Bearing Witness to a Century of Chinese Art
During the twentieth century, diverse influences came to bear on the development of Chinese art. Chinese artists who studied in France during the Republican Period absorbed Western Realism; their contemporaries studying in Japan learned about the styles of that nation; and later, in the New China, the Soviet School became ascendant. The paintings of Wang Yin have always roamed between these various influences, and his style could be said to reflect the various painting methods of contemporary Chinese art history while also moving toward a new aesthetic direction. In terms of his explorations of Chinese art and the scholarly quality of his artworks, Wang Yin has no peer. These achievements have etched his name in the annals of Chinese art history. In 2016, the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art held a major solo exhibition of Wang Yin’s work that received widespread scholarly acclaim, demonstrating his importance as an artist. This auction features his 2014 work, Folk Dance, which depicts an important theme that the artist began to address in 2007: ethnic minorities. Folk Dance is a relatively late work from this period. After years of experimenting with variations on this theme, Wang Yin presents in Folk Dance a more refined and succinct expression of this extremely important subject in contemporary Chinese art. The artist uses painting to discuss the influence of this subject on Chinese art history, and therefore this work can be considered a summary of the theme.
Wang Yin was born in 1964. He grew up in Qingdao, where his art education began at an early age. Oil painting was part of his family’s traditions, and he was particularly influenced by his father, who endorsed the Soviet School of painting. His earliest inspiration and experience came from the Soviet style and the “Workers-Peasants-Soldiers” imagery of the Cultural Revolution period. Later, the artist discovered his father’s album of paintings, which included Chinese oil paintings from the Republican Period (1911-1949) that had been influenced by Western and Japanese styles. In the New China, in which the Soviet School of painting was predominant, the oil paintings of the Republican Period were considered crude. However, Wang Yin began to study these “crude” paintings and to adopt their style as his own. From figure painting to colour use, his work bore a strong connection to the Republican Period oil paintings, but they represented more than a simple nostalgia. Wang Yin stated: “After 2000, every now and then, I would put ‘Soviet paintings,’ Republican era paintings and my own works on a table, to examine the relationships between them, such as the relationship between Xu Beihong’s paintings and my own, or the relationship between the subjects chosen by ethnic minority painters and the subjects in my own work. I disassembled and broke down these relationships, but what it really revealed was the relationship between myself and oil painting, and why I make oil paintings" (The Gift, or This Thing Called Oil Painting and how it Because Connected to Us—Wang Yin in Conversation with Philip Tinari).
Wang Yin’s creative practice is an exploration and re-creation of a century of Chinese art history, and in his painting, he has located the incision point of the discussion. Ethnic minorities became important as subject material after the Cultural Revolution, and humanistic artists such as Ai Xuan, Chen Danqing, and Yuan Yunsheng travelled the country to seek authentic scenes of minority life, as did later artists like Zhang Xiaogang and Mao Xuhui. At the same time, ethnic minorities were being held up as political models to support the propaganda of ethnic unity. Therefore, Wang Yin’s use of ethnic minority subject material is not only a study in styles but also a reconsideration of ideology. Prior to Dance, Tibetan Dance (2012) and Bouyei Dance (2013) both similarly depict the dances of ethnic minorities in a condensation of movements, clothing, and shapes. In his treatment of the four women in red skirts, sleeveless blouses, and scarfs in Folk Dance, Wang Yin again omits the details, erasing the women’s facial features and simplifying the complex. All that remains are human outlines, shadows on the ground, and the movements themselves. The painting is flat, like an etching. In colour, it resembles Republican Period oil paintings in a way that completely diverges from the “Red, Bright, and Shining” aesthetic of the New China and the post-Cultural Revolution Realist style. In this way, Wang Yin produces a completely original aesthetic.