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The Portrait of Time
by Tokyo Gallery+BTAP(Beijing)
Location: TOKYO GALLERY + BTAP (Beijing)
Artist(s): SHEN Chongdao
Date: 12 Jun - 28 Jul 2013

In 1963, following his graduation from the Department of Oil Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts of Zhejiang (now The China Academy of Art), Shen Chongdao was invited to join the Shanghai Fine Arts Company, where he served as an authorized portrait painter of Mao. Under the total politicization and authoritarian control to which art in China was subjected, only two fine art institutions, the Shanghai Fine Arts Company and the Beijing Fine Arts Company, were granted exclusive rights to produce all visual representations of the country’s communist leaders. Techniques and forms employed in standard paintings depicting the figure of Mao in particular were subject to the strictest confidentiality, which made Shen one of the very few artists who were delegated sole responsibility for the production of these portraits.

From the founding of the new China through the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong gradually went from being a military commander and political leader to the object of deification as the "red sun." His philosophy was directed towards providing his people with spiritual and emotional support, and his public image became the object of worship. Against the backdrop of such a political and social climate, Shen’s works were hung in the offices of various government agencies and university auditoriums throughout China. From 1963 to 1978, Shen was chosen to produce large portrait paintings of Mao and other political leaders that were later publicly displayed at the People's Square in Shanghai during the National Day parade. Receiving such a commission from the government testifies to Shen’s consummate achievements as an official portraitist.

However, the political reforms of 1978 not only made a huge impact on Chinese society at large, but also became a turning point in Shen’s life and career. Due to radical shifts in the policies of the Communist Party and decreasing demand for images of Mao, Shen soon suffered the same fate as his colleagues when he was dismissed from his position. Subsequently, these iconic depictions of Mao gradually ceased to have a strong presence in the lives of the Chinese people.

The body of work gathered for this exhibition was all produced after Shen’s resignation from the Shanghai Fine Arts Company. Based on past video footage and press photographs collected by the artist himself, these portraits of Mao were executed according to the precise technical rules that Shen once followed as an official portraitist. However, the passage of time prompted him to reflect more on his personal sentiments and to become more expressive. Shen's homage to the former leader demonstrates certain nostalgia for the utopian visions that permeated Chinese society during the Cultural Revolution.

Courtesy of Tokyo Gallery + BTAP 

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