Gao Xingjian was born in Jiangxi province, China in 1940 and is a renowned author, playwright, painter, photographer, film and stage director. In 2000, he was the first individual of Chinese descent to receive the Noble Prize for Literature, a source of considerable pride in the Chinese speaking world.
Last year, Gao held a number of major exhibitions across Europe. In early 2015, there was A Gao Xingjian Retrospective at the Museum of Ixelles and The Awakening of Consciousness at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Belgium, which added six works from the series to its permanent collection. At the end of the year, Gao held a solo exhibition at Kubo-kutxa Fundazioa in Spain. Asia Art Center has handled paintings by Gao Xingjian since 1997 in which time it has become apparent that in addition to his fame as a literary figure, Gao is extremely accomplished in a wide range of cultural forms, including painting. Indeed, the breadth and depth of his interest has resulted in plaudits throughout the art world. It is against this backdrop that Calling for a New Renaissance will address “the interaction of Gao Xingjian’s paintings with other artistic forms.” As such, the wide ranging works that make up this exhibition showcase the artist’s philosophical thinking and his desire to “return to the humanism of the Renaissance.” Indeed, this is the core theme of the exhibition.
Calling for a New Renaissance focuses primarily on the artist’s ink paintings from 2016, but also includes showings of his movies Silhouette / Shadow, After the Flood and Requiem for Beauty, which have only previously been shown publicly at major international events held at the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, the UK and Singapore. Another key element of the exhibition is a collection of documents rarely seen in Taiwan: these include important catalogues from Gao’s many international exhibitions over the years, which highlight the challenges facing any Gao Xingjian museum retrospective, and a collection of the artist’s literary writings and plays published in China in the 1980s. Although from the perspective of today these works represent merely one individual’s point of view, this was rejected by mainstream “avant-garde” thinking in China at that time. One book that is perhaps not as widely known is Six Plays by Gao Xingjian, edited by Taiwanese professor Hu Yao-heng in 1995. Although this work is already out of print, it is included as one of the important documents on show, together with important books and related commentaries by Gao Xingjian published by Linking Publishing Company, UNITAS Publishing and Ming Pao Publications in Taiwan and Hong Kong. In addition, after wandering solo around south west China in the 1980s, Gao not only wrote Soul Mountain, he also took thousands of photographs on his travels and this exhibition includes a selection of these treasures. Other than emphasizing the drive and creativity of Gao Xingjian these works also provide viewers with a different insight into the artist’s distinctive cultural observations, linguistic logic and the ways these inform his philosophy of life.
The exhibition name Calling for a New Renaissance is borrowed from that of Gao’s solo exhibition at Kubo-kutxa Fundazioa in Spain, though this originally came from an article by Gao Xingjian in the Chinese language book Literature and Freedom published in 2014. At a time of globalization in which everything is increasingly market-oriented, Gao asks: “Is it possible in this era to create literature and art that transcends politics, markets and seeks no material gain?” His answer to this question is: “Such art and culture must first and foremost stem from the writer or artist’s personal feelings, that is be entirely derived from an individual’s independent ideas and it must be something that absolutely has to be said.” Pictures and words are both forms of creative language and their interplay is akin to two pathways that follow the same philosophical path. Even in the 1980s, Gao Xingjian’s creative work was marked by a deliberate detachment from ideology and return to humanist thinking. Today, the core values that inform cultural focus have gradually withered to such a point that the call for a new Renaissance has become a matter of some urgency.