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中国当代艺术的敦煌血脉

更新时间:2014-2-21 13:55:35 来源:华尔街日报中文网 作者:佚名

The Old Made New
中国当代艺术的敦煌血脉

Viewing 'Inspired by Dunhuang,' the China Institute's show of modern artwork, you find yourself at the crossroads of three converging stories: the thousand-year history of desert cave murals at Dunhuang, China; the story of recent Chinese artists influenced by them; and the story of the China Institute itself.

Founded in New York in 1926 by prominent American and Chinese educators, including the philosopher John Dewey, to educate Americans in China's language and culture, the establishment is a beguiling example of the old, enduring 'American Century' initiatives. In 1944, it moved to the elegant, four-story Manhattan townhouse where it has stayed, a gift from Henry Luce. The two gallery rooms on the first floor have presented exhibitions about China ever since, often the only place to do so during the long decades when that country seemed bewilderingly hermetic and troubled.

The show offers 34 works by 15 artists from the 1940s onward and is co-curated by gallery director Willow Weilan Hai and Princeton professor Jerome Silbergeld. According to Mr. Silbergeld, the initial room educates us with illustrations of Dunhuang's continuing cultural echoes, while the next room has stand-alone, powerful works by living artists.

But, first, a little background. Monks originally settled among the warren of 735 caves, on the edge of China's empire abutting the Silk Road, because of the dazzling and mystical appeal of a nearby mountain whose mica content glistened after rainfalls. Roughly from the fourth to the 14th centuries, the monks or their guests illustrated 492 caves with some 148,000 square feet of murals and more than 2,000 sculptures. To this day almost nothing is known about who the artists were. They depicted the Buddha and his adventures, incarnations, parables, bodhisattvas (saints), donor portraits and the like in glorious, multicolored representations done by torchlight. (The artists put up their own plaster or gesso on the cave walls.)

During the centuries of Mongol rule, landscape and literati scroll paintings take over, and the way of life at Dunhuang peters out, until about 1900 when the caves are rediscovered and soon frequented by acquisitive foreigners. Such activity in the next decades supplies the museums of the West, of Russia and Japan and elsewhere, with glorious examples of Dunhuang's visual treasures--a controversial issue to this day. Yet it hardly makes a dent in the total panoply.

Further lessons on how values have changed come with the story of Zhang Daqian's remarkable life. Zhang visited Dunhuang in the wartime 1940s. A Chinese patrician scholar, expert copier and accomplished artist in his own right, he later became notorious for creating fakes of traditional landscapes that ended up in Western museums. (He died in 1983 in Taiwan.) According to Mr. Silbergeld, Zhang's signed artworks sold for $507 million in 2011, the highest total sum by any artist in one year, beating out Picasso as No. 1. During his visit to Dunhuang, assisted by his four wives and uncounted offspring, Zhang did meticulous scholarly tracings of numerous friezes as a record for posterity. He then painstakingly chipped off top layers, discarded them, and traced the next layers. Chinese colleagues were so astounded that, finally and for the first time, they prompted the government to set up a watchdog authority over the site. Examples, in the first gallery, of Zhang's beautiful small floating figures, though pastiches, give a striking sense of the originals.

Nearby, there are sumptuously colorful page proofs for recent schoolbooks of exactly rendered Dunhuang figures and their dress patterns. In a long glass case, one sees a lateral scroll of exquisite calligraphic poetry in praise of the caves' mystical history. On a monitor screen, one can watch a Bambi-like Chinese television cartoon series based on animals from the friezes. A wall display tells us about Yuan Yunsheng, now a highly successful artist in China, famous for being the first to have work censored in the early post-Mao years. In 1979, he executed a commission for murals inside a new Beijing airport terminal, featuring some nude female figures. The airport authorities, alarmed at the nudes, consulted the then premier, Hua Guofeng, who came in person to give a verdict. In a rather Solomonic judgment, part of the mural was covered over. In the show, Mr. Yuan's half-clothed Bodhisattva scroll speaks eloquently of Dunhuang's aesthetic influence on his work.

