Tumultuous Traditions: Chinese Ink Painting in the 20th Century

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    Wang Jiqian (C.C. Wang) (1907-2003), Born China; active, United States after 1947, Mind Landscapes Number Three, Mid to late 20th century, Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper, Gift of James H. Soong, 1998, (8974.1)

November 05, 2009 - February 21, 2010
Maurice J. Sullivan Gallery of Chinese Art (16)


Exhibition Overview

After the overthrow of the last imperial dynasty in 1911, China entered a long period of political and cultural turmoil. Not only were traditions challenged by new generations struggling to cast off the past and establish a modern nation, but the very definition of “tradition” was in flux. As the fledgling Republic took form, the country went into a deep debate on how to modernize China, and culture was not immune to the struggles. While some artists denounced tradition in favor of modern European styles to which they were increasingly exposed, others sought to reaffirm it. Still others worked to reconcile the many approaches to create a new painting for a new nation and era.

 With the advent of Communist rule, ink painting took an even sharper turn as government rejected traditionalism. At the same time, more radical modern movements were condemned as bourgeois decadence, leaving only “socialist realism” as an acceptable style. Artists had to walk a fine line that depended on the political climate and the government’s temperament. Those who could not follow the unpredictable shifts were often persecuted.
 Ranging from early innovators to those who suffered for their art during the Cultural Revolution, to present-day expatriates bringing traditional Chinese ink to the global conversation on modern art, this exhibition examines some of the many experiments in Chinese ink painting that developed over the course of the 20th century, as artists contended with the shifting currents of their craft, and the social ramifications that went along with them. —GARY LIU INTERN, ASIAN ART DEPARTMENT