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Multiple Refraction —— The Ghost of Modernism

2023.06.03 - 2023.07.15

Artist: Gao Ge, Grace Tobin, Hua Shuchen, Jess Allen, Lilyjon, Ni Hao, Sonia Jia, Wang Weiwei, Yan Bingqing

Academic Consultant: Dr. Jiang Jun

In 1953, Edward Hopper joined 46 American artists to start the periodical Reality, aimed at fighting against the dominance of abstract art at the time and to enhance the status of figurative art. He claimed that only when painting reflects life and natural phenomena in a broader and more direct way can it regain its glory.


We are entering an era of coexistence of pluralism in art practice, where the progressive theory of art has become a thing of the past. Figurative art with a long history has not stepped into death, but rather it has returned to its own place, absorbing various heritages of modernist abstraction and occupying a territory that cannot be ignored.


Different from the western transcendental worldview, there has always been a lack of absolute abstraction and representativeness in the tradition of Chinese Doctrine of the mean aesthetics. Art always hovers in the spectrum between abstraction and representativeness. It rejects ‘either/or’ and instead advocates ‘not only but also’. Representativeness has never been absent, nor has it ever encountered a dilemma similar to that faced by Edward Hopper and his fellow artists in 1953. Since Reform and Opening-up of China in 1978, the monolithic approach of socialist realism has been shattered, and Chinese figurative art has likewise entered the realm of stylistic pluralism exploration as a result of the popularization of the global modernism art language.


Founded in 2020, Cub_ism_ Artspace, inspired by the ‘multiple perspectives’ of Cubism, has focused on the contemporary practice and multiple aspects of global figurative art since its inception. In the reopening after the relocation, they hope to once again reaffirm the orientation and characteristics of the gallery, hence I named this exhibition ‘Multiple Refraction —— the Ghost of Modernism’ and invited several artists that Cub_ism_ Artspace has worked with for a long time, such as Gao Ge, Grace Tobin, Hua Shuchen, Jess Allen, Lilyjon, Jia Xibei, Ni Hao, Yan Bingqing, as well as new artists such as Wang Weiwei. What they all have in common is a commitment to exploring the differentiated style of figurative art, while seeking new inspirations in the legacy of modernism.


Now, we can easily find a return to the art style of the early 1900s around the world, which, as summarized by the word ‘Ghost’ in the subtitle, is actually a metaphor for a nostalgic style —— Retro-Modernism. Different from the international abstract style of modernism that was popular in the United States after World War II, modernism in the early 20th century presented a multifaceted figurative style. During that period, due to the improvement of photography and mass mechanical reproduction technology, artists abandoned the monolithic realistic depiction and began to experiment with a variety of representational expressions in an attempt to develop new art languages in keeping with the zeitgeist.


Today, under the technological revolution of artificial intelligence and the digital metaverse, as the last stronghold of human creativity, art is greatly threatened. We are beginning to rethink the ‘nature of humanity’ and the ‘relationship between technology, art and people’. As a spiritual compensation, it is easy to understand why figurative art of early modernism is once again favoured by a new generation of artists in the 21st century and combined in a more enlightened way with their understandings and expressions of contemporary life.

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