HONG KONG – Xu Jianguo: Metropolis Reimagined, a selling exhibition at the Sotheby's Hong Kong Gallery, will soon be unveiled. The exhibition presents over 20 of the artist’s recent works that depict the stunning metropolis landscape of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Guangzhou, with a variety of formats including handscrolls, circular fan leaves and album leaves.

Xu Jianguo, Bird’s-Eye View of Hong Kong, 2011, ink on silk, scroll.

There are four handscrolls in the exhibition, including the 8.07-metre wide New Vista of Shanghai, as well as three pieces depicting Hong Kong scenery of the late Qing period contemporary era and the city’s brilliantly colored skyline at night. The exhibition also includes two album leaves modelled after classic Chinese landscape paintings, by employing the traditional technique of Cunfa and the composition style from the Northern Song Dynasty and Five Dynasties. These two paintings are used by the artist to illustrate the origins of his urban landscape painting techniques. 

Xu Jianguo, Vista of Guangzhou – Scene along the Pearl River Coast, 2012, ink on silk, fan leaf.

“It is an immense challenge to depict the dense and fairly uniform urban architecture using Song Dynasty landscape painting techniques. Xu Jianguo’s brushstrokes display a sense of rhythmic vitality, revealing a contemporary sensibility and keen observation applied to a traditional format and medium. Indeed it is no easy undertaking to perfectly fuse together the two,” commented Angelika Li, Gallery Director of Sotheby's Hong Kong Gallery.

A native of Shanghai, Xu Jianguo has lived in the U.S. for three decades. Such an experience allows him to examine Chinese culture with unusual clarity from a distance. Art from Five Dynasties and the Northern Song Dynasty is highly revered in the international academic world, which views such periods as China’s ages of renaissance. Nevertheless, it seems like such artistic traditions have been largely forgotten by China’s own people. Xu is propelled by an urgent sense of continued heritage but also recognises that direct imitation of ancient traditions is not sufficient. He thus began to explore the use of classical painting techniques to portray contemporary life, as he believes art originates from life and needs to be rooted in genuine emotions.

Xu Jianguo, Evolution of Shanghai, 2014, ink and colour on silk.

“Cities are usually filled with materialistic desires and fierce competitions. Yet it is possible to approach such consumerist excess and brutal competitiveness with a measured and balanced attitude, through the cultivation of personal awareness that frees ourselves from such burdens,” he said. For instance, Moonlight Over Hong Kong, a work of ink on silk circular fan leaf from the current exhibition, beautifully embodies a fascinating otherworldly spirit. There are many diverging ways to view a city, from boisterous and prosperous to open and tranquil. In this piece, the atmosphere is peaceful and its vision expansive. If the natural scenery represents beauty created by the gods, then skyscrapers represent beauty in human creations. The ancient philosophical state of human and nature becoming one is given a new interpretation in this outstanding piece.

Xu Jianguo, Metropolis Reimagined, 2014, ink on silk, scroll.

Xu believes that urban landscapes represent the consolidation of modern humanity over long periods of time. “As the ancient saying goes, externally, [artistic creations] originate from nature’s creations; internally, they rely on the artist’s own understanding. Following such wisdoms, my paintings are informed by reflection upon history and life. The external appearance of a cityscape is vast and sprawling, where mountains of wealth accumulate. Inside, all such prosperity falls away and I view the scenery with calmness in my heart. If this is how one looks at the metropolis, his/her paintings will also naturally reveal, like a flowing stream, the poetry within.”

Beijing-based writer Du Ka reports on art and culture for a variety of magazines in China.

For more information, please email HKgallery@sothebys.com or call +852 2822 5566.