Fusion of books into the landscape of art

Wang Jie
Taking "books as art," Pearl Art Museum endeavors to present a landscape of both nature and the mind, connecting the past and present through the charisma of books.
Wang Jie

Books, as the carriers of civilization, have played a prominent role in the history of human development, especially in China where papermaking and printing technology were invented almost 2,000 years ago.

While it is rare to fuse the concept of books into the landscape of art, the exhibition “Landscape and Books,” currently on display at the Pearl Art Museum, shows the hybrid is a possibility, as seen in the works of several artists from both China and abroad.

Taking “books as art,” the museum endeavors to present a landscape of both nature and the mind, connecting the past and present through the charisma of books.

Artists Chen Danqing, Asami Kiyokawa, Wang Dongling, Xu Bing, Yan Shanchun, Yang Xiaojing and Zhou Xiaoying have contributed around 200 pieces, including prints, oil paintings, installations, artist’s books, calligraphy and manuscript relics.

“The exhibition could be deemed as special and even a pioneering one, integrating the past with the present, art with literature,” said art historian Fan Jingzhong, the academic director of the exhibit. “Its academic vision could be perceived from its title. The exhibition points toward art and history. Our history of civilization is history of the book, of art.”

Under the “landscape” and “books” theme, the presence of “man” is put at the core of the exhibition.

When stepping into the museum, visitors will find Chen Danqing’s “Wen Zhenming Surrounded by Calligraphy Copies.” The triptych, in the form of oil on canvas, depicts calligraphy written by Wang Xizhi (AD 303-361), the most celebrated Chinese calligrapher, and the landscape albums painted by Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), a renowned Chinese painter and calligrapher.

Here, the art of calligraphy and painting is organically integrated. Perhaps in the eyes of Chen, such an act is his way of questioning “why oil painting?”

The presentation manages to connect the traditional and the contemporary, fostering a poetic interplay between landscape, book and man.

In the “Our Story” series, Japanese embroidery artist Asami Kiyokawa shows visitors a selection of books from her own collection, including “On Life” (Leo Tolstoy), “Thirst for Love” (Yukio Mishima) and “Wind, Sand and Stars” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery).

Using a needle and thread, Kiyokawa is adept at creating colorful designs over photographs in an aesthetically pleasing and yet precise manner.

By selecting books that she has fond memories of, and producing embroidered drawings on pages that have left a particularly strong impression, Kiyokawa manages to imbue every single stitch in her work with emotions, impressing viewers with a breathless sense of wonder. As if braiding old memories together, the story series, which is connected through the threads, transform into another private story of her own.

Chinese artist Xu Bing believes “Chinese painting is the result of signs and symbols.” Such an understanding inspired him to reconstruct a traditional landscape painting with three dimensional materials, detaching it from ink and paper.

For this exhibition, he presents an installation work titled “Background Story: Books and Mountains in Breezy Mist.”

Depicting three of the 10 drawings from the painting album created by Wang Meng (1308-1385), a Yuan Dynasty artist, Xu renders a ray of light within a piece of frosted glass.

The composition seemingly functions like a “spiritual encounter between the soul of the landscape and our ancestors,” said Xu.

The second part of the exhibition features works by artists Yan Shanchun, Yang Xiaojing and Zhou Xiaoying. They all live and work around the West Lake area in Zhejiang Province and share an obsession with antique books and the history of traditional art.

The spotlight of this section goes to Yang Xiaojing’s large scaled work “Ten Scenes of West Lake,” which features well-designed collage layouts made of signs selected from Chinese antique books. The details on the collage, on the one hand, inspires viewers to reflect upon certain images and objects, while on the other hand, echoes to Yang’s intention, “These paintings could be deemed as a dialogue with ancient books, the history and our civilization.”

Li Dandan, the executive director and curator of the museum, said, “The special exhibit is in line with our commitment to break the boundaries among different art genres, and to offer a diverse and vivid picture of artistic exploration under an overarching theme that transcends time and geography with a contemporary and philosophical touch.”

Fusion of books into the landscape of art
Ti Gong

Around 200 artworks, including prints, oil paintings, installations, artist’s books, calligraphy and manuscript relics, are on display at the Pearl Art Museum.

Fusion of books into the landscape of art
Ti Gong

“Wen Zhenming Surrounded by Calligraphy Copies”

Exhibition info

Date: Through June 30 (closed on Mondays), 11am-6pm
Address: 8F, 1588 Wuzhong Road

The number of visitors is limited to 300 every day, please make reservation on WeChat: PearlArtMuseum three days in advance.

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