Modern Chinese Ink Paintings


Currently on display at the British Museum, this exhibition traces recent developments in this traditional Chinese art form.

Historically, painting has occupied a privileged place in China as one of three highly prized forms of expression. Along with poetry and calligraphy - collectively known as the "three perfections" - Chinese painting draws on a rich matrix of motifs and techniques. However, as exhibition demonstrates, ink painting is very much a living form, even as it remains true to its origins.

The most clear example of this is the way in which contemporary artists stick to the traditional subject matter of Chinese ink paintings; natural forms of landscapes, flowers, and rocks feature prominently. When they diverge from this formula, for example, to caricature an intellectual, it is usually possible to find a historical precedent, something this exhibit does very well.

Within this framework, artists like Liu Dan and Liu Kuo-Sung push ink paintings in directions which are actually quite radical. Liu Dan, for example, realistically enlarges rocks and flowers to such an extent that an element of ambiguity is introduced into their interpretation. Liu Kuo-Sung's more playful work also introduces ambiguity, but he does so through techniques which are both minimal and expressive.

This exhibit has some forty works on display and contains examples from several artists (notably Zhang Daqian), and yet it feels quite small. Hopefully the British Museum has more to show us in the future.

_Modern Chinese Ink Paintings are on display until the 2nd of September in room 91 of the British Museum._

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