Skip to Content

Pan Gongkai: Melt

Pan Gongkai

September 12 – October 11, 2014


In-person Event

Work: Ann Arbor


Open to the public
Free of charge

Pan Gongkai: Melt / 潘公凯:融

September 12 — October 11 at Work Gallery

This exhibition is made possible with co-sponsorship from the Confucius Institute at the University of Michigan.

Pan Gongkai’s Melt (潘公凯:融) is a large-scale video installation that is concerned with the relationship between Chinese and Western art forms. Projected on the screen are images of withered lotuses gradually being covered by snow. The lotuses are derived from one of Pan’s large ink paintings, while the snow is composed with the words from the artist’s theoretical text, On the Boundary of Western Modern Art.” The composition reflects Pan’s concern for the ways in which modern Western art has imposed itself upon traditional Chinese culture. Here, the withered lotuses can be seen as representing traditional Chinese literati culture, while the snow can be understood as part of a forced dialogue with the West. Although the snow might be viewed as threatening to blot out China’s artistic traditions, it can also be seen as the element of its regeneration. After all, it is this same snow that, when melted, nourishes future blossoms. Melt (or Snow Melt) was featured at the Chinese Pavilion of 54th Venice Biennale (2011).

A renowned artist, theoretician and educator, Pan Gongkai is a strong proponent of the traditional ink painting in China. His large ink paintings retain essential elements of traditional literati painting enhanced with modern aesthetics. In this way, his work exemplifies a modern synthesis of traditional ink and wash painting. 

Critically acclaimed, Pan’s ink paintings have been exhibited at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO, and major art museums in New York, San Francisco, Beijing, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Macao. He is the author of History of Painting in China, Limit and Exploration, Analysis of Pan Tianshou’s Painting Skill and On Pan Tianshou’s Life and Art.

In recent years, Pan has dedicated himself to comprehensive research on modern Chinese art, and his recent publication The Road of Chinese Modern Art has made a significant impact on the liberal arts in China. Pan currently serves as the president of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.

Pan Gonkai will also be presenting a lecture in conjunction with the exhibition:

Ink Painting as Case Study: Combining Traditional Elements with Contemporary Practices
Friday, September 26 at 4 pm
Pendleton Room, Michigan Union 

Interest in new ink — ink painting which combines new techniques with traditional influences — is on the rise in China and internationally. This is true from both a craft perspective, as a study of methodology, and from that of museums looking to feature installations and establish collections. This trend developed as scholars of traditional ink painting, and artists who work in the medium, have been forced to confront the question of whether the form remains relevant and retains the persuasive artistic power it has traditionally held, or whether it must become more reflective of the contemporary.

Before answering this question, it is important to develop an ontological discourse on the tradition of painting in ink — to determine the core essence of the form in order to understand the ways in which its elements may be combined with contemporary techniques. What are we talking about when we discuss ink painting? Ink and rice paper as materials? The blackness of ink as a color? The brush as a strange tool? In contrasting various arguments, it becomes clear that the existing discourse on ink painting, in presuming the tradition a virtue, over-evaluates its specialties and advantages in style, and in its use of material and the tools employed. There is little basis for the assumption by devotees of the form that the techniques and material used in ink painting are superior to oil and canvas. Instead, the true essence of ink painting, and its strength as a medium, comes from the spirituality of the literati ink painting tradition, in which artists produce work with the aim of reflecting the ideal values of a community, rather than to produce a physical object of value.

What follows is a presentation on my own art practices in seeking alternative ways of combining the contemporary and the traditional: contemporary installation work with an ink element; a video installation presenting reflections on the aesthetic mechanics of ink painting; and practices developed from sense of self-discipline which evolved with the tradition. Only the last should be considered new ink, though the first two make for interesting contemporary work.

Work: Ann Arbor
Work: Ann Arbor is closed.