Celebrating the life and work of Geng Jianyi

Almost 50 artists have contributed to a group exhibition in honor of the late Hangzhou-based artist, renowned for thinking outside the box and helping young talent.

An exhibition gathering some of the most important Chinese contemporary artists has opened in Hangzhou in tribute to prominent local artist Geng Jianyi, who died of cancer at the end of last year.

All the 48 artists featured in the show had links with Geng, in one way or another. Some are his colleagues at China Academy of Art and his contemporaries during the “85 New Wave,” a nationwide avant-garde movement in China from 1985 to 1989 that greatly influenced the art scene we see today.

Some are his students and young artists whom he has helped, nurtured and inspired.

Around 100 people including family and friends, artists, collectors, curators and art critics attended the opening ceremony at Imagokinetics, a non-profit art institution initiated by Geng in 2008 to foster and encourage artistic imagination in daily routines.

“Lao Geng (as many of his friends call him) does not like any formal memorial service,” Zhang Peili, his close friend and colleague and also a pioneering video artist said at the opening.

“So we gather here in the exhibition to show our condolences and also to express the gratitude to the artists who have offered help when he was ill.”

Zhang and Geng were both founding members of the artistic group Chishe (pond society) back in 1986, who experimented with conceptual art in public areas in Hangzhou.

Their 3-meter-tall papercuts on the wall of a small street showing tai chi movements demonstrate the earliest interests and attempts of Chinese artists in talking about the relationship between art and wider society.

Visitors at the opening of the exhibition in tribute to artist Geng Jianyi

That kind of thinking was consistent throughout his career.

He mischievously sent out entry forms to artists and critics attending a preparatory meeting for the China Avant-garde Exhibition in 1988, which were later reclaimed and collected in his own exhibition held during the meeting (Forms and Certificates, 1988).

In his site-specific work “Soft Stairway” staged in Italy 1993, he covered the main staircase of the building in white silk, leaving it up to visitors of whether they would like to mess up the scene by stepping on it.

On the same year, he was invited to participate in the 45th Venice Biennale together with 13 other Chinese artists. It was also the first time that contemporary Chinese artists were introduced to a Western audience at such a prominent art event.

The piece featured in his posthumous exhibition is a photograph of an open bottle in front of an iron grating window (“The Window’s World,” 2008). Some say this is an accurate self portrait of Geng, a pure artist who often kept to himself.

The title of the exhibition “December 12 as a Reason” is also a reference to his postcards exhibition “Agreed to the Date November 26 as a Reason” in 1994.

Karen Smith, a British art critic who has been writing about Chinese contemporary art since 1979, commented at the opening: “He always takes himself as one of you (young people) and does not think he is any different from young people. He is just … doing his work.”

In a presentation speech for “Artist of the Year” awarded to Geng in 2017, one of the judges, Wang Huangsheng, stated that Geng and his art “always refuse to be judged and assessed.”

It is maybe still early to speak about the “values” of his work in the history of China’s contemporary art. But as a person, he will definitely be remembered by many.

Date: Through March 9 (closed on Mondays)

Address: 89 Wen’er Rd W.

Admission: Free

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