Li Yuan-chia (Li Yuanjia)
- Li Yuan-chia (Li Yuanjia)
- Senza titolo
- signed in Chinese; signed in English on the reverse
- oil on canvas mounted on board
- 34.5 by 21.5 cm; 13 5/8 by 8 1/2 in.
“Though the Post-war West knew little of modern Chinese art, they were aware of China’s rich and longstanding cultural history, ardently awaiting an introduction to her complexities. In my view, at the time, nobody had yet undertaken such an effort. As a result, we took it upon ourselves to schedule multiple exhibitions featuring Eastern painting and the work of overseas Chinese artists. Consequently, in the 1960s Movimento Punto was born, calling for like-minded individuals from East and West to introduce the Eastern artistic spirit into modern Western artistic circles.”
Hsiao Chin in conversation with Sotheby’s, June 2017
After the Second World War, modern art entered a new phase of development: this period of roughly thirty years, from the conclusion of the WWII to the 1970s, is often considered the golden age of Post-war Art. Many of the giant figures of this era were born during the 1920s and 30s, amidst the momentary prosperity of the Interwar Period. However, the coming of the Second World War brought with it the frightful experience of mankind’s near self-annihilation; by the time that these figures had reached adulthood, and come to terms with the Post-war world order, they had already shouldered the responsibility of ensuring the rebirth and revitalization of modern civilization. This unique experience endowed them with a profound understanding of the world, and a capacity for introspection, quite unlike those Post-war artists who were nearing old age, or the contemporary artists born during the Post-war period, untouched by the devastation of conflict. The Post-war Art that they created would come to dominate global artistic development for the remainder of the century, becoming the beating heart of international Modern and Contemporary art.
Post-war Art’s most important feature was the fact that artists were themselves confronting a broken world still rife with political tension. Everyone simultaneously abandoned visual narrative in the creative context, and instead focused on the manifestation of their internal spirituality; thereby establishing the abstract craze of the 1950s. Prior to this, abstract creativity had been considered a form of malpractice, typical of self-indulgent emotion or attempts to brashly exhibit one’s technical ability. However, the efforts of artists from both East and West helped achieve a timely reappraisal the abstract. Concurrent with this trend, Hsiao Chin (b. 1935) and his contemporaries from Occident and Orient alike launched Movimento Punto in Milan – a lasting actualization of all the Post-war cultural and artistic exchange between East and West.
In 1961, Movimento Punto was born out of the efforts of Hsiao Chin, Li Yuan-Chia (1929-1994), Antonio Calderara (1903-1978) and Azuma Kenjiro (1926-2016). Punto literally means ‘point’ in Italian, the smallest creative component of Western art, and reminiscent of Eastern philosophy’s conception of all things as one. The ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes once said; “give me one firm spot on which to stand, and I shall move the earth.”
Indeed, in this spontaneous and avant-garde movement from the Post-war era, we find a reverence for and belief in the power of wisdom analogous to that of the ancient Philosophers. Movimento Punto spanned the entire 1960s; having begun in Milan, it gradually expanded across all of Europe’s major cities, and even reached Taipei. Thirteen exhibitions were held in total, and of these the 1962’s second Punto exhibition was the largest in scale. Not only was the exhibition endorsed by Barcelona’s local government, it was actually held in the Palacio de la Virreina, an important historical landmark with a two-hundred year history, situated in the center of Barcelona, and which today houses the city’s Cultural Institute. The exhibitors came from three continents and eleven countries, in total comprising twenty-six artists. 1963 marked the staging of the third Punto at the Italian ceramic center Albisola Superiore, where the eighteen exhibiting artists came from seven different countries. In terms of Movimento Punto’s popular continuity, wide scope, and abundance of participation it was one of the greatest movements of the Post-war art world. It was unique in the fact that it was an international movement with a coherent style quite distinct from that of former generations, which had been initiated in the West by Asian artists.
Of the Chinese and Taiwanese artists living in Italy at the time, Hsiao Chin deserves greatest credit for Movimento Punto being able to exhibit. In 1956, at just twenty-two years old, he launched the Post-war To-Fan Group; and Hsiao, Li Yuan-chia, Ho Kan, and other similar figures became known as the “Eight Great Outlaws,” the first collective to break the stagnation of Taiwanese artistic circles. As each of his fellow “outlaws” began to travel to Europe and North America, Hsiao Qin too followed suit, coordinating over forty exhibitions of Ton-Fan Group in the West. In order to promote the unification of overseas Chinese artists, in 1964 Hsiao arranged an exhibition in the West German city of Leverkusen, titled Chinesische Künstler der Gegenwart, inviting a variety of overseas Chinese and Taiwanese artists to participate in the event and thereby establishing the foundation of Movimento Punto. Meanwhile, Hsiao was also forging close friendships with a group of Western masters. For instance, the great Italian Spatialitist Lucio Fontana was often generous in lending his works to Movimento Punto exhibitions, helping popularize them with his famous reputation. Furthermore, Fontana himself, along with a number of Movimento Punto’s Western advocates, had formerly been key members of Zero Art Group, such as the Italian Enrico Castellani or the Venezuelan Jesús Rafael Soto; in this sense, Movimento Punto can be regarded as the first large scale cooperative and collaborative group of artists from both East and West.
