Pace Beijing presents a joint exhibition of Sol LeWitt and Zhang Xiaogang, featuring a series of over 20 new paintings by renowned Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang; the exhibition marks his return to Beijing after four years. Zhang’s new works are positioned in a spiritual dialogue with sculptures and wall drawings by the American master Sol LeWitt. ‘Sol LeWitt and Zhang Xiaogang’ marks the first comprehensive exposition of LeWitt’s representative works in China.
The ideas of ‘Conceptual Art’ introduced by Sol LeWitt in the 1960s sought to set art free from the shackles of formalism, and his radical practice had a profound and widespread influence on the artists of his generation and beyond. In order to uphold the principal and constitutional idea of ‘perception’, the visual language used by LeWitt was reduced to a fundamental basis, creating varying sequential structures with basic geometric shapes, thus radically eliminating the
uncontrolled variable, namely his personal feelings, from the artistic practice. He further subverted the traditions of art practice by producing a series of wall drawings, which were in fact executed by his assistants following LeWitt’s detailed guidelines. By separating the process of creation from the actual production, the artist broke away from the constraints and limitations
set by technical skills, therefore reaching a higher level of conceptualism.
While LeWitt’s work extracts and purifies the physical into the conceptual, Zhang’s work opens up a psychological inner world, which is more metaphorical in comparison. The major difference stems from the fact that the American master was mostly concerned with art itself. However, the issues that Zhang is facing, as China’s most representative contemporary artist, are much more
complex, multi-dimensional and intrusive in nature. Intertwining history with reality, nations with cultures, collective memories with private memories, the rich imagery in his work could not survive in a vacuum of abstract space, but is able to reconstruct and renew itself within the emotional and imaginative construct of private memories. In his new body of work, Zhang dramatically changes his visual direction in regard to the construction of the inner space. The
implied text and imagery in his previous works are turned into concrete visual symbols. Objects re-appearing in his artworks, such as a door, a window, a mirror, a cabinet and a drawer, divide the rooms of memories into multiple layers, and formally become the archive of memories in Zhang’s new body of work. Each section of the ‘Sol LeWitt and Zhang Xiaogang’ exhibition is constructed in such a way as to carry a different artistic orientation. However, be it an intellectually abstract construction or a metaphorical room in a spiritual sense, their significance is beyond a mere physical existence.
This stark contrast leads to a strong collision in the juxtaposition of the exhibits. A translucent wall dividing the works of Zhang and LeWitt helps to blur the boundary between the exhibited pieces, generating a visual clash on one hand and a harmonious, conceptual co-existence on the other.
In our globalised world, the discussion on the traditional and the modern, the conceptual and the physical, the abstract and the figurative, is no longer a fierce battle on the grounds of art history. LeWitt’s pioneering ideas became the source of unlimited inspiration in artistic thinking and since 1960s have been liberating artists from the constraints of technical skills. Zhang regained his courage to paint under the influence of such liberation. Able to enjoy the freedom
of artistic expression, his work returned to a pure personal fascination with art. Artists who have been set free would first need to confront their own personal history and depict their inner space.