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Hanart TZ Gallery
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Living Multitudes
by Hanart TZ Gallery
Location: Times Square 2nd Floor Atrium
Artist(s): FANG Lijun
Date: 1 Jun - 2 Jul 2012

Times Square presents Fang Lijun's solo exhibition “Fang Lijun – Living Multitudes”. This exhibition will showcase Fang’s paintings from different periods of his career as well as his latest 18-metre installation. Exhibition at Times Square’s Atrium and Open Piazza runs from May 31 to July 2.


“Few viewers coming to Fang Lijun’s art for the first time would not find it delightful. To the Chinese audience, the grand vision of the images, riotous profusion of colours and direct allegorical references, intimates memories long buried in the past. The work is seemingly easy to appreciate, but on close encounter threatens to reveal secrets best left untouched.


Two main leads present themselves, one from political history and one from art history. The obvious reference is the visual political language of New China. Fang Lijun’s art refers to colours and imageries familiar to the generation with personal experience of Mao Zedong’s revolution. Multi-coloured peony blossoms, bright blue sky and festive joy celebrating public solidarity, echo exactly the mood of Mao’s Socialist Revolution. This is the same mood one finds in North Korea, the Soviet Union and South America, and the same motifs repeat themselves: profusion of flowers, happy masses, festive celebrations; each differentiated only by its regional flora and native costumes. This is one dimension of Fang Lijun’s art that links the local with international idioms. The artistic style of Fang Lijun is “modern” and “individual”, typical of the spirit of Chinese art from the early 1990s, but the message he delivers is somewhat unusual. He focuses on the “collective”, the main concern of socialism, and explores the behaviour of groups. Intimation of socialist imagery and colour scheme that first appeared in paintings of 1993 grew increasingly explicit. Since the mid-1990s, Fang Lijun has employed this painting idiom to explore the worldview implicit in this artistic language.


In recent years, Fang’s works show people collectively being entrapped or manipulated, even though they are provided for in plentiful material wellbeing; which reflects common life in neo-liberal capitalist societies around the globe. To quote Mao Zedong, Fang Lijun’s art fulfills what the public “loves to see and hear”. However, this “love to see and hear” is founded on Fang's ability to export the idiom of socialist visual culture into the world of global capitalism. Fang is not only a skillful painter, he understands the power of the spectacle, and is able to intuit the global predicament through a personal perspective on today’s society.


The thread linking Fang Lijun’s work to art history is none other than the Baroque style that first emerged in 17th century Europe. Baroque art won over its audience by means of visual spectacle and an immersive sensual experience; it was an art made to celebrate the ecclesiastical authority of the Catholic Church. In comparison with the serene and rational Renaissance, Baroque art tends towards artistic sensationalism, encouraging emotional involvement and intuitive response. To a certain degree, the transformation of artistic style during these two historical eras is helpful to our reflection on the change from the realism of early socialist art to later propaganda art of Mao's revolution. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, especially since the years of the Great Leap Forward, a heroic, false “realism” became the norm. Idol worship of leaders and docility of the masses went hand in hand, and the purpose of art served only to mobilize the masses, rather than to spread knowledge or cultivate sensitivity. Fang Lijun’s Baroque approach might be said to be grounded on the Baroque aesthetics envisioned by Mao Zedong.


In the recent decade the work of Fang Lijun often hints at the manipulation of all creatures by a supreme being. The collective body gets manipulated by virtue of a converging force of historical purpose. This purpose is exactly parallel to promises made to the world by “modernity”. Through the arts, modernity delineates the shape and colour of this future age. The ugliness and unpleasantness found in some of Fang Lijun’s recent works expose the dark side of this dream, and reveal the nature of the manipulating, controlling hand behind the scene. Whether it be the incitement of revolutionary fervour or the arousal of desire for material goods, the goal is the same; the end is the incorporation of individuals into collectives, turning the living multitude into manageable crowds. Mao Zedong’s “continual revolution” and the capitalist world’s management of desire ultimately meet on the same plane of institutional control.


Fang Lijun’s animated scenes often depict long queues of humans and creatures, sometimes so long that they disappear into infinity. These imageries cannot help but bring to mind the famous single vanishing-point perspective of Renaissance art. This famous single-point perspective symbolizes a stable world, a world immobile and securely oriented. It also signifies a single-perspective religious worldview, a view that seeks to orient human history on a uniform trajectory. As a result, the exclusionary view signified by this all-controlling world is perhaps not the liberal humanism the Renaissance proclaims, but camouflages in its singular vanishing-point a beautifully designed prison.”


Excerpt from the catalogue essay THE LIVING MULTITUDE by Chang Tsong-Zung


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