhibition’s message; featuring swatches of wallpaper and floor tile patterns the works are violently and simply disrupted by red paint resembling blood. Less flagrant is Pak Sheung Chuen’s vinyl installation, Hong Kong 2011.11.8 - 2011.11.14, which is the result of seven days in which the artist penned scenes from everyday life and explored creative impulses. While the work is visually simple—a line of words that form two large rectangles on the gallery walls—the artist’s musings are not easily seen or read, signalling that even the most straightforward expressions of quotidian life require close inspection in order to be comprehended.

Also on view are Yang Xinguang’s Mountains Rocks—jagged rocks covered with thick white slabs of acrylic paint and miniature trees—small-scale mountain scenes inspired by Mono-ha. The result of simple materials, these miniature scenes display havoc and isolation in their haphazard assembly and scattered arrangement on the gallery floor. Nearby is Liu Chuang’s Buying Everything on You, a floor installation that lays out all of the clothing and possessions that an individual had on his person; this work effectively describes a person through their basic belongings, which even though they are few and fundamental in this case, together appear as a complex and intricate presentation of a life.

“simple life is interesting!” is on view at Klein Sun Gallery, New York, Mar. 27–May 3rd, 2014.

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