At this evening sale, Sotheby’s will open the prelude with Movimento Punto, so as to encourage its recognition as one of the great artistic feats of the past half-century. Among the works previously auctioned are; Li Yuan-chia’s early pieces, from his time with Ton-Fan Group in Taipei to his days at Movimento Punto in Milan; Hsiao Qin’s Dancing Light and Il Sole series, symbolizing the zenith of his oeuvre from the 1960s; Kenjirō Azuma’s speciality works, namely his sculptures which amalgamate the spatial philosophies of East and West; Jesús Rafael Soto’s work, emblematic of Western artists’ involvement in Movimento Punto, and which blend installation and painting, implying movement through the absence of it; and lastly Zao Wou-Ki’s work, renowned as the representative of travel to France, but who also, in 1964, participated in the Chinesische Künstler der Gegenwart in Germany, and became close with the members of Movimento Punto, thus affirming the great influence and gravitas of this international movement. Sotheby’s cordially invites collectors to appreciate and enjoy the works of such masters, and to partake in the revival of this most magnificent and affecting period of history.
Exhibitions of Movimento Punto
Movimento Punto - The First Exhibition, Milan, Galleria Cadario, May 1962
Movimento Punto - The Second Exhibition, Barcelona, Palacio de la Virreina, August 1962
Movimento Punto - The Third Exhibition, Albissola, August 1962
Movimento Punto - The Fourth Exhibition, Florence, Galleria Numero, January 1963
Movimento Punto - The Fifth Exhibition, Taipei, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 1963
Movimento Punto - The Sixth Exhibition, Macerata, Municipal Modern Art Museum of Macerata, May 1964
Movimento Punto - The Seventh Exhibition, Venice, Galleria Gritti, Summer 1964
Movimento Punto - The Eighth Exhibition, Bologna, Galleria 2000, December 1964
Movimento Punto - The Ninth Exhibition, Zurich, Galerie S. Bollag, May 1965
Movimento Punto - The Tenth Exhibition, Florence, Galleria Numero, 1965
Movimento Punto - The Eleventh Exhibition, Rome, Galleria Numero, 1965
Movimento Punto - The Twelfth Exhibition, Mestre, Galleria L’Elefant, June 1965
Movimento Punto - The Thirteenth Exhibition, Ancona, Galleria Fanesi, May 1966
The Precursor to Movimento Punto – The Ton Fan Group
Prior to the genesis of Movimento Punto, a number of its members had already been producing avant-garde art and organizing group exhibitions during the 1950s. Of these forerunners, the Ton Fan Group, which began in Taipei and then migrated westward, had the closest links to Movimento Punto – essentially the precursor to the group. Having emigrated from China to Taiwan, in 1951 Li Chung-sheng (1912-1984) set up the Avant-Garde Study Centre on An Dong street, Taipei. This school managed to attract the attention of Hsiao Chin (b. 1935), Li Yuan-chia (1929-1994), Ho Kan (b. 1932), and several other young artists, all of whom went to study there. In 1957, the students of Li’s formally established the Ton Fan Group – the first avant-garde art group to exist in Taiwan, and indeed the wider Chinese world. On the 9th November that year they staged what was known as The First Ton Fan Group Exhibition – A United Display of Chinese and Spanish Painters, thereby taking the first steps in showcasing original works of Western avant-garde artists and displaying the achievements of post-war Taiwanese art. At the time, the writer He Fan reported on the eight founders of the Ton Fan Group in United Daily, titling his piece An Exhibition of Outlaws. As such, the group was consequently dubbed the Eight Great Outlaws. After Hsiao Chin, Li Yuan-chia and Ho Kan moved to the West, the Ton Fan Group followed suit, relocating from Taipei to Europe and the Americas. In 1961, the original members of the group, Li Yuan-chia and Hsiao Qin, joined with the Italian Antonia Calderara (1903-1978) and the Japanese artist Azuma Kenjiro (1926-2016) to form Movimento Punto. Accordingly then, the discernable Eastern character of Movimento Punto’s advocates was in fact an extension of the Ton Fan Group’s legacy.
Oracle Bone Script and Li Yuan-chia’s Eastern Abstraction
During the 1950s, following Dimensions Art Centre’s publication of the Eastern Modern Art Aide-Memoire, the Eight Great Outlaws renovated a 60m2 air-raid shelter on Long Jiang Street in Taipei, converting it into an artist studio. It was in this creative space, rich in the essence of the Second World War, that they created their first batch of avant-garde pieces. Unfortunately, since the shelter was reclaimed by the government some time during the 1960s, the artists were forced to hurriedly burn the majority of their works. As such very few works from this early period have survived, making Li Yuan-chia’s two works at this evening sale (Lot 1001 and 1002) incredibly rare treasures.
Li Yuan-chia was born in Guangxi, China in 1929. Having immigrated to Taiwan in 1949, Li Chung-sheng became his mentor in 1952. By 1957, not only had he co-founded the Ton Fan Group, he had also represented Taiwan at the Sao Paulo Biennale, becoming the youngest Chinese artist to do so. Much like the other “outlaws,” under the tutelage of Li Chung-sheng, Li Yuan-chia was exposed to Impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism, and other modernist concepts, as well as several distinguished Western masters of abstraction, such as Paul Klee and Joan Miro. In fact, Klee’s own incorporation of Eastern scripts in his work encouraged Eastern artists to return to their roots, to search for modernity and originality in their parent culture; oracle bone script thus became their source of inspiration, with a high degree of plasticity.
The two pieces Senza titolo, were both created in 1957 (the 46th year of the Republic), the very year of the Ton Fan Group’s inception, and the very year in which Li Yuan-chia participated in the Sao Paulo biennale for the first time. In the portrait piece, the oracle bone script is stretched across the vertical plane, compressing into the central part of the piece and leaving the sides blank, thus creating a unique space of penetrative power. On the russet background Li adds layers of dark-magenta, orange-red and lemon yellow – as though glancing at ancient history through the lens of a dream-world. Li’s landscape piece is even more rich and diverse; apart from using greasepaints to build texture, Li has also employed scraping techniques. By engraving the work with the typical artistic imagery of the ancients, he imbues it with rustic, unadorned vestiges of life.