HUANG RUI, Space 85-7, 1985, oil on canvas, 42 × 65 cm. Courtesy 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong.

HUANG RUI, Beijinger, 1988, oil on canvas, 129.3 × 82.5 cm. Courtesy 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong.

Intersections: Huang Rui and Japanese Art from the 1980s

10 Chancery Lane Gallery
Hong Kong China Japan

At 10 Chancery Lane Gallery this spring, guest curator Shigeo Chiba, professor of art history and museology at Chubu University of Nagoya, has put together an exhibition examining the early work of acclaimed Chinese contemporary artist Huang Rui, made during his 15 years abroad in Japan starting from 1984. “Intersections: Huang Rui and Japanese Art from the 1980s” juxtaposes Huang’s abstract paintings with minimalist sculptures by Mono-ha artists Susumu Koshimizu and Nobuo Sekine, drawing connections between the Chinese artist and his Japanese peers.

Born in 1952 in Beijing, Huang experienced the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) as a teenager. Under Mao Zedong’s reeducation campaign, Huang was sent to work on a farm in Inner Mongolia at the age of 16. The end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 brought a new, loosened political climate and a wave of creative outpouring as literature and art from the West began to trickle into the nation. It was during this time that Huang and his peers in Beijing banded into the non-conformist art group Xing Xing (“Stars”). Members included Ma Desheng, Wang Keping and Ai Weiwei, among others. Active from 1979 until its disbanding in 1983, the art collective was the first to actively test the boundaries of artistic freedom in China and, through their works of art, express sentiments of protest against post-Cultural Revolution government censorship. During these early years, Huang experimented with Impressionist, Fauvist and Cubist styles. A year after Xing Xing dissolved, Huang married a Japanese woman and moved abroad to Japan, where he remained until 2000. Since his permanent return to China in 2002, the artist has been living and working in Beijing. Huang’s works in the 10 Chancery Lane show straddle experiments stemming from the Xing Xing phase with his subsequent exposure to the groundbreaking practices and movements of late-1980s Japan.

Huang’s canvases Space 85-7 and Space 85-15 (both 1985), made during his time in Japan, reduce form and color to the fundamentals. These paintings exhibit the artist’s direction toward a looser brush style and a transition away from his Cubist-inspired compositions. Space 85-7 is dominated spatially by a rectangular slab of red laid over the top and bordered by a background of black. Meanwhile, Space-85-15 portrays a solid black canvas interrupted by a wide strip of grey on one side. The textural layering of paint evident in both paintings continued to thrive in Huang’s late-1980s abstractions, such as with two 1988 works of the same name, BeijingerWhite, Grey and Black (1989–90), and a pair of 1989 paintings entitled Citizens. Viscous slabs of paint, in a palette of varying shades of reds, greys, whites and blacks, consume his works from this period, suggesting a distillation of abstraction down to an integrated expression of color, space and energy.

HUANG RUI, Space 85-15, 1985, oil on canvas, 44 × 60 cm. Courtesy 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong.

Works by Sekine and Koshimizu—both core members of the 20th-century Japanese art movement Mono-ha, which championed the construction of relationships between the industrial and the natural—were borrowed from a private collection for the purposes of this exhibition. Koshimizu’s Chair (1987) comprising a plank of wood shaped to reference a chair with a large stone acting as its back legs, recall the discipline required during meditation and one’s humble connection with the earth. Placed atop a pedestal, Sekine’s One Stroke Circle (1974) takes the ensō (“circle” in Japanese) from its two-dimensional representation and transforms it into a three-dimensional form using black granite. In Zen Buddhism, the ensō is a circle hand-drawn with only one or two strokes of ink, expressing a moment of uninhibited creation when the mind is unrestricted and the body freely creates. Placed alongside the sculptural works of Sekine and Koshimizu, Huang’s paintings seem to take on a stronger resonance with the ideologies and aesthetics of Zen Buddhism. The breakdown of formal structures and the measure of freedom achieved in the paintings from his Japan phase suggest a connection with Mono-ha ideas.

An intimate exhibition, “Intersections: Huang Rui and Japanese Art from the 1980s” examines an early chapter of Huang’s oeuvre. An important period in the artist’s career, the Japan years exposed him to a completely different art world outside of China and granted him a certain level of distance and remove from the sociopolitical forces that his peers back home had to struggle against. Decades since, these early experiments from the 1980s have led to a wide-ranging corpus of work that now encompasses photography, installations, printmaking and performance art.

HUANG RUI, White, Grey and Black, 1989–90, oil on canvas, 162 × 130 cm. Courtesy 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong.

“Intersections: Huang Rui and Japanese Art from the 1980s” is on view at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong, until April 30, 2016.

Denise Tsui is assistant editor at ArtAsiaPacific.