中文

Wang Haichuan: Riffling Through History

2021.06.06 - 2021.07.18

Art+ Shanghai Gallery,South Suzhou Road, No.191

Wang Haichuan: Riffling Through History by Leigh Tanner 


In his artistic practice, Wang Haichuan has developed a unique language to dismantle reality and devise a new approach to understanding the world. In his painting and sculptural works, his eye for pairing disparate elements for stunning effect belies a need for coherent narrative. Displaced from their original contexts, the figures, shapes or pieces of old furniture remake themselves as something beyond preconceived ideas of the boundaries of a respective medium. This manner of working has allowed him to develop an aesthetic playing with both figurative and abstract techniques, eliciting an organic response from viewers rather than dictating their impression. Including references that run the gamut from daily life to architecture and the history of art, Wang skims history as he constructs a new chronicle of the present. The artist himself explains, “my paintings have something to do with collective memory, with what we can find from our history.” Just like collective memory, Wang’s artworks offer no definitive testimony, merely a compilation of singular impressions to be considered as a whole. 


Wang’s ongoing fascination with collective memory and the architecture of collectivism is rendered most clearly in his works and programs engaging the Tong Yuan Ju (铜元局) neighborhood in Chongqing beginning in 2009. Previously the site of copper manufactory workshops and related dormitory-style housing units, what began as a plan to explore the architectural contours of the community evolved into a series of works examining how urban forces rewire collective frameworks into those of the individual. Wang returned to the people and spaces of Tong Yuan Ju again and again over the years, witnessing the neighborhood’s material and societal transformation as it played out a narrative common in rapidly developing cities in China.


In a 2012 interview with Ni Kun, Wang explained how over time he has begun to describe his role as that of “image collector”. This self-styled designation speaks to the collage-like allure of his works and the way in which he is able to juxtapose divergent imagery in a manner entirely his own. He serves as a custodian of history: in connecting with the residents of Tong Yuan Ju and gaining deep knowledge of both their stories as well as the physical spaces they had called home, Wang holds together vestiges of their past. Wang Haichuan’s plan for the artistic outcome of his time in Tong Yuan Ju developed as he amassed more material and with more experiences of the social fabric that held the community together. Although not everything he collected was realized in an artwork, they all have value, regardless of if it was a mere brief encounter and conversation or remnants of the resident’s former homes.


Not merely decorative, his sculptural works repurpose fragments of furniture, giving the pieces new life as part of a functional object. The worn and well-loved scraps of Yin-Yang Chair (Yin) and Yin-Yang Chair (Yang) once again have the capacity to offer rest and relief in their regenerated forms. Similarly, the wood cast out from the Soviet-style buildings in Tong Yuan Ju has the opportunity to house living things once more as Birdcage #3 and Birdcage #5. The stark lines and configurations of all Wang’s practice mimic the Constructivist and Geometricist movements from which he draws inspiration, but these ties can be seen most keenly in Collage #4, Collage #13 and Collage #17. These three-dimensional works are made all the more poignant as the artist extracted from communal windows, doors and furniture to construct commodities for individual use, exploring the decentralization of labor production and reorganization of urban centers.


Wang Haichuan’s background in architecture and landscape design is a constant presence in his work. Although it manifests distinctly in his sculptural methodology, it is keenly visible in his paintings. His conception of space is revealed both in the architectural references he makes as well as the lack of perspective or physical structuring in his works on canvas. The six paintings named with “Modernism” and then subsequently numbered feature a cacophony of imagery and colors, making far-reaching references never repeated or fully demystified. A landscape, an emu, a modernist building, and a partially rendered figure all blend into one dimension across the canvas’s surface. There is no rhyme or reason to the proportional size or positioning of each reference, only their existence together in the artist’s imagination.


