New art shows in April

Three new exhibitions offer unique interpretations of Chinese landscape paintings

Traditional landscape painting, specifically of the mist-rich, mountain-and-water Daoist variety, is one of China’s great cultural achievements. The form stretches back over a millennium, yet perseveres as a source of inspiration and innovation today. Three exhibits currently on view in Beijing’s 798 and Caochangdi art districts show refreshing, sometimes stunning, recent takes on the Chinese landscape in ink, paint, plywood and metal.


Liang Shuo: Temple of Candour

Beijing Commune. Until Sat 30. Free


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Temple of Candour, the new solo show by Liang Shuo at Beijing Commune, is best described as an obstacle course. Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is prompted by scrawled text (‘The road’s flooded, take this detour’) and a crudely cut hole to pass through the gallery wall, entering a three-dimensional recreation of a landscape painting. Bamboo forests and temples are recreated with amateurish cardboard drawings and jagged steel beams adorned with twisted metal wire. The mottled light, so carefully modulated in traditional ink paintings, is approximated with a cut-up black tarpaulin hung under fluorescent tubes. After navigating the mock forest and two-dimensional temples, the viewer is plunged into a brilliant white ‘ocean’ made of packing material gently folded to resemble rolling waves. To exit the show without disturbing the scene, Liang has helpfully constructed stepping stones out of repurposed plywood boxes.


Temple of Candour continues Liang’s preoccupation with an aesthetic he calls ‘zha’ (; ‘slag’ or ‘dregs’), an ‘anti-style’ by which he reimagines the gallery context and scrambles its codes. The installation bluntly juxtaposes idyllic with banal, natural with urban and is almost entirely constructed from materials left over from previous exhibits. The end result is entertaining but vaporous, perhaps overburdened by literary pretensions (the title comes from the autobiography of Qing Dynasty naturalist Shen Fu). That said, students of Chinese literary antiquity will appreciate Liang’s playfulness with the visual vocabulary of the landscape.


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Liang Wei: Vague Necessity

Magician Space. Until Sun 17. Free


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Vague Necessity at Magician Space, the first solo painting show for Beijing-based artist Liang Wei, references traditional landscape painting but abstracts its formal language. The spare oil, acrylic and watercolour canvases on view here, as the title implies, elicit vague reference points: portraits, landscapes, city grids, still lives. Liang’s aesthetic is very flat, condensing time and depth into an all-over compositional method reflecting a painterly corollary to her work as a video artist. In Vague Necessity, the landscape tradition is more felt than seen, with sinuous lines suggesting foliage, falling water, and mountain tops coalescing into an abstract gestalt.


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Wesley Tongson

Pékin Fine Arts. Until May 28. Free


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This same process can also be seen in the work of Hong Kong ink master Wesley Tongson, whose first Beijing solo show is now on view at Pékin Fine Arts. The exhibit arrays works spanning 20 years of Tongson’s career in two gallery rooms, the first of which centres on a few stunning polychrome landscapes. Tongson transforms the canonical mist-shrouded mountain into writhing networks of line and shade that recall veins, bones, exposed coral, frayed neurons. He uses a shimmering twilight palette: blues, oranges, and yellows that feel more dusk than dawn.


The second room is dominated by a series of stark, wall-length black and white ink paintings completed between 2010 and 2012, the final three years of Tongson’s life. In a strikingly personal touch, he writes his age directly on most of these canvases (Tongson passed away at 54). A lifelong student of the ancient shui mo hua (水墨画; ink wash) painting technique, late in life Tongson took to painting directly with his fingers and nails. The effect is arresting. Barely-there landscapes simultaneously evoke the timeless beauty of nature and the transient effervescence of the individual life within, a sober and aesthetically captivating meditation on the role of the painter facing the landscape as well as his own mortality.


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