From September 25 to December 19, 2021, UCCA Center for Contemporary Art
presents Huang Rui: Ways of Abstraction. Since the late 1970s, Huang Rui (b. 1952, Beijing, lives and works in Beijing) has been active at the forefront of Chinese contemporary art as an artist and instigator, who notably co-organized the Stars Art Exhibition in 1979 and pioneered contemporary art practice in China. Huang Rui: Ways of Abstraction is the largest solo exhibition by the artist in recent years. Featuring more than 40 paintings and sculpture installations from the beginning of the artists career to the present day, this exhibition explores the language of abstraction and East Asian thoughts that have informed the artists practice for decades. Structured by five seriesEarly Abstraction, Space, Space Structure, Experiments with Ink, and Installation Worksworks on view include the latest paintings created in 2021 in the Heaven, Earth, Man series, and exhibited for the first time, the oil paintings in the 2020 Inside-out Dao series. Huang Rui: Ways of Abstraction is curated by UCCA Director Philip Tinari with UCCA Assistant Curator Neil Zhang.
Huang Ruis foray into abstract painting can be traced back to 1978 and the Stars Art Exhibition late the following year, where abstract art, including several paintings of his own, was openly exhibited for the first time in post-Revolution China. First shown during this period, Infinite Space (1979), included here again in the Early Abstraction section, is the first significant abstract painting by the artist. Throughout the late 1970s and early 80s, Huang Ruis exploration of abstraction in the works in this section not only foreshadow the artists later shift towards a focus on the abstract, they also offer vivid testimony of the eras artistic movements and social transformations.
At the beginning of the 1980s, Huang Rui started searching for an approach towards abstraction that was grounded in his personal experience, one that would be more deeply abstract and rooted in the local context. His examination of theinteraction between architectural form and spiritual space in the courtyard house of Beijing led to works in the Space Structure series. Following his relocation to Japan in 1984, where he would live for the next fifteen years, Huang Rui began to explore the connections between materials, content, and brush work in painting. Inspired by the design philosophy of Japanese houses, such as an old rice warehouse that he used as his studio, that integrate space, form, and use, the Space series sees Huang Rui using black paint to create a kind of frame within his images that opens up a freer spiritual space within the picture plane. This series is echoed in the Space (Recovery) paintings made in 2015, in which the artist recreated according to photographs and sketches some of the Space paintings destroyed in his move back to China.
During his time in Japan, Huang Rui also made a series of experiments with ink under the influence of the Gutai group and avant-garde calligraphy. He was particularly inspired by how the splashes, brushstrokes, and other techniques of avant-garde calligraphy could be harnessed to create visual abstraction. In his ink wash paintings, Huang Rui utilizes a pure form of the abstract to produce an intense visual impact. The left and right sides of each piece often function as separate compositions, opposed to each other yet seeking a kind of reconciliation and unity. In these large-scale paintings, ink soaks through the interior of rice paper, connecting between the space on the front and back sides of the paper. Huang Rui took advantage of this unique feature of the materials in his exhibitions in Japan in the mid-1980s, adopting ink wash pieces as spatial dividers hung within the exhibition halls, using physical attributes of the ink and paper to add depth to the picture plane.
Contemplation on East Asian aesthetics and East Asian philosophy have been formative to Huang Ruis abstract painting practice, especially since 1933 when he began to study the Tao Te Ching and the Book of Changes. The turns and changes embedded within the names of each hexagram in the Book of Changes informs the core idea of constant change in his practice. The Inside-out Dao series (2020) is a result of Huang Ruis more fluid and breezy ways of abstraction in connection to the idea of dao in Taoism. In these large-scale paintings with a minimalistic palette, the viscous texture of oil forms in contrast with a flowing, ink wash effect created with diluting oil paint. The language of abstraction in the Inside-out Dao series eludes the traditional geometric order of the universe; through the juxtaposition between the different kinetics of the brushwork on the canvas, Huang contracts a freer, new, three-dimensional space on the canvases.
Beyond the canvas, Huang Ruis in-depth study of East Asian philosophy and bold, experimental approach to the language of abstraction are materialized in the installation works at this exhibition. The three sculpture installations expand upon his use of the materiality of ink as a direct medium of expression, his cosmic view of the relationship between Taoist cosmology and urban ecology in the context of a global pandemic, and an alternative thread in his study of space and objects in sculpture form.
Huang Rui (b. 1952, Beijing, lives and works in Beijing) was a founding member of the groundbreaking Chinese avant-garde art group The Stars. In the 1980s, his practice centered on painting, and in the 1990s he began to explore more diverse and experimental art-making techniques, including installation, performance art, photography, and prints. His major solo exhibitions include Animal Time: 1204-2009 (Coudenberg Museum, Brussels, 2009); Chinese History in Animal Time (Museo delle Mura, Rome 2009); Huang Rui: The Stars Times 1977-1984 (He Xiangning Art Museum, Shenzhen, 2007); Chai-Na/China (Les Rencontres dArles Photography Festival, 2007); and Huang Rui Exhibition (Osaka Contemporary Art Center, 1990). Select group exhibitions include Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2017); CHINA 8 (various venues, Germany, 2015); the Venice Biennale (2013); and the Stars Art Exhibition (east garden of the National Art Gallery, Beijing, 1979).