Goya Manet picasso Beijing?


-- Pei-Yuan Han

Since the writing of Reflection on the 10th Anniversary, ten more years have passed. Over this period, one of my pet obsessions has been to find the possible identity of  Goya to Beijing  in the long tunnel of time and space of art history.

Art is indeed part of the social product. So, when an artist’s works criticize or protest social values, events or historical phenomena, he is said to be a ‘protest artist,’ even though he’s unable to free the contents of his work from the influence of society, or the time he lives in.

For example, the art produced throughout Chinese history has a few common characteristics: lack of realism, insufficient documentation, weakness of critical and protest spirit.

Because of the lack of realism, people have been unable to form an accurate image of people in the past, the natural scenery, the city, or its architecture. Thus, people had no collective visual images until the invention of photography.

Were it not for written records, the poor documentation of Chinese art would lead us to believe that no wars, disasters, or famines have ever occurred during China’s history.

Lastly, the critical and protest spirit of the artist restrained by the Confucian ethos of loyalty to the ruler and forgiveness to others combines with the two previous factors to avoid applying art bluntly to express, but rather disguise his sentiment by using the symbolism of the Horse, the Four Gentlemen, or poetry, or colophon. As a result, the painting equivalent of the critiques of Buddhism by Han Yu, the visual depiction of the Massacre of Yang Zhou, or the Opium Wars does not exist. This leads us to believe Chinese artists are indifferent to those historical facts.

Therefore, in Chinese art history, it is impossible to find a painter like Goya, who mercilessly condemned the corruption of the Catholic Church, the abuse of the Spanish Inquisition, the cruelty of war, and the oppression and incompetence of the rulers. Neither will we find a painter with the spirit of protest of a Daumier or a Kollwitz, who spent their entire lives using their brushes as weapons.

Lu Xun was one who used his pen as a weapon in literature. He introduced Kollwitz to China, and published her portfolio. He also encouraged young artists to revive woodcut as a mass communication medium in art. We ask why did he have to struggle so hard to achieve those goals?

In early 1989, the Exhibition of Chinese Contemporary Art at the National Fine Art Museum of Beijing was a monumental event. Many works surprisingly embodying the critical and protest spirit were displayed, sprouted up from decades underground as a result of the ‘85 Art Movement.

In the last twenty years, many good works have been produced in the same spirit. One of the big banners in the June 4th Movement hailed the fight for liberty and democracy, of which freedom of art is an essential part. In this regard, thanks to a more opened political climate and fertile economic soil, a certain gain has been achieved.

But in the garden of art, there is no harvest of flower and fruit without wild grass. How art faces up to the corruption of society and avoids the commercialization of its own product depends on the aspiration and self-awareness of the artist. From now on, the confrontation of these two arms will be much more challenging than the goals Lu Xun sought to achieve. But why?

Goya to Beijing  is like a footnote commentary, unconsciously jotted down by me while reading an art history book twenty years ago. The scene has changed, the meaning now differs, and I ask myself: Does this project need to continue? The answer is yes.

Until we reach the destination, which is to supply this chapter with a retrospective, along with the other collateral pursuits, one may find it at the following:  www.guernica70th.com, www.daumierinchina.com. Hopefully, it will cut down a few steps in our long journey.

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