Upon entering the second gallery, you are struck by the quality of masterpieces on view, all by living artists. Liu Dan's highly skillful ink-on-paper exploration of the elements compels the realization that great art makes itself known whatever the cultural divide. He, too, visited the caves. Zhang Hongtu's 'Dunhuang Study No. 7' (1981) depicts humanoid simian figures dancing above a terrace of rocks that look like frozen flames, directly evocative of sixth-century narrative murals.

Slowly, you begin to notice the ceiling frieze overhead of four giant canvas panels by Yu Hong. In her catalog interview, she talks of visiting the caves in 1986, 'when all art students were required to go as part of their third-year study.' This has been common practice in China's top art schools for years, and all of Dunhuang's painted spaces have ceiling murals. In Ms. Yu 's 'Questions for Heaven' (2010), the foreshortening implies a viewer looking from below, and some of the figures are looking back down at you. The effect is a pop fusion of Dunhuang and Renaissance ceiling-art traditions startlingly peopled by ordinary modern folk.

The great find, for this reviewer, is the work of Wang Mansheng, whose two ink-on-cardboard landscapes of the rock faces above the caves bewitch the eye and haunt the mind. These are scenes crafted with a precise, realistic brush, but with a soft finish in a spectral light where the landscapes look like visions. He has taken a post-Dunhuang aesthetic tradition, applied it to the local geography, and achieved a kind of geometric abstraction.

One could argue that the China Institute now inhabits a world where its advocacy of Chinese culture has become well-nigh superfluous. Bigger institutions with greater funds daily usurp its metier. Yet, with focused, sublime shows like this one, it still stands out splendidly.

Inspired by Dunhuang:

Re-Creation in Contemporary Chinese Art

China Institute

Through June 8

New York

参观华美协进社(China Institute)当代艺术展“敦煌灵感”(Inspired by Dunhuang)时,你会发现自己站在了三条叙事线索的交汇处:中国敦煌石窟壁画的千年历史,受这些壁画影响的中国近现代艺术家的故事,以及华美协进社本身的故事。

1926年,包括哲学家约翰·杜威(John Dewey)在内的中美知名教育家在纽约成立了华美协进社,向美国人宣讲中国的语言和文化。这个组织是漫长的“美国世纪”当中诸多创举的一个绝佳案例。1944年,它搬进曼哈顿一处由亨利·路思义(Henry Luce)赠予的雅致的四层联排屋,之后便一直在那里办公。从那时起,底楼的两个展厅举办了有关中国的各种展览。在中国看上去捉摸不透而又困难重重的那几十年岁月里,它常常是举办这类展览的唯一地点。

这次展览展出了20世纪40年代以来15位艺术家的34件作品,由华美协进社博物馆馆长海蔚蓝(Willow Weilan Hai)和普林斯顿大学教授谢柏轲(Jerome Silbergeld)联合策划。据谢柏轲说,第一个展室向我们展示了敦煌连绵不绝的文化反响,第二个展室则展示了一些在世艺术家独立的、有感染力的作品。

首先要介绍一点背景情况。起初,僧人们在中国帝国边缘接近丝绸之路的735个洞窟中住下来,因为附近一座山上的云母成份在雨后闪闪发光,充满了瑰丽而神秘的魅力。大约在四世纪到14世纪期间,这些僧人和他们的客人给492个石窟绘制了大约4.5万平方米的壁画,并塑造了2,000多尊塑像。迄今人们对这些艺术家的身份几乎是一无所知。他们举着火把画出了华丽而多彩的作品,描绘了佛陀及其历险、转世、寓言、菩萨、施主画像等方面的内容。(绘画用的石膏粉是艺术家亲自糊到洞壁上去的。)

在蒙古人统治的年代里,山水和文人卷轴画成为主流,敦煌的生活方式渐渐消失,一直到1900年左右这些洞窟被一些贪婪的外国人重新发现并频繁光顾。后面几十年这些外国人的光顾为西方、俄罗斯、日本和其他地区的博物馆提供了敦煌视觉艺术财富的华美样本──迄今这仍然是一个充满了争议的话题。但这并没有削弱敦煌石窟的整体魅力。

