Artist Spotlight: Wang Guangle

“Subjectively speaking, I actually hope that we can slow down our pace in life,
because I have absolutely no idea which point is the end.”

Wang Guangle

Born in 1976 in China’s Fujian province, contemporary artist Wang Guangle is one of the oldest members of the post-70s ego generation. He graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in 2000, earning the Charles Wang scholarship for five of his painting relating to the theme of light.

After graduating, though, Guangle aimed to break free from the conventional rules of the Academy; in 2003, he became a founding member of nonconformist group N12. This collection of young artists is unified by a desire to break away from traditional painting’s approach to one that emboldens individual expression.

Guangle’s work is certainly revolutionary. His style of process-based abstraction mainly concerns itself with translating abstract qualities of the world into tangible forms such as paint on a canvas. His focus on presenting conceptual matters – most often directed toward the concept of time – has drawn both high praise and criticism.

Guangle is not merely concerned with art’s contemporary climate. His paintings reference several millennia of art history. His works incorporate Western styles such as Realism as well as the evolution of Chinese art from its folk traditions to its avant-garde style.

He has referred to his works as « compact of time » – a surface upon which entire experiences can be fit onto a rectangular space and transmitted to the viewer a singular moment.

Consider Guangle’s piece Untitled (121202).

Wang Guangle 121202, 2012 Acrylic on canvas.

Abandoning conventional painting techniques, Guangle concerned himself with creating mechanical duplicates of each rectangle in this piece. Each brush stroke created a carbon copy of the previous one. For Guangle, this world of repetitions would act as a meditative portal for viewers to introspectively consider the passage of time.

This painting is just one of many works that Guangle has crreated to express his concerns over this concept. His other works include the Coffin series and the Terrazzo series.

Guangle is often not preoccuppied with a color itself as much as its ability to embody a certain principle of his query with time. For example, in Untitled (201202), his choices of the colors red and green are not of inherent importance. Rather, they are significant in terms of the properties they give to the painting. It is the contrast between them that is relevant, creating an illusory space to induce a state of meditation over time’s elusive properties.

Each brush stroke, like a tree ring, is a reminder of time both experienced and lost. For Guangle, these physical marks of time passing are marks for himself – symbols of the truth’s existence, regardless of how he feels or what his attitude is.

Guangle’s work has been featured in numerous solo exhibitions, including at Pace Gallery in 2019 and at Taipei’s Soka Art Center in 2011. His work also has been visible among many group exhibitions, some of which include the Prague Biennale (2009); 28 Chinese, Asian Art Musuem, San Francisco (2015), and Constellation, Dmitry Shevardnadze National Gallery, Tbilisi, Georgia (2017).

Artist Spotlight – Jia Aili


“Art is the light of the spirit. It enlightens the dust of the mind.”

Jia Aili

From the small city of Dadong on the border of North Korea, rural indigene Jia Aili has become a central figure in the contemporary Chinese art world. Along with numerous exhibitions throughout China, Aili’s work has been displayed worldwide, including in Germany, Spain, and France. In 2019, Aili became one of only a few Chinese artists ever to be represented by the Gagosian in New York.

After graduating in 2004 from the New Representationalism Studio of the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts, Aili has focused his career on the creation of meaningful works beyond the constraints of the coloring and painting techniques he learned in school, reflected by his interplay between painting, portraiture, and fantasy.

Jia Aili was born at the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1979, the consequences of which often appear as recurring themes in his works through a combination of contemporary and traditional style. The changing identities in China during his upbringing coupled with the irony of feeling more alone in an increasingly developed world have inspired the scale and execution of Aili’s pieces. He habitually creates larger-than-life paintings, filling the large canvases with vast, forlorn landscapes and solo figures with whom he hopes viewers empathize.

Creating works that can extend beyond five meters long, Aili aims to engulf the viewer in an internal landscape that evokes the sense of anxiety he often feels himself about the human condition. This is epitomized by the contrast in his On the Field of Hopes between the pale flowers along the muted skyline and the dark smoke rising behind a lone boy. “Pervaded by an eerie, unsettling atmosphere that vibrates with existential fears, the field is a mirror of Jia’s own psyche, the sanguine tone of the flowers no measure of the titular hope” (Chinese Art: The Impossible Collection).

