Wang Keping’s “Recent Works”
By Jamie Kulhanek
Wang Keping’s solo exhibition of his latest sculptures opened on March 26, at Galerie Zürcher, during Asian Contemporary Art Week in New York. The Beijing-born, Paris-based artist—a founding member of the avant-garde art collective Stars Group in 1980s China—showed 11 abstract wooden sculptures.
The production of Wang’s sculptures involves an intimate process in which the artist works on one log for at least a year—taking time to allow the sculptural form, which Wang believes is inherent in each piece of wood, to reveal itself to him. The yearlong procedure is a solitary adventure, from the cutting of the trees to the firing and final glazing of the sculpture, in which all of his works are produced without the help of assistants. A catalog accompanying the exhibition gives a glimpse of the artistic process, with a photograph of the 62-year-old Wang, appearing young and lively, roaming the woods near his Paris home with a chainsaw in hand, while he searches for intriguing tree formations from which to create new sculptures.
Visitors at the gallery are invited to interact with the various sculptures, as part of Wang’s investigation into the relationship between people and nature. In touching the sculptures’ meticulously smoothed surface, one could sense the intense control and dedicated concentration of the human hand to alter the rugged texture of the log into a marble-like surface. Bust (2009–10) displays Wang’s use of the trees’ natural formations to bring forth an abstract, sexual figure. Two tree knots from the original log are utilized to form nipples on the breasts of a female-like figure. A short branch that protrudes from the back of the log is also retained and formed into a ponytail on the figure’s head. The irregular features, which are naturally present on the wood, guide Wang in realizing the sculptural ideas that lie within the logs.
The meticulously smooth finish of the sculptures, which show man’s ability to manipulate natural materials into conceptual forms, and the natural irregularities of the wood create hybrid sculptures that simultaneously embody the original log form and man-made anthropomorphic forms. Woman with Bun (2009–10), a Cubist-like representation of a human figure, is composed of various abstract shapes, as well as hints of the wood’s natural fissures and tree rings that have been left in as part of the sculpture.
Wang’s sculptures play with our cognitive association and identification of images and forms. The sculptures, which are made from natural materials that are manipulated to resemble basic human forms, investigate people’s primal connection to, as well as their urge to control and manipulate, nature.