Acutely aware of the cultural canon of history, Wang peppers his artworks with famous figures and iconic spaces. In Art and Life, the artist paints a portrait of Pablo Picasso in a hat as a nod to the seaside location of most photos taken of Picasso and Wang’s inclusion of his earlier painting of a dam from 2009 in the background. This water connection is made complete by a fish rendered from an image sent by the artist’s friend to demonstrate the success of a recent catch. Unmoored to context, Wang reaches for citations both high and low, sifting through the hyper saturated imagery of the internet age as well as the annals of history. Although he sees all elements of his artworks as equal in significance, upon finishing a work Wang draws out a single component to serve as the central focus, indicating its importance through titling. In the painting, these snapshots overlap and layer, partially complete and in various levels of detail to leave viewers with only two ideas: art and life.


About Writer

Leigh Tanner is the Founder of Museum 2050 and formerly was Deputy Director of Yuz Foundation. She previously worked in the Research and Exhibitions Departments of the Shanghai Project, an interdisciplinary ideas platform launched in 2016 at the Shanghai Himalayas Museum. Her time at the Shanghai Project as well as earlier experiences in the curatorial departments of the International Center of Photography and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, have led to her believe passionately in the importance of institutions and the potential for their innovation, most especially in the context of China. She completed her BA in Art History from Stanford University and MA in Critical and Curatorial Studies from Columbia University.

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Modernism 1, Acrylic on Canvas 130 x 60 cm 2021

Modernism 2, Acrylic on Canvas, 130 x 60 cm, 2021

Modernism 3, Acrylic on Canvas, 130 x 60 cm, 2021

Modernism 4, Acrylic on Canvas, 130 x 60 cm, 2021

Modernism 5, Acrylic on Canvas, 130 x 60 cm, 2021

Modernism 6, Acrylic on Canvas, 130 x 60 cm, 2021

Green, Acrylic on Canvas, 150 x 150 cm, 2021

Art and Life, Acrylic on Canvas, 100 x 200 cm, 2021

Characters, Acrylic on Canvas, 150 x 150 cm, 2021

Bodies, Acrylic on Canvas, 150 x 150 cm, 2021

Scenery, Acrylic on Canvas, 60 x 80 cm, 2021

Hoof, Acrylic on Canvas, 160 x 130 cm, 2021

Folding Screen #5, Acrylic on Wooden Door, 190 x 103 cm, 2019

Folding Screen #5, Acrylic on Wooden Door, 190 x 103 cm, 2019

Pathway,Acrylic on Wooden Board, 70 x 50 cm, 2018

Collage #4, Wooden Parts from Vintage Window and Door Frames, 80 x 80 x 20 cm, 2018

Collage #13, Wooden Parts from Vintage Window and Door Frames, 60 x 80 x 13 cm, 2019

Collage #15, Wooden Parts from Vintage Window and Door Frames, 29 x 42 x 51 cm, 2019

Collage #17, Wooden Parts from Vintage Window and Door Frames, 187 x 125 x 21.8 cm, 2019

Birdcage #3, Renewed Vintage Furnitures, 144 x 54 x 46 cm, 2017

Birdcage #5, Renewed Vintage Furnitures, 140 x 54 x 51 cm, 2017

Yin-Yang Chair (Yang), Renewed Vintage Furnitures, 130 x 64 x 40 cm, 2017

Yin-Yang Chair (Yin), Renewed Vintage Furnitures, 107 x 54 x 52.5 cm, 2017

Wang Haichuan: Riffling Through History by Leigh Tanner 


In his artistic practice, Wang Haichuan has developed a unique language to dismantle reality and devise a new approach to understanding the world. In his painting and sculptural works, his eye for pairing disparate elements for stunning effect belies a need for coherent narrative. Displaced from their original contexts, the figures, shapes or pieces of old furniture remake themselves as something beyond preconceived ideas of the boundaries of a respective medium. This manner of working has allowed him to develop an aesthetic playing with both figurative and abstract techniques, eliciting an organic response from viewers rather than dictating their impression. Including references that run the gamut from daily life to architecture and the history of art, Wang skims history as he constructs a new chronicle of the present. The artist himself explains, “my paintings have something to do with collective memory, with what we can find from our history.” Just like collective memory, Wang’s artworks offer no definitive testimony, merely a compilation of singular impressions to be considered as a whole. 


