The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art is honored to present a major retrospective of work by Gu Dexin (b.1962, Beijing) spanning three decades of this artist’s vast and varied output. Entitled “Gu Dexin: The Important Thing is Not the Meat,” it marks the first comprehensive attempt to showcase and elucidate one of China’s most complex and original artistic voices.
An outsider with no formal training, Gu Dexin first came to prominence on the Beijing art scene with a 1986 solo exhibition at the International House in Beijing of paintings and works on paper that spanned various styles. In 1989, he was among three Chinese artists included in the epochal exhibition “Magiciens de la Terre” at the Centre Pompidou, in what was arguably the first international display of contemporary art from China. Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, he responded to invitations to participate in a long wave of “China shows” with installations of fruit, meat, and plastic that consciously refused to engage with the symbolic legacies of High Socialism. Gu so disliked the idea of imposing a given reading on his viewers that he titled his works first with serial numbers, and later simply with the date on which they were completed.
“Gu Dexin: The Important Thing is Not the Meat” traces the full arc of Gu’s solo career, from his amateur paintings in the late 1970s through his climactic final piece of 2009, bringing together nearly 300 works. In doing so, it presents Gu’s work as an alternative history of the development of contemporary art in China: his early paintings toggle readily among the Western styles then being digested, just as his later performative installations foreshadowed larger debates over acceptable forms and materials both inside the Chinese art world and in the nascent international interpretive community around it.