Trip to Sichuan Fine Art Institute 四川美术学院

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Just back from a trip to Sichuan, and places I’d long wanted to visit but never before had quite the chance.

Among them, the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute (SFAI). With Zhong Biao (钟飙) as host, I found the campus to be among the most impressive I’ve ever seen.

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To begin with, I note the emergence of trend towards revival of the ancient which has been underway for a while now, and which in any event in China is of course nothing new. Here though, its rebuttal to the build-at-any-price spate of projects great and small across China seems unusually resonate. This may be because the location of the SFAI campus, was newly situated (2005) and personally selected by Luo Zhongli 罗中立, famed figure in the history of contemporary Chinese art if for nothing more than his “Father” 父亲 painting of 1980. Under his leadership the campus was relocated to its current location in Huxi (near Chongqing, itself another wonder of this trip), and he also supervised overall design that plays on the old new theme constantly throughout, whether it be calculated distribution of ancient and blended with imitation ancient artifacts from China past–walls, gates, even footings for temple complexes that are never actually built. The overall effect is a thorough dismantling of any glorification of the old while at the same time celebrating delicate beauty of just that.

 

The campus’s wonders reside not so much in the art works distributed about the grounds (not to mention in the buildings themselves), a feature of any art campus of course, but in the incredible integration of the built with the natural environment, something difficult to imagine in other hallowed settings such as the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing or even the Chinese Academy of Fine Art in Hangzhou.

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The architecture, particularly the Main Library building (Tanghua Architects and Associates, 2009), is also impressive and yet more impressively or satisfyingly situated in its environment

The main feature of the campus appropriately is the central museum, which boasts the world’s largest mural (no idea if that’s a fact, but its fun to repeat anyway), a work created of reclaimed tile fragments by faculty and students that covers not only a good portion of outward facade, but also some interior walls as well, as this courtyard shot which is a typical blend of contemporary art installation and ancient ruin rolled into one.

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And all this before one even gets to the art, which is another subject altogether.

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The Universe of Unreality, some photos

Zhong Biao’s recent book, Zhong Biao: The Universe of Unreality (Charta),  is out (co-edited with Xu Gang), and I’ll be reviewing it for MCLC (Modern Chinese Literature and Culture). Much to note in this publication. One major feature is the 150 or so paintings beautifully reproduced in the book. Another feature is the inclusion of some interesting old photographs, some of them down right striking. Three in particular to note: this one from 1986, was taken when Zhong was a middle school student at the Sichuan Fine Arts Academy Middle School in Chongqing:

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Following is this rather severe looking portrait from 1989, just as Zhong was preparing his final works for graduation at the China Academy of Art 中国美术学院 in Hangzhou:

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And finally an un-dated image entitled “Working on my Autobiography”

Photos from The Universe of Unreality

This third image, minus title, also appears in Zhong Biao Dictionary, a curious work which I finally own in full text and will have more to say about later.