Wang’s ongoing fascination with collective memory and the architecture of collectivism is rendered most clearly in his works and programs engaging the Tong Yuan Ju (铜元局) neighborhood in Chongqing beginning in 2009. Previously the site of copper manufactory workshops and related dormitory-style housing units, what began as a plan to explore the architectural contours of the community evolved into a series of works examining how urban forces rewire collective frameworks into those of the individual. Wang returned to the people and spaces of Tong Yuan Ju again and again over the years, witnessing the neighborhood’s material and societal transformation as it played out a narrative common in rapidly developing cities in China.


In a 2012 interview with Ni Kun, Wang explained how over time he has begun to describe his role as that of “image collector”. This self-styled designation speaks to the collage-like allure of his works and the way in which he is able to juxtapose divergent imagery in a manner entirely his own. He serves as a custodian of history: in connecting with the residents of Tong Yuan Ju and gaining deep knowledge of both their stories as well as the physical spaces they had called home, Wang holds together vestiges of their past. Wang Haichuan’s plan for the artistic outcome of his time in Tong Yuan Ju developed as he amassed more material and with more experiences of the social fabric that held the community together. Although not everything he collected was realized in an artwork, they all have value, regardless of if it was a mere brief encounter and conversation or remnants of the resident’s former homes.


Not merely decorative, his sculptural works repurpose fragments of furniture, giving the pieces new life as part of a functional object. The worn and well-loved scraps of Yin-Yang Chair (Yin) and Yin-Yang Chair (Yang) once again have the capacity to offer rest and relief in their regenerated forms. Similarly, the wood cast out from the Soviet-style buildings in Tong Yuan Ju has the opportunity to house living things once more as Birdcage #3 and Birdcage #5. The stark lines and configurations of all Wang’s practice mimic the Constructivist and Geometricist movements from which he draws inspiration, but these ties can be seen most keenly in Collage #4, Collage #13 and Collage #17. These three-dimensional works are made all the more poignant as the artist extracted from communal windows, doors and furniture to construct commodities for individual use, exploring the decentralization of labor production and reorganization of urban centers.


Wang Haichuan’s background in architecture and landscape design is a constant presence in his work. Although it manifests distinctly in his sculptural methodology, it is keenly visible in his paintings. His conception of space is revealed both in the architectural references he makes as well as the lack of perspective or physical structuring in his works on canvas. The six paintings named with “Modernism” and then subsequently numbered feature a cacophony of imagery and colors, making far-reaching references never repeated or fully demystified. A landscape, an emu, a modernist building, and a partially rendered figure all blend into one dimension across the canvas’s surface. There is no rhyme or reason to the proportional size or positioning of each reference, only their existence together in the artist’s imagination.


Acutely aware of the cultural canon of history, Wang peppers his artworks with famous figures and iconic spaces. In Art and Life, the artist paints a portrait of Pablo Picasso in a hat as a nod to the seaside location of most photos taken of Picasso and Wang’s inclusion of his earlier painting of a dam from 2009 in the background. This water connection is made complete by a fish rendered from an image sent by the artist’s friend to demonstrate the success of a recent catch. Unmoored to context, Wang reaches for citations both high and low, sifting through the hyper saturated imagery of the internet age as well as the annals of history. Although he sees all elements of his artworks as equal in significance, upon finishing a work Wang draws out a single component to serve as the central focus, indicating its importance through titling. In the painting, these snapshots overlap and layer, partially complete and in various levels of detail to leave viewers with only two ideas: art and life.


About Writer

Leigh Tanner is the Founder of Museum 2050 and formerly was Deputy Director of Yuz Foundation. She previously worked in the Research and Exhibitions Departments of the Shanghai Project, an interdisciplinary ideas platform launched in 2016 at the Shanghai Himalayas Museum. Her time at the Shanghai Project as well as earlier experiences in the curatorial departments of the International Center of Photography and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, have led to her believe passionately in the importance of institutions and the potential for their innovation, most especially in the context of China. She completed her BA in Art History from Stanford University and MA in Critical and Curatorial Studies from Columbia University.

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