NY Times Says Chinese Ink Painter Wu Guanzhong Melds Ancient and Modern

A Big Manor, 2001, ink and color on rice paper. (Shanghai Art Museum)

On Friday, The New York Times reviewed Asia Society Museum's Revolutionary Ink: The Paintings of Wu Guanzhong, a retrospective of one of China's most loved artists, as the exhibition enters its final weeks.

Critic Karen Rosenberg found that through the series of paintings Wu "comes across as a seamless integrator of ancient values and modern visual trends."

The New York exhibition, which closes Sunday, August 5, is the first major retrospective celebrating the 60-year career of Wu (1919–2010), one of China’s most significant and admired 20th century artists. Organized in collaboration with the Shanghai Art Museum, the exhibition traces the artist’s development in the medium of ink painting from the mid-1970s through 2004. Works on view represent Wu’s radical individual approach integrating European modernism and abstract expressionism with traditional Chinese ink painting.

The New York Times writes that even though the easing of the Cultural Revolution in the early '70s made it possible for artists to work in Western-style oil painting, Wu chose to "to work in the more traditional Chinese medium of ink...turning out landscapes that evoke those of masters like Guo Xi, Daoji and Wu Zhen. (Adriana Proser’s catalog essay, 'Wu Guanzhong and the Tradition of Chinese Landscape Painting,' is helpful here.)."

"Even when he is painting a nontraditional subject like the Grand Canyon, Wu’s use of line and wash establishes continuity with historical Chinese painting," Rosenberg continues. "In places, though — and especially in his very late, most abstract work — his Western studies and oil-painting background show through. His exuberant mural 'The Hua Mountains at Sunset' (1997), which opens the exhibition, bristles with Abstract Expressionist brio. Its snaking black lines and clustered dots look like Pollock-esque drips, even though they are actually the trails and resting points of a brush making full contact with paper."

Rosenberg writes that Wu's treatments of architecture are just as experimental in ways that may not be obvious to the Western eye. "As the exhibition’s co-curator Melissa Chiu [and Asia Society Museum Director] notes, buildings in traditional Chinese paintings are often blips in vast landscapes; in Wu’s compositions they become central."

You can find the essays by Chiu and Proser, Asia Society's John H. Foster Curator for Traditional Asian Art, in the exhibition's catalogue and see more coverage of the exhibition at Asia Society In the News.

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Alex Ortolani is Asia Society’s Senior Media and Content Officer.