Exhibition proposes a new view of ink art for the contemporary era

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Exhibition proposes a new view of ink art for the contemporary era
Shirazeh Houshiary, Torn, 2009, pencil and white acrylic on canvas, 39 3/8 × 39 3/8 in. (100 × 100 cm), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, promised gift of the Fondation INK, © Shirazeh Houshiary, photo by Ellen Page Wilson, courtesy of the artist.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Los Angeles County Museum of Art presents Ink Dreams: Selections from the Fondation INK Collection. Beyond the concrete materials of ink and paper, there is an intangible spirit uniting works of East Asian ink painting. Ink Dreams explores how this spirit of ink translates to other mediums, global makers, and contemporary times. Comprising 78 works of photography, sculpture, video, and painting, the exhibition proposes a new view of ink art for the contemporary era, one that incorporates qualities from the ink painting tradition and new adaptations of traditional subject matter, unbounded by traditional materials. The exhibition, curated by Susanna Ferrell, Wynn Resorts Assistant Curator of Chinese Art at LACMA, features the work of 53 artists from Asia, Europe, and North America, including Chen Haiyan, Shirazeh Houshiary, Lin Tianmiao, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Xu Bing, Yang Jiechang, and others.

Ink Dreams is the first major presentation of work from the Fondation INK Collection, a 400-piece collection of contemporary art in the spirit of ink that was promised to LACMA in 2018. Since the gift was announced, LACMA has borrowed key works from the Fondation INK Collection for special exhibitions, including Wu Bin: Ten Views of a Lingbi Stone (2018), as well as Sam Francis and Japan: Emptiness Overflowing (2023) and additional exhibitions to be announced. LACMA is also committed to publishing a series of systematic catalogues of the Fondation INK Collection over the next several years, including a 256-page catalogue that accompanies Ink Dreams.

“We are thrilled to present this inaugural exhibition of work showcasing the Fondation INK Collection,” said Ferrell. “Reflecting the larger collection, Ink Dreams offers a unique and novel understanding of contemporary ink art as a genre defined by soft qualities and common themes as opposed to one defined solely by the materials of ink and paper.”

“LACMA is indebted to the immense generosity of Gérard and Dora Cognié, profound collectors and founders of the Fondation INK Collection,” said LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director Michael Govan. “The transformative gift will position LACMA as a leader among U.S. art museums that collect, exhibit, publish, and promote contemporary ink art.”

Ink Dreams features 78 works by 53 artists and is organized in three thematic sections—apparitions, meditations, and dreamscapes, each referencing trends within East Asian ink art history, in order to create through-lines between past and present ink practice. Apparitions includes works that use translucent layering and negative space or absence as important compositional elements. In this section, Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Lightning Fields (2009) series showcases the artist’s mastery of blackand white photography. Sugimoto contrasts the deep black ink of his gelatin silver prints with white flashes of electricity, documenting the sparks of a high-voltage generator in his darkroom. Meditations relates to both religious and non-religious meditation, and the use of repeated gestures and prolonged contemplation in art making. In Meditations, Lui Shou-kwan’s Zen Painting (1969) embodies the concept of sudden enlightenment through thick, swift brushstrokes. Finally, Dreamscapes features contemporary renderings of the imaginary landscape, a frequent subject of historical East Asian ink painting that aims to depict the artist’s own inner landscape as opposed to a landscape found in nature. Chen Haiyan records her dreams in a dream journal, which she later returns to as inspiration for her paintings and woodblock prints. These dreamscapes often feature Chen herself in scenes that are both tense and whimsical, such as Horse and Rose (2005).

Also included in Dreamscapes is an installation of Xu Bing’s Background Story: Ink Variation (from Lui Shou-kwan) (2016), accompanied by Lui Shou-kwan’s Wood Houses in the Mountains (1964). Directly inspired by Liu’s Wood Houses in the Mountains, Xu recreated the painting in the style of his own Background Story series, an ongoing series of multimedia installations that draws inspiration from historical Chinese painters. From the front of the work, fine brushwork and subtle tonal variations are observed, but from behind, an open-back light box is revealed, cluttered with layers of debris. Background Story is, nonetheless, an ink artwork, embodying the spirit and appearance of an ink painting, as well as engaging with the history of copying as both a sign of respect and a method of learning that has been part of Chinese ink art practice for centuries. Lui’s Wood Houses in the Mountains and Xu’s Background Story: Ink Variation (from Lui Shou-kwan) are installed together for the first time in the exhibition.

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