张大千的多彩人生,进一步反映了价值观发生的变化。张大千在战火中的20世纪40年代造访敦煌。他是一位出身书香门第的文人、临摹高手,本身也是一位很有成就的艺术家,后来因为伪造传统山水画而声名狼藉,这些画作最后又为西方博物馆所收藏。(张大千1983年在台湾去世。)据谢柏轲说,2011年张大千署名作品一共卖出了5.07亿美元,创下了艺术家单年作品售卖金额之最,超过毕加索成为第一。到访敦煌期间,张大千在四位妻妾和很多晚辈的帮助下,对大量的壁画做了一丝不 的学术性临摹,以便为后人留下记录。然后他又煞费苦心地剥掉外面的一层层壁画扔掉,描摹里面的几层。中国同行对此大为震惊,到最后他们要求政府成立一个监管机构,这是他们首次提出这一要求。第一个展厅内张大千笔下美丽的小飞天形象的样本虽然是仿作,仍然能让人逼真地感受到原作的风貌。

旁边有近期教科书华美的彩色校样,分毫不差地描绘了敦煌的人物形象及其服饰图案。在一个长长的玻璃橱里面,人们可以看到一幅精巧的诗词书法横轴,内容是赞颂敦煌石窟的神奇历史。在一台显示器上,则可以观看一部类似《小鹿班比》(Bambi)的中国动画电视连续剧,它是根据敦煌壁画中的动物创作的。有一道 上的展品讲述了袁运生的故事。他因为在后毛泽东时代初期第一个遭到审查而闻名,现在是中国一名非常成功的艺术家。1979年,他受命在北京一座新建航站楼内创作壁画,其中有一些裸女形象。机场当局因为这些裸体形象而惊惧,便请教了时任国务院总理华国锋。华国锋亲自做出了裁定。这个裁定相当聪明,壁画的一部分被遮住了。在展览中,袁运生的半裸菩萨卷轴画有力地述说了敦煌美学对他作品的影响。

进入第二个展厅的时候,你会因为展出作品的质量而震撼。它们全都出自在世艺术家之手。刘丹利用水墨纸本对各种元素炉火纯青的探索运用,让人认识到好的艺术品不论有多大的文化鸿沟都会为人所理解。刘丹也到访过敦煌石窟。张宏图《敦煌习作七号》(Dunhuang Study No. 7,1981年)描绘了一群在仿若凝固火焰的层层岩石上起舞的类人猿形象,让人马上联想到了六世纪那些叙事性壁画。

慢慢地,你会开始注意到头顶上由四张巨型画板组成的顶棚壁画。那是喻红的作品。在目录册上她的采访文字中,她谈到了1986年到访敦煌石窟,那个时候“所有美术学生都要在读三年级的时候前去参观”。这是中国名牌美术院校多年来的惯例。敦煌所有带壁画的地方都有顶棚壁画。喻红2010年作品《天问》(Questions for Heaven)的透视手法暗含观看者从下往上看的预设,一部分人物形象也在回过头来往下看你。其结果便是敦煌壁画与文艺复兴时期顶棚艺术传统的融合,填充其间的又出人意料地是普通的现代人。

本评论员的大发现是王满晟的作品。他的两幅描绘敦煌石窟上方岩壁的纸板水墨山水画引人注目,让人念念不忘。景色用现实主义风格的线条精确绘制而成,但又用一种迷离的光线效果做了柔软化的处理,使风景看起来恍若梦境。他采用后敦煌时期的审美传统并应用于当地地理环境,实现了一种几何式的抽象化。

或许有人会说,在现今这个世界中,华美协进社对中国文化的鼓吹可以说显得多余。资金更雄厚、规模更大的机构正在逐步侵占着它的领域。但凭借着“敦煌灵感”这样专注的、卓越的展览,它在这一领域仍然是卓尔不群的。

敦煌灵感:当代中国艺术的再创

华美协进社(China Institute)

至6月8日

纽约

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