Jia Aili, On the Field of Hopes, 2007, oil on canvas, 164 x 265 cm, photo courtesy of assouline.com

If On the Field of Hopes is any indication, Aili’s end goal is not to depict a visually perfect setting to a viewer, but to perfectly express the anguish of his internal realm (though the two often occur simultaneously). When creating his pieces, Aili can spend weeks and even months perfecting elements as minute as the tilt of a figure’s head to reconcile his mental model with its physical representation. 

For Aili, the challenge lies in evoking enough familiarity in each landscape with the viewer to draw an emotional connection, but not so much so that the viewer could associate it with any real-world experience. Figures in his works typically cannot be recognized by race, age, or even gender. It is up to the viewers to imagine their own narrative based on the emotions they feel when looking at his paintings – emotions that Aili feels are too frequently locked up.

“Today life is all about making do. If you feel you ought to get mad at anything, to question something, or to point out a problem, people around get embarrassed and change the subject. When I lose my temper, my friends ask me, ‘why waste your energy on getting angry? These are not things you can control…’ But shouldn’t we be able to have control over what we do, even eat or wear, and how those things are presented to us?”

What Is the Post-70s Ego Generation?

China has surpassed France as the third-largest art market after the United States and Britain, but it wasn’t always this way. For much of modern history, Chinese art received little international recognition. This is because Chinese art became heavily politicized by a state-sanctioned model known as Socialist Realism, a style that involved optimistic and contrived tropes of Chinese military and political figures following the Communist Revolution. America, the post-war cultural epicenter, would not give much notice to the art of a country that mirrored its largest political and social rival.

By the 1980s, however, China experienced a new era of artistic expression, catalyzed by a newly freed society. Artists could finally express what they had been forbidden to publicize during years of repression and created the Political Pop and Cynical Realist movements.

From Censored To Honest

Contemporary Chinese art movements have continued to follow this trend of honesty. Most recently, the Post 70s Ego Generation has dominated the art space, with works from artists who came of age under China’s One-Child policy. 

Born in the 1970s or later, artists in this movement felt the growing pains of the simultaneous liberalization, expansion, and loneliness of an abruptly changing society. They have used this experience to emphasize a sense of individuality in their work. 

To Westerners, individuality seems like a given. But after a cycle of regimes that thrived on a collective mindset of undying support for an authoritarian regime, individuality in Chinese art is a symbol of a society that won’t accept the status quo.

Growing Up After Mao

After the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 that put Mao’s corrupt regime to rest, a sense of hope grew among the Chinese that the Communist party could change for the better. For the first time, people could truly use their freedom of speech. A vibrant culture emerged, and hundreds of millions flocked to cities—China’s urbanization grew from 19.4 percent to 52.6 percent between 1980 and 2012.

This, unfortunately, brought its own set of problems. China, already concerned about its ever-growing population, introduced the One-Child policy in 1980. The policy became strictly enforced in subsequent years as urban living conditions grew out of control. The Chinese economy was just not developed enough for its rapid urbanization, emphasized by the water pollution, degraded air quality, and crime that plagued cities. 

Children growing up in densely populated areas often spent much of their time alone as their parents worked to support a high cost of living. Kids growing up in rural areas also felt the lonely effects of urbanization. Many of their fathers would leave their families behind to secure a better job in the city, sending checks from hundreds of miles away.

New Artists

Every generation goes through their own hardships, and the Post-70’s Ego generation used their often isolated environments as inspiration for the next wave of contemporary Chinese art. These works expressed the feelings of vulnerability, individual identity, and the rejection of societal constructs of their childhoods.

Artists Wang Yuyang, He Xiangyu, and Zhao Zhao are great examples of emerging contemporary artists who are visionaries for their generation.

Emerging Artist: Wang Yuyang 王郁洋

Wang Yuyang was born in 1979 and is a graduate of the China Central Academy of Drama and the Central Academy of Fine Arts. Now based in Beijing, Yuyang has taught at the School of Experimental Art at the Central Academy of Fine Arts since 2008.

