Because of isolation lasting centuries, Chinese artists have developed their own world of images, without connections to what is produced in Europe and the United States. The case of the Yi School is highly significant. Although it was born at the margin of the abstract art and conceptual art that have dominated the Western art world in recent decades, it maintains points of contact with these two. It is art lived as an experience of retreat and meditation that explores contemplation, unity and harmony. The extraordinary development of the People’s Republic of China in recent years and the opening of new pathways of communication and business with the West have stimulated the world’s interest in Chinese culture. After its presentation in Barcelona, ”la Caixa” Social and Cultural Outreach Projects is taking to CaixaForum Madrid the first major exhibition of the Yi School outside China, organized jointly with the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture and the Beijing Culture & Art Foundation. The exhibition introduces eighty-two works by forty-eight Chinese artists of the last thirty years, divided into three periods. Yi art from the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) until the 1980s is characterized by an idealized humanism in opposition to the revolutionary slogans (Yi xiang, “mental image”). The second period is when art at a time of urban and cosmopolitan expansion recovers private spaces and incorporates Eastern symbols and writing (Yi li, “mental principle”). The third period, Maximalism (Yi chang, “mental environment”), arose at the end of the 1990s and devotes its main attention to the process and the context of the art work.
A few months ago, to coincide with the opening of a Representative Office of ”la Caixa” in Beijing, an exhibition of fifteen works by international artists from the ”la Caixa” Foundation’s Collection of Contemporary Art was put on at the Beijing Art Museum of Imperial City. The Yi School: Thirty Years of Chinese Abstract Art represents its counterpoint. It is designed to bring the general public in our country closer to an artistic school that has had decisive weight in Chinese plastic art from the 1970s until now and to make the work of some of today’s leading Chinese creative artists better known.
The Yi School is defined as an artistic tendency in China, based for the last three decades on the aesthetic essence of Yi. It is distinct both from contemporary literature and conceptual art and from Eastern abstract art. In Chinese aesthetics, Yi does not mean just subjective thought, even though it is a fruit of our mind. It is not precisely equivalent to the terms concept, idea or significance, but represents a state of contemplation and meditation by creative artists, the way that artists or poets think about their surroundings or observe them. In this respect, the Yi School is the artistic style best suited to expressing meditation.
If we think that Yi is related not just to the thought of the artists, but also to the real environment and the objectives of meditation, the Yi School cannot be defined by any modern Western concept such as realist art, conceptual art or abstract art, even though it may look like all these tendencies, especially abstract art. In reality, the Yi School brings together almost all the characteristics of these three tendencies without restricting itself to any one of them in particular. This responds to a norm that has always governed traditional Chinese aesthetics, to stop art becoming excessively diverted towards the extremes.
In terms of expression of Yi, the artists have focused in different periods on different aspects of Yi. For example, at the end of the 1970s, during the Cultural Revolution, a series of non-official artists sought individual freedom in opposition to Mao’s propagandistic art. In this context, the Yi School focused on the search for individual expression and for “pure art” against “conceptualized” political art. The Yi School was expressed in the aesthetic form of Yi xiang or “mental image”. Artists sought unity and harmony between concepts and objects of nature, during the process of thinking about and observing the external world. Then the representatives of the Yi School at the end of the 1980s paid greater attention to expressing their ideas about the way to reform reality and cultural modernity through cultural signs. In this period, the Yi School defended symbolic concepts, the essence and start of an ideal culture and society. As such, the Yi School during this period is called Yi li or “mental principle”. Thus the Yi School of this epoch represents Yi Chiang or “mental environment”. Creating works of art is equivalent to meditating in a private space.
Yi School – 30 Years of Chinese AbstractArt
4 June – 21 Sept 2008.
Av. Marqués de Comillas, 6-8
Read a nice review of the show at Blog on Art in BarcelonaTags: chang, contemporary art, CaixaForum Madrid, expression, Barcelona, beijing
November 18, 2008 No Comments
April 18, 2008 No Comments