HONOLULU, HAWAI‘I—This fall, the Honolulu Museum of Art presents its first major exhibition of Chinese contemporary art with Yun-Fei Ji: The Intimate Universe, opening Sept. 29.
The U.S.–based artist, who was separated from his parents at the age of two and grew up on a collective farm outside Hangzhou during the Cultural Revolution, is known for his large-scale watercolors that at first glance look like traditional scrolls, then yield subversive narratives upon closer inspection.
The Intimate Universe presents 44 scrolls, paintings and drawings created by Yun-Fei Ji over the last decade, drawn from major institutions as well as private collections, and new works made specifically for the exhibition. These include a suite of three related scrolls and recent experimental works with elements of three-dimensionality. Twenty-six never-before-exhibited preparatory sketches are featured as well in the survey, which was organized by the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College in New York State. Special thanks goes to to hospitality sponsor Halekulani and media sponsor Modern Luxury Hawai‘i.
“For more than a decade, Yun-Fei has chronicled the harsh reality of the dispossessed in today’s China employing the tradition of Chinese landscape painting,” says Tracy L. Adler, director of the Wellin Museum of Art and curator of the exhibition. “Today he’s exploring new ground, but still as an artist reimagining storytelling in contemporary terms.”
“The Honolulu Museum of Art has one of the best collections of traditional Chinese art in the country,” says Shawn Eichman, the museum’s curator of Asian art. “At the same time, we are increasingly looking to Asia when it comes to contemporary art. The way Yun-Fei Ji takes on the thousand-year-old practice of Chinese scroll painting to present the gritty reality of life in China today parallels our Asian art program.”
Like Chen Quilin, the video artist whose work the museum showed in 2014, Yun-Fei Ji emphasizes the critical relationship between the land and its people and how the balance is being challenged by current social, political, ecological, and economic shifts.
“Yun-Fei Ji’s sensitive depictions of the plights faced by villagers in contemporary China, resulting from natural and man-made disruptions, are based on his own fieldwork and first-hand experiences,” says Eichman. “They also speak to larger issues facing the entire world, including failing infrastructures, climate change, natural disasters, and the tensions between the needs of individuals and small communities on the one hand and national or international social policies on the other. His haunting, otherworldly figures in disjoined landscapes are at once sympathetic references to real individuals and their tragedies, but also embodiments of traditional culture faltering under the pressures of modernization.”
The Wellin initiated a residency with Dieu Donné, a New York artists’ workspace and gallery dedicated to all aspects of contemporary art using handmade paper, where this year Yun-Fei created the commissioned large-scale, three-panel scroll—After the First Seventh Day—which draws inspiration from the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Also in the exhibition is The Village and its Ghosts (2014), a 60-foot-long scroll that depicts the movement of ghosts, folkloric humans, hucksters, animal hybrids, skeletons and other figures within a classically limned landscape. Hundreds of mini-dramas unfold, from a procession of claw-footed and insect-like human figures to a young woman pollinating a stand of trees in a world where bees are going extinct.
The Museum Shop will offer Yun-Fei Ji: The Intimate Universe, a major monograph with essays by Tracy L. Adler, Steven J. Goldberg, Associate Professor of Art History at Hamilton College, and Robert Morgan, noted art critic and curator.
About Yun-Fei Ji
(Beijing, 1963) received his BFA from the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA)
in 1982 and an MFA from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1989.
Ji’s work has been shown extensively, most recently with Surroundings, a
two-person exhibition with Susanna Heller at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, a
solo exhibition Migrants, Ghosts, and the Dam at the University Museum of
Contemporary Art in Amherst, Massachusetts (2015); and group exhibitions with
Unscrolled: Reframing Tradition in Chinese Contemporary Art at the Vancouver
Art Gallery (2014–15); Prospect.3: Notes for Now in New Orleans (2014–15), and
at the Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition at Pierogi in Brooklyn (2014). Other
group exhibitions include participation in the 2002 Whitney Biennale and the
11th Biennale de Lyon (2011). In 2012, he participated in the 18th Biennale
In 2012, Ji presented his first Beijing solo exhibition at the Ullens
Center for Contemporary Art. Water Work examined the historical developments in
contemporary America and China, focusing on the impact of grand infrastructural
projects and water-related natural disasters on ordinary people in his two
homelands. He received the Rome Prize in 2006 from the American Academy in Rome,
Italy. He divides his time between New York City and Gambier, Ohio.
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