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Contemporary Chinese Paintings from the Allen Memorial Art Museum on View at the Akron Art Museum
Wang Guangyi, Great Criticism Series: Chanel, 1994, oil on canvas, 60 1/4 x 48 3/8 in., Collection of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio. Oberlin Friends of Art Fund, 2001.

AKRON, OH.- Featuring works by four internationally renowned artists, Zheng Fanzhi, Wang Guangyi, Shen Jiawei and Hung Liu, Culture Revolution allows viewers a glimpse into the rapidly changing terrain of contemporary Chinese culture. The lush, poetic paintings, on loan from the Allen Memorial Art Museum (AMAM) at Oberlin College, is on view in Akron through February 27, 2011.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to present this selection of remarkable contemporary Chinese paintings from the AMAM,” said Curator of Exhibitions Ellen Rudolph. “Culture Revolution will offer our audiences the chance to learn about modern China through powerful images created by artists who have lived through the tumultuous changes of the last several decades.”

During China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the only manner of artistic expression permitted was a form of official propaganda that glorified the Communist regime through heroic images of peasants and workers. Although China remains a Communist state, the culture has undergone a true revolution since their economy opened to the rest of the world in 1978.

The artists in this exhibition exploit the freedom they now have to draw from all eras of Chinese and Western art. In doing so, they not only speak of their individual experiences navigating the social and political upheaval of the last three decades, but they also reflect the clash of outmoded Socialist ideas with the consumerism brought about by capitalist reforms.

Recognizing the depth and diversity of China’s post-1978 art scene, Charles Mason, then Curator of Asian Art at the Allen Memorial Art Museum, began in the late 1990s to expand the Allen’s collection of Chinese art into the present. The AMAM continues to foster its holdings of contemporary Chinese art, which include the paintings featured in Culture Revolution.

Wang Guangyi‘s Great Criticism series was inspired by the propaganda paintings of the Cultural Revolution. Guangyi cross-breeds political propaganda with the language and styles of American Pop art and commercial advertising. The message of the Mao-era paintings is ironically replaced with the promise of happiness through capitalist consumption.

After immigrating to the United States in 1984, Hung Liu took advantage of her newfound freedom to take on topics such as political persecution and hunger—which her family experienced firsthand—in her native China. She renders these subjects timeless by combining traditional Chinese symbols such as birds, butterflies and fish with images from old photographs and finally overlays her compositions with washes and drips that dissolve the picture. Like Wang Guangyi, Liu unites past and present by mixing opposing styles and icons. Examining their national and artistic identities in the wake of the Cultural Revolution, these artists reflect the push and pull of conflicting tendencies as they continue to experience China’s revolutionary shifts.

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