Through a variety in the tone, composition, and narrative of his pieces, Yuyang creates an ambiguity in his novel approach to sculpture and movement aimed to shift the connection between man and cognition. Says Yuyang, “Ambivalence can create a cognition that surpasses the individual perception of right or wrong, which is consistent with my idea: changing our perceptions of what we are used to or what has been already known.” (Chinese Art: The Impossible Collection). His practice urges the viewer to enter a paradigm that reduces the role of consciousness from judging observer to interactive agent with the art, a reality designed to reconstruct the definition of the truth.

In one project, Yuyang made objects “breathe.” Since 2006, Yuyang had begun to collect ordinary office materials, then replicated them as silicone sculptures installed with tiny motors to generate an almost imperceptible breathing effect. Yuyang completed Breathing Series: Finance Department in 2013, a complete room of respirating objects that humorously commented on the cycle of bureaucracy and material waste. Exiting this alternative reality may unnerve some—while Yuyang could re-use the outdated but still functioning technology, most ideas that are meritable yet no longer cutting-edge go to waste as soon as the next eye-catching trend disseminates.

If Yuyang’s Breathing Series symbolizes the impermanence of technology, his Moon Series does the opposite, as an inquiry into the significance of earth’s only natural satellite. Controlling the weather, tides, rain, and seasons, the moon’s predictable cycle is an emotive symbol of mankind, a constant source of mysticism that connects the realms of the conscious and the unconscious. Yuyang painted the series using black-and-white filtered glasses so he could not distinguish between the colors he was using, adding to the transcendent effect. In Moon Series 1, Yuyang emulated a scientific mapping of the moon with intricately painted craters but substituted the moon’s evanescent gray for a rich color palette, emitting a sun-like luminescence.

Wang Yuyang – Moon Series 1, 2014, oil on canvas, 600 x 300 cm, photo courtesy of Wang Yuyang

Yuyang has long examined the effects of light as a formidable force and symbol of life through his works. His elegant Sunrise (2015) created a soft glowing arc, a result of a small LED tube that was hurled in the air repeatedly. A total of 10,000 energy-saving bulbs formed Yuyang’s Singularity (2015), a 400-centimeter sphere of thousands of its own whirling spheres following their own orbits. His contradictory use of light references “contemporary human existence defined by its co-evolution with various tools and technologies,” a theme Yuyang addresses throughout his practice. (Chinese Art: the Impossible Collection).

Emerging Artist: He Xiangyu 何翔宇

He Xiangyu, born in 1986, is a conceptual artist whose practice can be described as both a bold experiment with the physical properties of his works’ materials and an examination of contemporary subject matters, including materialism and the relationship with oneself. Giving physical form to the emotions of growing up in a rapidly urbanizing society, his renowned works reflect the turbulent times that shaped his and his peers’ childhoods. Some even refer to Xiangyu as the voice of his generation. Now based in Beijing and Berlin, Xiangyu continues to create works which express his commentary on contemporary China, especially on the social consequences of society’s actions.

The Coca-Cola Project

Xiangyu’s Coca-Cola project, insinuating society’s gravitation toward excessive consumption, propelled him onto the world stage and remains one of his most famous works.

He Xiangyu – Coca-Cola Project, 2009-2010, No-Water, plastic barrels, 400 × 100 × 120 cm, photo courtesy of M+

“An apocalyptic landscape of coal-like dark matter, the Coca-Cola Project represents 127 tons of the American Coca-Cola drink, boiled down until only the dark caramelized residue remained, which was then used to form various works. The process took a team of works [sic] a year to complete. ‘When I was at art school, I learned that many artists had used Coke as a symbol in their art, but none had used Coke as a material.’ Coca-Coca Project is not about the effect of Coke on the teeth or the gut. Instead, it deploys the iconic, ubiquitous product to think about globalization – how all people are susceptible to desire and illusion.” (Chinese Art: The Impossible Collection)

Xiangyu’s choice of Coca-Cola as the basis of the work presumably reflects this susceptibility to desire and illusion. Though popular in China, Coca-Cola’s Western origins could connotate the endorsement of Western ideals such as unwavering individualism and a fast-paced, consumption-based lifestyle. Usually consumed over the span of three years in Xiangyu’s hometown, the 127 tons of ashen Coca-Cola took only one year to transform from bubbly liquid to solid matter. Xiangyu’s expenditure of human resources to accelerate the consumption process plausibly parallels society’s relationship with consumerism and the individual, suggesting that people are a dispensable means to an end.

