Xu Bing Background Story - Landscape after Huang Gongwang | Suzhou Museum: The Painted Screen Past and Future

In the central hall of Suzhou Museum, Xu Bing’s Background Story – Landscape after Huang Gongwang was given a brand-new look. Visitors can tell the uniqueness of the “two-dimensional” landscape painting by the dead branch from its side. The back of the “painting” is an accumulation of various wastes. Under the magic of light, they formed an ideal landscape in front. Furthermore, the three-dimensional painting is a painted screen itself, echoing the outdoor landscape garden. Bypassing the work, one encounters another new world.


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Xu Bing  Background Story - Landscape After Huang Gongwang. Installation view of "The Painted Screen Past and Future", Sunzhou Museum, Suzhou, 2019. © Xu Bing Studio 


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Both sides of Xu Bing – Background Story - Landscape After Huang Gongwang. Installation view of "The Painted Screen Past and Future", Sunzhou Museum, Suzhou, 2019. © Xu Bing Studio 


The Background Story is the first and the last piece of work visitors would see in the exhibition. The work inspires discussions about illusion and reality, internal and external, ancient and modern. The exhibition attempts to bring more discussions like this to the audience. The Painted Screen Past and Future is curated by Wu Hung, a well-known art historian, and curator of the University of Chicago. The exhibition holds in both the temporary exhibition hall of the Suzhou Museum and the exhibition space in Zhong Wang's Residence. It has gathered collections from fourteen museums and artworks from nine contemporary artists including Xu Bing, Yang Fudong, Song Dong, etc. Wu Hung says, “As one who studies ancient Chinese culture, art, and history, I always want to find new angles or unique entry points to approach the ancient Chinese art, culture, architecture, and life, and this exhibition provides such a possibility. It also touches on the continuation and inheritance of our traditions from another view. It is a little surprising and a little experimental.”


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Xu Bing – Background Story - Landscape After Huang Gongwang, detail. © Xu Bing Studio


What is a painted screen? The exhibition provides layered thoughts and different views in the temporary exhibition hall on the basement level of Suzhou Museum. As Wu Hung, the curator says, “this exhibition is not limited to the painted screen in paintings. It also displays a considerable amount of painting screens as artifacts. The artifacts include various hanging screens and table plaques collected in the Qing Palace, as well as archaeological materials unearthed in Xinjing, Hebei, Shanxi and other places, to show the variety of functions, design, and materiality of the painted screens since its inception in Chinese history.”  


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Red screen and throne, Qing Emperor Qianlong & the Screen Stone Bed, 1st year of the Wumen reign period, Eastern Wei Dynasty. Installation view of "The Painted Screen Past and Future", Sunzhou Museum, Suzhou, 2019. Photo by Suzhou Museum


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Rosewood frame spring screen inlayed with enameled invory Great Luck gourd. © The Palace Museum


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Landscape mirror and stainless steel wood furniture,1997. Photo by TANC


Speak of the contemporary art exhibited, Wu Hung says, "I feel that the artists use some concepts, vocabulary, space, or imagination subconsciously, or unconsciously. These things are related to the space of the painted screen or the accumulated feeling of the graphic. These connections seem to be inherent in our genes and blood, and some are passed down from ancient times and traditions. They are not superficial connections. It’s not that these contemporary artists must have been influenced by ancient painted screens when. (Ancient and contemporary) are placed in one museum, a bit like two exhibitions. I would like to see if there is a possibility of dialogue. But no demand, and Let the audience explore."


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Tang Yin  In the style of Tang Yin, selected scene of Night Revels of Han Xizai. Installation on the second floor of Sunzhou Museum, Suzhou, 2019. Photo by Suzhou Museum


WechatIMG19.jpegTang Yin – In the style of Tang Yin, selected scene of Night Revels of Han Xizai, Listening to Music. Installation on the second floor of Sunzhou Museum, Suzhou, 2019. Photo by Xiong Ming, Chong Qing Daily


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Yang Fu Dong – Dawn Breaking - A Museum Film & New Women II. Installation in Zhong Wang's Residence of Sunzhou Museum, Suzhou, 2019. Photo by TANC


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Court Painters – Yinzhen's Twelve Ladies. Installation on the second floor of Sunzhou Museum, Suzhou, 2019. Photo by TANC


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Song Dong – Water Screen. Installation in Zhong Wang's Residence of Sunzhou Museum, Suzhou, 2019. Photo by Suzhou Museum

 

Different from many museums, the exhibition halls of the Suzhou Museum are relatively scattered due to architectural design. Such exhibition space undoubtedly poses greater challenges to the overall design and implementation of the exhibition. However, the architectural design expresses the character of Suzhou traditional gardens: myriads of changes in scenery, the echoes, and the unexpected encounters. There are no fixed routes for garden tours and the full use of obstructive scenery makes the landscape looming. The painted screen often “invites” its viewers to find the surprises behind them. One of the great attractions of the exhibition is that the audience is encouraged to find all the answers about the painted screen by themselves, constructing their own space-time conversation. (By Chen Jiayi, The Art Newspaper)


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