Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China

Metropolitan Museum of Art

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An illuminating investigation into how contemporary Chinese artists have reinterpreted past traditions to forge new artistic paths

The Chinese tradition of “ink art” stretches far beyond works in ink, to embrace a set of aesthetic principles centered on renewal and reinterpretation of the past. The 80 works, by 40 contemporary artists, featured in InkArt  range from variations on the written word to radical abstractions to contemporary landscapes, and represent media as diverse as photography, video, ceramic, wood, bronze, and stainless steel—as well as traditional ink (which might be on cardboard, polyester, or the human body). They include such iconic pieces as Book from the Sky by Xu Bing and Han Jar Overpainted with Coca ColaLogo by Ai Weiwei, “pseudo-characters” by Gu Wenda, handscrolls by Liu Dan, and videos and animation by Qiu Anxiong and Chen Shaoxiong. The illuminating texts give a history of contemporary Chinese ink painting and how it is perceived in the West. A discussion of the works themselves show how they respond to, subvert, or reinterpret the traditional idioms to define a modern artistic identity that remains both Chinese and global.


Maxwell K. Hearn is Douglas Dillon Curator in Charge, department of Asian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Wu Hung is Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor in Art History and East Asian Languages and Civilizations, and director, Center for the Art of East Asia, The University of Chicago.

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