Fabulous faker

By GREG COOK  |  December 31, 2007

Harvard curator Robert Mowry and two outside curators have assembled 63 ink paintings from the collection of Chu-tsing Li, their former professor of Chinese art at the University of Kansas. The paintings range from uptight realist renderings of a bowl of tofu to fussy, splashy abstractions that feel inspired by abstract expressionism, but also with echoes of traditional Chinese ink washes.

More successful are the calligraphic ink paintings that take off from traditional landscapes. Yu Chengyao builds dense lines and washes to create chiseled canyons and a patchwork of mountains. Xia Yifu’s 1988 Landscape is built from lots of fine lines, which give the high snowy peaks appearing out of clouds a hyper-realist feel.

Others push Chinese painting’s traditional loose brushwork toward the cartoony. The boats, cormorants, windswept trees, and house in Li Huasheng’s 1985 Return from Fishing are rendered in a jaunty, loose, brushy style that recalls a child’s drawing. In Wan Qingli’s 1983 Clearing after Snow, a waterfall cascades from mountains, disappears into mist, and reappears as an icy blue river winding through a bare wood. It’s done in a blocky graphic style that recalls Ben Shahn. Chen Qikuan’s Monkeys (probably 1989) looks at first like calligraphy, but on second glance is a gang of cute, doodly monkeys.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , sackler museum, Harvard University, Painting,  More more >
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