ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries Presents
Florida Debut of Emerging Chinese Artists
“Under the Radar: First Florida Exhibition-Nine Chinese Artists Interpret the Figure,” the new exhibition at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries in downtown Coral Gables, might as well be called “U.S. Debut of Contemporary Chinese Artists.”
It’s the first show in the United States for eight of the nine artists, mostly in their 20s and 30s with only a handful of exhibitions in their biographies. “We thought it was the first U.S. show for all the artists until we found out that Lu Qiming was in two group exhibitions in New York and at the Smart Museum of the University of Chicago,” says gallery owner Virginia Miller.
The work is very different from the gallery’s last exhibition, which featured pioneering Chinese neo-pop artists. “Each of the artists in this show has a very different style and unique subject matter, Miller says. “Several are subtly critical of their government. It’s a fascinating look into their world.”
Senior artist in the group, in terms of exhibitions, is Lu Qiming, whose oils depict a barely clad figure dangling above the sea on a single rope. According to the artist, “The politics of our society keep us dangling above a mysterious future, leaving us all at the mercy of the hands that hold our strings.”
The most spectacular work in the show is a triptych by Liao Zhenwu stretching across 27 feet. Its three panels are a stylized, painterly depiction of the motorcyclists in the artist’s gray, gritty hometown in Sichuan. Zhenwu’s other paintings, also rendered in shades of gray, white and black, either show other motorcyclists or are one of his series inspired by the mannikins in Beijing’s showroom windows.
The lone sculptor in the exhibition is Liao Yibai, whose stylized, fabricated stainless steel figures represent a traveler’s angel, a worker’s angel, and a particularly blessed angel being drenched in an apparent rainstorm, whose symbolic splashing represents holiness, goodness and brightness to traditional Buddhists. The last work, a highly complex piece with numerous individual splashes of raindrops, is the first to be completed in Yibai’s usual series of eight in this size.
Confronting visitors to the gallery as they step inside is a six-and-a-half foot painting by Liang Haopeng titled “The Bicycle Thieves.” His first work exhibited outside China, the painting depicts a stripped bicycle surrounded by five thuggish men, each rimmed in red, with their mouths open and hands caught in mid-gesture, apparently reacting to their imminent arrest. Haopeng’s paintings generally show unruly behavior, chaotic gatherings or arguments, capturing tense and anxious moments.
Two canvases by Li Jia, each nearly six feet tall, show a female puppet dangling from a red rose and another sitting on a thorny rose with tears in her oversized eyes, their large eyes and doll-like heads reflected the influence of anime, the wildly popular Japanese comics. The artist’s vision is clarified by her statement that “our vision of beauty is manipulated by the marketplace.” Because of the color and wilting condition of the roses, some viewers wonder whether they might be a visual metaphor for China’s socialist government.
Clearly, some contemporary Chinese artists take humorous potshots at their government. As an example, Zhu Yan’s cartoon-like characters belie his politically charged, sarcastic titles. “I Love Tianamen Square,” for example, shows a chorus of rigid, tight-lipped men in front of the square, with another clutching a bouquet tightly to his chest—clearly, a picture devoid of affection for the subject of its title.
Most enigmatic of the works in the exhibition is a five-foot painting by Cui Jin. Titled “Wait Behind and Wait For,” it shows a full-length female figure, enveloped in what appears to be crinkled translucent paper or plastic wrap, and wearing elbow-length scarlet lace gloves and an opaque, fringed scarlet hood with an embellished mouth. The symbolic coverings, suggestive of those worn by brides on their wedding day, have been interpreted as referring to the sense of entrapment of women entering marriage.
Compared to Cui Jin’s eerie, anonymous figure, the three paintings by Wang Limin appear to be straightforward portraits of attractive young women, each wearing the military-style uniforms of the cultural revolution era. Those familiar with the symbolism of the red crysanthemum and red medal on their chests, however, suspect that the artist is subtly contrasting the flower’s representation of joy and success with the unhappy regimentation of the Mao Zedong era.
He Zubin, another of the artists being shown outside China for the first time, has been called a “quintessential Chinese artist.” Like the landscapes of Thomas Hart Benton, He Zubin’s figurative works curl into graceful compositions with elongated, elegant fingers and faces, all rendered in muted colors.
“All of these are highly promising emerging artists with accomplished techniques,” said Miller.
Located at 169 Madeira Avenue in downtown Coral Gables, ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment. The works also may be viewed on the gallery website, < “http://www.virginiamiller.com/”>.