Installaion view of “Hsiao Chin. A Collection” at Fondazione Marconi, Milan, 2017. Photo by Fabio Mantegna. Courtesy Fondazione Marconi.

Hsiao Chin. A Collection.

Hsiao Chin

Fondazione Marconi
China Taiwan Italy

HSIAO CHIN, Due Luci, 1967, acrylic on canvas, 80 × 80 cm. Courtesy Fondazione Marconi, Milan.

The Fondazione Marconi in Milan dedicated a museum-sized retrospective to Chinese artist Hsiao Chin, including more than 200 works from the gallery’s collection. Showcasing paintings on canvas and paper dating from the late 1950s to the present, the exhibition traced the development of Hsiao’s colorful abstraction infused with principles of Taoist philosophy and symbolism.

Born in Shanghai in 1935, Hsiao moved to Taiwan when he was 14, where he graduated from the Fine Arts Department of the National Taiwan Normal University, and in the mid-1950s he became part of the Ton-Fan Art group, which pioneered avant-garde abstraction drawing on Western and Chinese art traditions as sources of inspiration. To widen his knowledge of Western art, Hsiao traveled to Europe and the United States from the late ’50s to the ’70s, living for some time in Madrid, Barcelona and Milan. During this time, Hsiao got to know influential exponents of the post-war abstract avant-gardes, such as Antoni Tàpies in Spain, Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni in Italy, and Willem De Kooning and Robert Raushemberg in the US. Though Western art critics have often described the influences of Western abstraction in his work, Hsiao insists that his art practice is personal and spiritual research inspired by Eastern philosophical principles: “I use the medium of painting and sculpture,” said Hsiao in conversation with Maurizio Vanni in 2005, “as others use philosophy, meditation, mysticism, religion.”

Entering the gallery, one was immediately enveloped in a burst of energy that flows from Hsiao’s paintings. This was the mood exuding from a group of bright, acrylic paintings dating from the 1960s, featuring compositions with basic geometric forms, mostly triangles and squares, combined with small round elements, marked by lively color contrasts. For example, in a rhombus-shaped, electric blue canvas entitled Due Luci (1967), Hsiao places two small, bright pink circles in opposite corners, creating a visual counterpoint to enliven an otherwise static symmetry. In contrast, L’illuminazione – 2 (1970) is a quieter, minimal composition featuring two thin, parallel lines in delicate hues of pink and yellow that run horizontally across the upper half of a white canvas. The color white for Hsiao represents the absence of passion, which is a prerequisite for attaining enlightenment via Zen meditation.

HSIAO CHINL’illuminazione – 2, 1970, acrylic on canvas, 112 × 130 × 10 cm. Courtesy Fondazione Marconi, Milan.

Installaion view of “Hsiao Chin. A Collection” at Fondazione Marconi, Milan, 2017. Photo by Fabio Mantegna. Courtesy Fondazione Marconi.

HSIAO CHINUno Più Due, 1963, ink and acrylic on canvas, 80 × 70 cm. Courtesy Fondazione Marconi, Milan.

HSIAO CHINLa Cascata – 9, 1987, gouache on paper, 75 × 53.5 cm. Courtesy Fondazione Marconi, Milan.

The image of the sun recurs in Hsiao’s artistic path: A piece entitled Uno Più Due (1963), which features a pale orange globe on an indigo background between two parallel lilac bands, condenses the essence of a melancholic sunset in a few simple shapes. Hsiao has often explained that he uses geometric shapes as symbols of natural and cosmic elements. The artist sees his compositions as simplified models of the cosmos, and his search in harmonic relations between forms is the infused with the Taoist belief that the universe is an oscillation of the complementary forces of yin and yang.

Among the most enticing artworks were those showing the influence of Chinese calligraphy, in which Hsiao’s style becomes gestural and impressionistic, as in a set of gouache paintings in which bold, wide brushstrokes in blues, greens and reds fade on white paper before turning into a trail of colorful confetti. A piece entitled La Cascata – 9 (1987) suggests the movement of falling water with just two sweeping brushstrokes of blue—one lighter, one more intense—interspersed with tiny drops of color that recall the iridescence of waterfalls hit by sunrays. A somewhat abstract landscape entitled Chi (Energia) – 225 (1984) features an arch formed by dabs of brilliant yellows, reds, greens and blues, sweeping across a white sky over a barely outlined landscape, like a majestic comet radiating energy and movement.

Driven by a desire to tap into the cosmos to search for spiritual enrichment, Hsiao Chin’s abstraction speaks universally through his compelling formal language. The symbolic underpinnings of the artist’s creations testify to a layered practice, and the charm and verve of his metaphysical universe lingered long after viewers left the show.

“Hsiao Chin. A Collection” is on view at Fondazione Marconi, Milan, until September 15, 2017.

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