Author: SHANG YANG 尚扬
Signed and dated: Painted in 1991-1995
Final Price: RMB 5,500,000
1997 Works of artists of the people’s Republic of China / Macau Museum of Art
1997 Creativity Gathering / P16 / Hong Kong Art Center
1997 LEAP / issue 2 / P30
2005 Shangyang: A Case Study of Chinese Contemporary Oil Painters / P69 / Hubei Art Publishing House
2006 New Horizon / P113 / issue 4
2007 Today’s Chinese Artists’ Sighing of Shangyang landscape / P167 / Sichuan Art Publishing House
signed in pinyin, dated 1995
1997 Night Auction: The 12th Asia International Art Exhibition, Macau Art Museum, Macau
1997 97’ Hong Kong Return Contemporayry Art Exhibition, Hong Kong Exhibition Center, New Wing, Hong Kong
The Grand Landscape with Morning Tea (1991-1995) created by Shang Yang is a mirror image of an important historical period, in which the year 1991 represents a half of the painting finished in Wuhan city, and the year 1995 represents the next half of the painting finished in Guangzhou city. For the whole world, the year 1991 witnessed the ending of the Cold War and the collapse of Soviet Union, while the year 1995 witnessed a sudden acceleration of economic globalization; for Shang Yang, the year 1991 was the beginning of a radical experiment in modern artistic conceptions, while the year 1995 was the point at which a modern artistic language system was established. Under such a background, Grand Landscape with Morning Tea is a product of continued interaction and ongoing reflection among great changes brought about by globalization, the experiences of individuals in turbulent times and the establishment of an artistic language.
The Grand Landscape with Morning Tea is an intersection of two important creative work series. One is an extension from the Grand Landscape series, meaning the natural matrix begins to be continuously corroded, torn, dismantled and destroyed; the other is an extension from the philosophic image series in To Lyotard, meaning the traditional cultural identity gradually disappeared and was replaced by commercialization. The two series, both begun in 1991, were a recurring theme in Grand Landscape (1991), Grand Landscape with Inverted Image (1993), 94 Grand Landscape-2 (1994), Grand Landscape for Many Years (1994), and were last interwoven into the current painting in 1995.
The Grand Landscape with Morning Tea not only symbolizes the gradual fading and separation of two life experiences (humanity and nature), but also represents a potential for the two life experiences to regain their meaning in juxtaposition. The binary relation in the work is its fundamental formal feature. On the one hand, it reveals that the “teapot” and the “housing” are erased of their connotations by the Unitarianism and gradually become hollow: the “volcano” and the “nature” are finally replaced by urbanization and become a specimen in display. On the other hand, the Grand Landscape with Morning Tea is the last painting before the disappearance of the signs of teapot and house, and thus is Shang Yang’s cultural critique after he realized that there would never be truly poetic dwelling again — a token of the gradual fading of the Chinese cultural identity from the globalization process. Since then, traditional life has completely left us
Following the seismic changes in 1989, Chinese art can be said to reach a period of confusion in the 1990s. Old art lost its appeal, but its power still remained strong; the art revolution since the “85 New Wave in Art” produced diverse achievements, but it did not seem to bring assurance to society. What was introduced was further “westernization”. In this latent period, Chinese art began to depart from the original “art collectivism” and movement, and entered a period of individualized artistic thinking.
Shang Yang returned to his studio in 1990. In order to assuage the troubled thoughts, he painted a few tranquil paintings, which used the teapot as the sign of the painting. The teapot was used as the motif of the oil painting because he thought that the teapot is a symbol of Chinese culture. He hoped to find a typical sign of Chinese culture, and no appliance had a closer connection with Chinese culture than the teapot. When Shang Yang was painting the teapot, his mood was assuaged. However, an artist like him would never simply make still life paintings. He experiences the experiment of still life paintings as a process. Therefore, it was a specific teapot to begin with. Then, he gradually “dissolved” the teapot. He loves the process of painting.
The process of Shang Yang creating works seems to be post-modern, because he thinks that the process of painting is not to build something, but to dissolve it. At that time, he was exposed to Western postmodern philosophy through reading and conversations with his friend and celebrated philosophers Zhang Zhiyang and Mengmeng. Shang Yang considered that the postmodern trend will eventually catch on in China. As an acute artist, he should respond to this trend earlier. After completing these paintings, he gave a seemingly irrelevant name “To Lyotard”. Shang Yang knows that postmodernism in China should be carried out through the communications between China and the West, because China is in a complicated situation never seen before. A vast China can be divided into several worlds, ranging from impoverished and backward villages to prosperous coastal cities, and forming a complex and peculiar society. Western contemporary culture, the culture of Chinese society, as well as different values intermingle in China. This is the reality China will confront. China’s postmodernism is being implemented against such a background, and it must be unique in its own way. Frankly speaking, Shang Yang rejoices in the complexity of Chinese society. The work on the “teapot” was not over at this time. Well-known art critic Su Xianting invited Shang Yang to participate in the “Post-1989 Chinese Modern Art Exhibition” curated by him. Shang Yang created a large installation called Morning Tea with the theme of “teapot”. In this work, Shang Yang used several steel pipe chairs at his home as part of the work. Afterwards, he mentioned these chairs in the talks with friends. He explained that many friends from the philosophical and literary circles with profound thoughts discussed the postmodernism issues sitting on these chairs. These chairs were also used by many people irrelevant to culture, who discussed specific issues of life. In the works displayed, these chairs were certainly not used by people. Shang Yang produced and put several huge teapots on them, as if implying an indistinct dialogue.
Lyotard is a well-known French thinker and a heavy-hitter figure in postmodernism. His seminal work Postmodernism Knowledge was translated and publish in China at the time. This book is merely just a booklet, but comprehensively analyzed for the first time the disintegration of Western centrism and the subsequent loose state of knowledge under the conditions of postmodernism. I have no idea whether Shang Yang read the obstruse and poorly translated booklet from cover to cover. Shang Yang, despite his love of boos, almost never finished reading the book. He reads for better self-meditation. Therefore, Shang Yang often likes to take a paragraph out of its context and gives full play to his imagination. As a painter, he has to use his imagination in a visual manner. This is one of his ways of working. I guess it’s probably because Shang Yang is aware of Lyotard’s narrative of the dissolution of Western centrism that he could combine his experience of this dissolution with the symbol of “teapot”, giving the “thought” to the “teapot”. It can be said that these works on “teapot” are of Shang Yang’s “mentality”.
From the second half of the 1980s to the early 1990s, in fact, the Chinese art circles were in a state of flux. As China deepens reform and opens wider to the world, Western artistic thoughts have an increasing impact on traditional fields, and modern fine art gradually develops in a suppressed environment. Represented by the 1989 “Chinese Modern Art Exhibition”, China saw the first climax of the art revolution. Thereafter, there was a change in the trend of the art world. At the same time, the styles and patterns that dominated the Chinese orthodox art circles for half a century begin to show unprecedented signs of decline, although they are still at work.