Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Scholarly artist

The Knoxville Museum of Art presents "Ziaoze Xie: Amplified Moments", the first exhibition of the artist in the United States. Xiaoze Xie ( Shau-zuh She-ay) is born in Guandong, China , in 1966 and belongs to the "Tiananmen Square generation." He is presently a professor of Art and Art History at Standford.

The background of Xiaoze Xie may explain his fascination for the written media. " Books because of my horror at the destruction of books by the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution" states the artist in an article published in 2009. The exhibition plunges the visitor in the artist's world with several dark paintings of medium size. They all have a common subject: books, newspapers, abandonned. Some of the works are paintings from his Library Series ( MET Library, 2009, The MOMA Library, 2005, Shangai #1...). With a dreamlike realism, they bring a flavor of silent decay.

More books follow in the next work Untitled (Being and Nothingness #1), 10 square paintings arranged in a bigger grid-like installation, representing red shadows of books from well-known authors like Marx, Sartre, Nietzsche... glowing on the black background (burning?).

Contrasting with these is an "Apocalypse Now" style of fiery rendition of downtown Baghdad, during the invasion in 2003 with Fragmentation Series. A closer look shows a mixture of newspaper clips on the left side and the story of the event, painted in layers, burning of official buildings, lines of tanks, weapons, and a layer of local citizens crushed in between. The painting is like a postcard but purposely blurry, like a memory.

The next series of paintings with a heavy political undertone is also related to the Iraq war. It is a gallery of portraits in black and white: Dick Chesney, Donald Rumsfeld, the Bush Cabinet... These are the low point of the exhibition, with their weak message and doubtful impact.

For once, the work I found the most interesting and profound was a video. I often feel that videos are just an excuse to rest for a while, a pretext for a brake. In front of this black and white video, there was no seat. Approximately ten minutes in length, it is about the everyday crowd, you and me in public transportation, anonymous faces, and hands, a lot of hands young and old holding newspapers. The headlines are about wars, disasters, our daily consumption of news. They come and go, horrific but the anonymous person goes on with life, undisturbed. Tomorrow will bring fresh news. The succession of pictures, the collision of events provoke drama and reflexion.The end is poetic and sad with a page of the newspaper floating in the wind and falling on the dirty steps of a subway.

I keep my preferred work for the last " Order (The Red Guards), 1999" : It is a giant scroll -like canvass, depicting a library but old and dusty, with books on shelves, of course in black and white, the books fall from the shelves and at the bottom, closer to the viewer they become dust. Blood-red metal squares like spikes are planted in the wall following a regular pattern.

Among these 30 paintings, drawings and installation, Ziaoze Xie's message is the strongest when related to his cultural heritage. The artist's nostalgia for printed media appears anachronistic when the headlines are about another Chinese artist from an older generation (Ai Weiwei) using social medias to be heard.

photographs were not allowed

photographs from Flickr

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