A whirl of Chinese abstraction at White Cube

Nine artists challenge traditions with flair

Image: © Jiang Zhi and White Cube

#Yourworldourworld is the hashtag that’s been earmarked for a new show at White Cube opening on Friday July 15 – and it’s especially fitting for an exhibition on abstraction in Chinese painting. In contrast to Europe and America, the history of abstraction in China is much less defined and linear – a form that emerged more sporadically, shaped through diverse influences both eastern and western, old and new. On one side there are the tenets of calligraphy, ink painting and Taoist philosophy, as well as the more recent style of social-realist paintings from the Cultural Revolution. On the other sits the influences of the western abstract artists themselves. Throw these two “worlds” together and you have a very unique – and exciting – form indeed.

Image: © Yu Youhan and White Cube

Nine artists feature in the show (works priced from about £8,300 to £286,000), the title of which takes its name from Jiang Zhi’s eye-catching piece The World is Yours, as well as Ours (first picture). The Beijing-based artist uses dynamic patterns formed from computer data glitches, then translates these “system errors” onto the canvas. The result is a cool and lively composition that fuses representation with abstraction and brings a refreshing avant-garde vibe to contemporary Chinese art.  


Also working out of Beijing is Liu Wentao, who mixes ancient Taoist philosophy with his own experience of having studied in the US. Liu’s art flits between the concrete and the void, while the minimalism of abstract painter Agnes Martin and printmaker Ellsworth Kelly clearly seeps into his work. Like Jiang, he infuses his pieces – here created from densely applied pencil – with technology (in this case mathematical adjustments).

Image: © Qian Jiahua and White Cube

Liang Quan is another artist who studied abroad, in San Francisco, where he became interested in the art of Richard Diebenkorn. Liang’s pieces in the show incorporate not just a mix of media – rice paper and ink, for example – but also nod to traditional Chinese landscape paintings, paired with geometric forms and “empty space”. Zen Buddhism and meditation are also inspirations, which give Liang’s paintings a subdued, muted quality.


Contemporary master Yu Youhan is, at 73, the oldest artist in the show, and his strong Abstract series (such as Abstract 1985-5, second picture) once more straddles extremes. Here the ideals of Taoist balance (ie yin and yang) combine with notions of “both the fleeting moment and eternity”, to use the artist’s words.

If Yu represents where abstraction in Chinese art has come from, Qian Jiahua – the youngest artist in the exhibition, aged 29 – suggests where the form is going. Her Blue Space and Afterglow (third picture),both new works, use bold colour blocking playfully fractured with lines, borders and variations in tone. The acrylic paintings have an unusual, three-dimensional look that feels fresh to abstract Chinese painting – and indeed to the entire genre as we currently know it.

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