Yan Shi Zhong
East Meets West, Murphy Hill Gallery, through May 20
(text in color was edited out of the Newcity version)
In 1955, the Soviet Union sent Konstantin Maksimov (1913-1993) to Beijing to train a select group of Chinese students how to make social-realist art.
And thus began another east-west cultural exchange, one that is still practiced by Chinese artists around the world. Like their commercial counterparts in capitalist countries, their message was restricted to what they were selling. But with Maksimov, as well as many others, the work often seems to have been made to impress other artists, not just the unwashed masses, and at its best can be enjoyed as subtle, expressive, post-Impressionist painting just as much as works by Cezanne or Van Gogh. And so, over 50 years later, we now have the 15 members of the “Oil Painting Society of Chinese American”, most of them art professors in Midwestern universities, and now free to express whatever they wish. All but one were sent to peasant villages during the Cultural revolution, triumphed against the odds to win the post-Mao national competition to get into college, studied art with the generation trained by the Russians, learned English, and finally realized the dream of coming to America.
Zhi Wei Tu
Each one of them would be a success story even if they never lifted a brush again, but indeed these 15 are still painting, some of them quite well, and a few of them, like Zhi Wei Tu and Victor Wang gaining national reputations despite an art education that was incompatible with either the minimalism or conceptualism of contemporary art. They have much more in common with what is here disparaged as middle-brow, even if American portraits, landscapes, and still-lifes done in traditional European styles continue to have many talented practitioners. Several of these American born artists have also been included in this exhibit.,
including David Leffel, who channels Rembrandt,
Clayton Beck III
Clayton Beck III who reincarnates Nicolai Fechin,
and Matthew and Magdalena Almy whose Ravenswood Academy, here in Chicago, harkens back to the ateliers of Bouguereau and Gerome. Notable about the pieces chosen, is that so many of them are still-lifes of Asian sculpture or ceramics, reminding us that cultural exchange continues to go in both directions. Joining these two groups, is a selection of more traditional water media painters from the Chinese Artists’ Association of North America, founded by a legend of Chicago’s Chinatown, Andy Chan.
Their techniques, materials, and subject matter may be ancient, but the brash effect of their work is as modern as an interstate billboard. All of this, plus more, takes place in 40,000 square feet on the third floor of the old Sears Roebuck corporate headquarters near Homan and the Eisenhower, in the last show this space will have before it is converted into commercial development. Special credit goes to Chinese born artist Mary Qian who dreamed up this enormous display as a kind of homage to the generations of Chinese artists who came to America before her,
and to African-American Ralph Murphy, the entrepreneur who always finds a way to make interesting things happen.
Li Lin Lee
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
East-West at Murphy-Hill
Yan Shi Zhong