Chinese Maximalism: the multimedia work of Wang Jian at PIFO Gallery in Beijing – artist profile

PIFO Gallery
Dec 8, 2016 4:28AM

Wang Jian’s work, considered part of Chinese Maximalism, encompasses photography, works on paper and large-scale oil paintings.

Art Radar takes a closer look at Wang Jian’s creative practice and his interest in the concept of nothingness on the occasion of his solo exhibition at PIFO Gallery in Beijing.

This review was published on Art Radar Journal on November 22, 2016 

Wang Jian, “wang jian: nothingness was not” installation view. Image courtesy the artist and PIFO Gallery.

The exhibition “wang jian: nothingness was not” is on from 15 October to 18 December 2016 at PIFO Gallery in Beijing. It’s the first solo exhibition of Wang Jian at PIFO Gallery since he began collaborating with them in 2006. Curated by London-based writer and Senior Curator with the British Government Art Collection Adrian George, Wang Jian explores metaphysics, Chinese Maximalism and international minimalism. It brings together aspects from Wang Jian’s multiform practice, such as photography, works on paper and large-scale oil paintings.

Huantie H3, 2016
PIFO Gallery

A journey of multiple influences

Wang Jian, born in Handan, Hebei Province in 1972, lives and works in Beijing. Although he completed a Plastic Arts Studio course at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in 2003, his artistic journey has been a varied one. He initially studied independently while working as a train driver. During this time he explored a variety of literature, art and history subjects as well as Zen. He started his art career in 1996 when he moved to Beijing, working in a number of roles such as an editor, TV director, art director and designer.

Jiangnan H2, 2015
PIFO Gallery
Jiangnan H1, 2015
PIFO Gallery

Wang Jian’s work draws from these early explorations of Eastern philosophies, as well as his interest in Western poetry and sociology. The influences on his work continue to evolve. As he explained to Art Radar,

Different artists have affected me at different times, as well as Zen philosophies. But reality is the most important thing to me is that China is undergoing great changes, many interesting things have happened. I am always a serious-minded observer of reality.

Wang Jian, “wang jian: nothingness was not” installation view. Image courtesy the artist and PIFO Gallery.

Chinese Maximalism

Curator Adrian George draws together the different threads of Wang Jian’s work through a 4,000-year-old Rig-Vedic poem, a poem said to be the foundation of Hinduism that has only been partially translated. In talking about Wang Jian’s work, George states in the catalogue essay (PDF download):

On encountering Wang Jian’s work for the first time one is immediately struck by the scale, confidence, absolute ease and the endless (and multiple) challenges his paintings present.

Jinze S1, 2016
PIFO Gallery

He continues, commenting that Wang Jian’s work could be defined in terms of Chinese Maximalism. He provides a definition of Chinese Maximalism, established by the art critic, historian and curator Gao Minglu, as

the spiritual experience of the artist in the process of creation as a self-contemplation outside and beyond the artwork itself…These artists pay more attention to the process of creation and the uncertainty of meaning and instability in a work. Meaning is not reflected directly in a work because they believe that what is in the artist’s mind at the moment of creation may not necessarily appear in his work.

Jiangnan H10, 2015
PIFO Gallery

For artists working in the Chinese Maximalist trend, contemplation and the spiritual experience connected with the making process are at the core of their work. For Wang Jian, this incorporates his diverse literary and philosophical influences, as well as the current context in China. All these feed into his oeuvre, although this experience is not always clearly visible when one approaches the abstract pieces. One theme that is evident in his work is that of nothingness.

Wang Jian, “wang jian: nothingness was not” installation view. Image courtesy the artist and PIFO Gallery.


As the show’s title suggests, the theme of nothingness is present throughout the exhibition. Wang Jian explains how this developed in his work:

I was around 18 years old when I started to become interested in Zen. I saw the leaves falling from the tree and I began to wonder. I asked my teacher in art school for advice – really I was asking about nothingness and he said it’s a position or an approach. Afterwards I went to some historic sites of ancient cities to carry out further research. I found that many of those cities with a glorious past have now become ruins; you can see the vague outline of the city in the sky and some new marks left by people of today. So from my point of view, nothingness has more connection with time and space. You can and can’t say ‘nothingness was not’, it’s just a kind of uncertain change. Recently I’m very interested in time and space – I suppose I’d call it ‘the universal’ nothingness.

Jinze H6, 2016
PIFO Gallery

Wang Jian, “wang jian: nothingness was not” installation view. Image courtesy the artist and PIFO Gallery.

In the catalogue essay (PDF download) Adrian George gives us some advice about how to approach the philosophical themes in Wang Jian’s work:

‘Nothingness’, or the Void, is not an intellectual puzzle, it is a sensory perception – it must be felt to be understood. Don’t struggle too much to comprehend and interpret Wang Jian’s work. Don’t stand in front of his paintings and try to recall pages of Eastern and Western art history and philosophy that might apply. Don’t try to translate his photographs into his oil paintings nor seek to construct any narratives. Simply feel. Let yourself be with the work. Wang Jian makes art that must be experienced. Place yourself squarely in front of it and let go.

These subjects of time and space are something that Wang Jian is very interested in and which, he explains, he will probably explore further in his upcoming works.

                                                                                     —— Claire Wilson

PIFO Gallery