In Concert: Landscapes by Li Huayi & Zhang Hong
Li Huayi and Zhang Hong, the two artists being celebrated in this exhibition, are pioneer members of a post-modernist generation of Chinese painters. Living outside of China—Li in San Francisco and Zhang in New York—neither is obliged to play any particular role in the contemporary art world in China itself, and both thus enjoy a creative detachment from the local and particularized concerns that continue to motivate some Chinese artists. However, given their success in the international art world—both artists were represented in the A Century in Crisis exhibition of twentieth-century Chinese painting organized by the Guggenheim Museum in 1998—their styles and approaches have gained considerable attention in China and cannot but continue to have some influence and affect on the internal dynamics of that world. Both artists are primarily landscapists, a type of painting long castigated as the purest manifestation of elitist values, and both use traditional materials to work in styles that originated centuries ago. Li and Zhang are not simple revivalists, however, intent on replicating the approach and style of their models—the 10th-11th century tradition of objective monumental landscapes in the case of Li, the 14th century lineage of more subjective literati masters in the case of Zhang—but, as their paintings themselves make immediately and abundantly clear, they freely manipulate those styles in exemplary modernist fashion, transforming them into supple vehicles for their personal visions and in support of their own expressive ends.