Chinese artist Fu Wenjun premiers new work in a solo booth at this year’s Photography Show at Pier 94. In its 39th edition and the longest running institution of its kind, The Photography Show presented by AIPAD (Association of International Photography Art Dealers) showcases work by lead contemporary artists represented by U.S., European, Asian, Canadian, Mexican, Middle Eastern and South American galleries, in addition to book dealers and publishers. Boasting “exceptional photography from the world’s top fine art photography galleries,” the coinciding AIPAD Talks invite prominent curators, artists, collectors, and writers into roundtable discussion around the medium’s latest trends, processes and critical thought. Contemporary, modern and 19th-century photography is exhibited alongside photo-based art, video, fashion photography and new media.
Born in 1955, Chinese contemporary artist Fu Wenjun is principally a photographer, but also works in the realms of installation, sculpture and oil painting. With a lengthy museum exhibition history, Wenjun has been honored with numerous awards, including “The Best Artist in the World” at Tour Eiffel La Grande Exposition Universelle. The artist returns to New York City this April currently framing his practice and the work presented at The Photography Show around his concept “Digital Pictorial Photography.” Wenjun’s work naturally evades any singular label. Having graduated from the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, his abstracted photographs integrate the artist’s personal understanding of Chinese traditional art. “There was a period that I was keen on the shooting skills to produce ‘good’ documentary photography,” says Fu. Said skills are the current basis for his work pushing the limits of 2-dimensionality. Many of his image compositions among the recent series surely elude the definition of photography entirely.
As the AIPAD Talks are keen to acknowledge, the genre is rapidly changing, with miracles of technology, image manipulation, staged and performance photography, materiality, process, and playing with “chance” all having earned recognition as acceptable modern approaches. In Stephen Shore’s scheduled artist talk with critic Lynne Tillman, the pair inquires “Is there pressure to communicate in ways less mediated by convention and genre?” God knows artists need mediums like bats need the sun, but art writing uses words, and words drive the brain. Fu Wenjun maintains that the fact that his photos don’t look like photos is an intentional form of presentation in and of itself. He intends to keep pushing the medium with increasingly diverse forms of presentation. Wenjun provokes us to move beyond common sense, and moreover, to place photography in dialogue with more traditional mediums like Chinese painting, oil painting and sculpture. Through this lens, insists Wenjun, we can expand the boundary of contemporary photography and perhaps, our own vacillating but virtually pinhole perspective on reality.
Several in his Digital Pictorial Photography series will be on view at Pier 94 this year. Some pieces depict abstracted objects of quotidian daily life — what appears to be a calculator or tea kettle — other objects are nestled into themselves, their total forms gracefully obscured. Ever at play with the formalities of painting, and even fine art — the artist excels in segmenting out his images into virtual diptychs or triptychs, or for instance, isolating figures as discrete objects on pedestals that are themselves equally alive with swirls and strokes. “Human Nature for Food,” interrogates our relationship to what is most delicious in life. Wenjun goes as far as to say the piece is about juxtaposing the beauty and ugliness inherent to the human experience, that which is of course found inside and out.
His digital medium leaves few barriers to behold, as if combing through the psyche with a fine-tooth instrument, exposing human nature, leisure activities and spectacle culture in all its banal fascination. His painting “F1” invokes Formula 1® raceway fury, a peak cultural moment the artist explains is both “real and illusory,” bloated with expectation and at the same time, in defiance of it. Some photos arrive fast with bold, almost painterly strokes; others fade out into ethereal mist, where pixelation invokes pointillism. Some envelope themselves in so much white space our conditioned mind is eclipsed by the artist’s rhythmic politics of dislocation and assimilation. Grid lines, frames and screens further dissect the canvas – playing upon the viewer’s retina with their graphic intentionality. With a reckless eye for the new, Wenjun excels equally into abstract chaos and vignette – eruptions, splatters, gore, household decor, a freeze frame of that edge-of-your-seat sporting event all fit into neat compositions marked by the artist’s linear framing devices. Wenjun’s “Ask Tea,” inspired by the color and geometry of Impressionism and Abstraction, reminisces on an old-style teahouse still existing near the artist’s hometown. “The world is changing so fast,” says Wenjun, and although his pieces are curiously outside the bounds of photography, he still sees it the most fit medium to capture our rapidly evolving world.
With the traditional canon opening unto progressive polycentrism and the tyrannical fiction of white western superiority eroding, questions of representation in the arts aggress open fire on the status quo. Although Wenjun’s photos are abstracted, and naturally almost void of any singular subjectivity, his cultural vantage point as a Chinese man certainly adds layers to his cacophonous aesthetics of discord. As the artist relates, his work is influenced by legacies of the East and West, the effects of globalization and both the urbanization and industrialization of Chinese cities. A seasoned traveler and exemplary global citizen, his works achieve a sort of non-place and non-space that speaks volumes about our shifting relationship to nation, identity and economy.
Under the surface of his obscured still lives and residues of the abject, Fu’s photography blithely teems with Asian influences. His penchant for dividing or grid-lining the canvas in certain instances may be less a play on the formalities of fine art, than a reflection of traditional Chinese painting. Often presented on long hanging scrolls or series of scrolls or segmented into lacquered panels, eye candy of many a folding screen, wall, archival paper and premium silk, Chinese painting is highly distinguishable from the western tradition of Fine Art. Chinese painting, guóhuà ( 國畫), is one of the oldest continuous artistic traditions in the world. Holding the meanings “national” or “native painting,” this brush and ink painting style is closer to calligraphy than the western style of painting popularized in China during the 20th century. It is a tradition passed down from master to apprentice. Landscapes have always been considered the highest form of Chinese painting, and generally still are.
Likewise, Wenjun’s “Misplacement,” alive with vibrant carmine and pale gold, seamlessly translates the aesthetics of classical Chinese ink mastery into contemporary photography. The photograph’s abstract glee, almost verging on pixelation or glitch, invites temporal musings. The where, when, what and how of it all tugs at our sense of nostalgia for times past, our future fears melting away as the painterly photos perform their ablutions. Like a noble sage, Wenjun’s artworks steadily steer us back into the present moment at hand.
Fu Wenjun is a must-see artist at this year’s AIPAD because his “Digital Pictorial Photography” redefines the traditions found at both the core of the photographic and traditional arts, obliterating the divide between East and West in principle, process and practice. Through his new technique, whatever philosophical content at risk of becoming inaccessible within its elite milieu of Fine Art becomes “transformed into a highly approachable concept that can trigger critical thought about history and humanity,” explains Wenjun. Leeching aesthetic pleasure from principle particles past and future, these works orbit the galaxy of complementarity and box in the matrix, expanding our relationship to art, history and humanity.
Checkout Fu Wenjun’s solo exhibition
presented by BOCCARA ART gallery at AIPAD
The Photography Show
April 4 – 7, 2019
Opening Preview: April 3, 2019
Pier 94 | New York City
AIPAD (Association of International Photography Art Dealers) www.aipadshow.com
Fu Wenjun Studio: www.fuwenjun.com