4850g Gold, 62g Protein

If Xiangyu’s Cola Project emphasized expendability, 4850g Gold, 62g Protein drew attention to the importance of each member of China’s one-child generation, a lonely and high- achieving age group spanning the introduction of the policy in 1980 until its partial discontinuation in 2015. With a skewed sexual distribution of the young population that favored males and an aging population that could not contribute to the expanding workforce, Xiangyu’s generation faced competitive pressure to distinguish themselves from their peers. Appropriately named “little emperors on lonely thrones,” these children received copious amounts of attention as the centers of their family but still grew up quickly, directly affecting their sense of self and social identity.

He Xiangyu – 4850g Gold, 62g Protein, 2014-2015, aluminum, 99.99% pure gold, egg, 185.5 x 197.5 cm overall, photo courtesy of works.io

Chinese Art: The Impossible Collection explains how Xiangyu’s use of materials contribute to the work’s individualistic message: “Typical of He Xiangyu’s approach, the extravagant golden egg cartons in 4850g Gold, 62g Protein question the way value and meaning are assigned to objects. The use of gold leaf is both metaphor and provocation – the allure of gold juxtaposed with a commonplace object like the egg carton. The lower right-hand quadrant of the triptych contains a lone egg, intended to highlight China’s one-child policy.”


Xiangyu’s juxtaposition of materials in 4850g Gold, 62g Protein could even be used to highlight the similarities in message among his above works. The gold of the single egg signifies the value of being an individual, while the inexpensive egg carton references the inferiority of the group, just as the Coca-Cola Project’s shapeless mass of ashen Cola illustrates the shortcomings of society’s hive mind.

Emerging Artist: Zhao Zhao 趙趙

Zhao Zhao was born in 1982 and now is based in Beijing. He graduated from the Xinjiang Institute of the Arts in 2003 and briefly attended the Beijing Film Academy. His non-conformist works reflect his feeling that art cannot be separate from politics – a belief likely strengthened by his assistant role to Ai Weiwei, one of the most controversial figures in contemporary art. From referencing a turbulent historical period in China to expressing his anxiety toward its modern government, Zhao’s work The Officer so blatantly challenges the country’s carefully constructed social order that the government blacklisted him for two years. Zhao’s lesser known works also propound provocative political and social commentary.

Starry Night No. 26

Starry Night No. 26, though an autobiographical record of a single incident, suggests the broader implications of violence.

Zhao Zhao, Starry Night No. 26, 2015, oil on canvas, 250 x 200 cm. Photo courtesy of Zhao Zhao’s Instagram.

“When Zhao Zhao was involved in a serious car accident, he kept the windshield with which he had collided, later using its shattered, fissured pattern as inspiration for Fragments (2007). Starry Night extended this, first by experimenting with firing gunshots into panes of glass, second by reproducing the Fragment effect as paintings on canvas. Perceiving the shattered marks as representing a night sky – an infinite space of violent collisions – Zhao limited his palette to Prussian blue and white, and with delicate brushwork worthy of a gongbi painter, he achieved dark abstract compositions of equally dark meaning” (Chinese Art: The Impossible Collection).

Again

Zhao’s works recount not only his own life, but also collective experiences of Chinese people. His 2012 piece, Again, references the persecution faced by Buddhists in China.

Zhao Zhao – Again, 2012, fragments of Buddhist sculpture, white marble, limestone, and sandstone. Photo courtesy of M+.

Again’s polished composition juxtaposes its elements’ violent origins. After collecting and cutting up broken intricately-carved Buddhist statues from antique markets, Zhao sent them to a stone processing factory in Hebei, where a saw blade cut through the sacred symbols made from white marble, limestone, and sandstone, and then polished them into uniform blocks. Again’s aesthetically appealing exterior reveals no indication of the destruction necessary to create it. The knowledge that it indeed requires such destruction evokes an unsettling feeling, like the anxiety which Zhao has conveyed toward the condition of contemporary China. The repeated cultural cleansing of Buddhists throughout Chinese history parallels Zhao’s concerns about how globalization is ostensibly compromising the individuality of Chinese culture.

