Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China

Yang Jiechang, 100 Layers of Ink, No.2, 1994 ink and acrylic on paper laid down
Yang Jiechang, 100 Layers of Ink, No.2, 1994 ink and acrylic on paper laid down on canvas, 67 × 73 1/4 inches (Private collection, Hong Kong © Yang Jiechang)

Mario Naves reviews the exhibition Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, on view through April 6, 2014.

Naves notes: "Continuity is the abiding leitmotif. Bimo, or brush and ink, is to Chinese art as oil paint is to the West. Tradition is a bolster; that’s all to the good. But how well is it being maintained? ...even when artists aren’t explicitly engaging in 'semantic subversions,' there remains an overriding sense that tradition is not a resource but more a plaything. A deadpan flippancy insinuates its way into 'Ink Art'—a sense of closed horizons and narrow purviews... local tweaks on international trends don’t necessarily build upon the store of human experience. If anything, these tweaks point not to the possibilities of art but to the finitude of the artistic imagination. Now the status quo, commentary and self-involvement, tweaked with political import, have rendered the mainstream of world art professional, brainy, and static. (Navel-gazing, by its very nature, leads nowhere.) 'Ink Art' codifies this stasis with frustrating gravitas."