Zhao’s Far Reach

Zhao’s provocative artistic practice signals a novel era in Chinese art in which no existing ideological structure is exempt from criticism. His emphasis on the expression of free will deviates from Eastern culture’s traditional expectations. After receiving numerous accolades, including critically-acclaimed exhibitions in multiple continents and “Artist of the Year” from Award of Art China in 2019, to name a few, his international reach likely will motivate previously-reluctant artists to communicate their dissatisfaction with contemporary society. As Chine becomes the dominant world power, it likely also will become the epicenter of modern art.   The recognition and praise of individualistic works such as Zhao’s suggest the next prevailing wave of art will merge the leading Eastern power of China with the West’s individualistic outlook – ironically, this may worsen Zhao’s concerns about globalization eroding the unique Chinese identity.


John Dodelande, Introducing the greatest contemporary Chinese artists

John Dodelande, Introducing the greatest contemporary Chinese artists

Two years ago, John Dodelande, a private collector came up with the idea of putting together an exhibition to showcase Chinese contemporary artists in Georgia. To turn his plan from an idea into reality, he reached out to his friend Ami Barack, a curator and art critic. Together, they put together the ‘Constellation’ exhibition currently showcased at the Georgia National Gallery highlights the vibrancy and the influence that the Chinese art scene has around the world. One could wonder, why put together a show solely focused on Chinese artists in Tbilisi?

John Dodelande with friend Ami Barack, a curator and art critic.
John Dodelande with friend Ami Barack, a curator and art critic.

For John Dodelande, it was a self-evident choice. The young Paris-based, independent Art Market curator, producer and entrepreneurs specialized in producing and finding unique art pieces for international exhibitions and investment opportunities has dedicated his career to Chinese contemporary art and had seen first hand the shift in power between the East and the West. The art market reflects the economic landscape around the world and while the United States are still leaders in field, China is slowly becoming one of the most important players in the art world..  Nowadays, Asian collectors dominate Christie’s auction sales as China becomes one of the most important players in the art world.

The Dodelande-Barack duo conceptualized this exhibition as a window into the emergent Chinese avant-garde artists who influence the art scene in China and around the world. Our private collector describes this new generation of Chinese artists as “witnesses to what our new century represents.” They no longer rely on the political history and use their art as a social commentary on the problems of our century. John Dodelande personally travelled around Europe, Kazakhstan and China to meet with collectors and pick the pieces that would be exhibited. By choosing a very eclectic mix of artwork from artists such as Ai Wei Wei, hu Xiaoyuan and Liu Wei, Dodelande’s goal with this exhibition is to put forward the dynamic nature of the current Chinese contemporary art scene. He credits the name  of his exhibition : “Constellation” as the reflection of the gathering of such important starts on the Chinese art scene in one show.

John Dodelande Forbes
John Dodelande – cover Forbes Georgia

The choice of Georgia was both a strategic and meaningful initiative. It would be the perfect opportunity for Georgian to have access to art that is usually reserve for larger galleries in the art epicenters of the world: Paris, New York, Venice… However, Dodelande sees Tbilisi has a crossroads of cultures, a central part of the Silk Road which linked Asia to the Western world. He sees this exhibition as a way to encourage Georgian collections to gain interest in what is happening in Eastern part of the world and invest in artists from this Silk Road: Turkey, Iran, Georgia, Indonesia, China… Enabling emerging countries to join the global art market is one the goals of John Dodelande and the 29 year old art collector is very proud to show the international dimension of his work. After its stint in Georgia, the exhibition will move to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan and each exhibition will increase the artwork on display. Furthermore, some of the pieces handpicked by Dodelande and Barak will be shown at the Guggenheim Museum in New York which shows the global interest of the Chinese avant-garde art scene.

Collectors like John Dodelande are the catalyst for much of the change that we see in the art world today. The Georgian Art scene is hosting 10 of the most renowned Chinese contemporary artists’ works at the Georgia National Gallery shows a definite shift in the way the art world is slowly democratizing its access. By bringing together artworks from private collectors and showcasing them in locations that aren’t art capitals, it allows for a sense of renewal across the art scene.

More photos here