The exhibition Horizons presents striking positions by contemporary, internationally renowned artists from China, Korea and Japan at the interface between Far Eastern and Western art. The exhibition includes works by Qiu Shihua, Leiko Ikemura, Evelyn Taocheng Wang, Kimsooja and Yu Duan.
The selected artists come from the three East Asian countries represented by the MOK: China, Korea and Japan. They draw on their centuries-old tradition as part of their identity. In that spirit, individual pieces of ancient art are juxtaposed with their works in the exhibition. The influence of Western art on China, Korea and Japan has by no means eliminated tradition, instead challenging it to develop and evolve along new lines in the course of globalization. Transcending the bounds of their cultural origins, the artists cited above have created works that resonate with concepts from modern Western art.
Horizons testifies to the vitality and creative resilience of contemporary East Asian art. It constantly draws anew from its rich tradition and achieves impressive new inventions, rediscoveries and re-interpretations. It will play an increasingly important role on the international stage.
Qiu Shihua is a Taoist. He views emptiness, deliberately non-defined and in constant flux, as the true core of his art. In the West, his paintings have been addressed in the context of “white painting” and minimalist conceptual art, as well as being associated with William Turner and Romantic painting. Qiu has studied Western painting intensively and drawn inspiration from it. The roots of his work, however, lie in Taoist emptiness with the concept of the boundless, pulsating energy (qi) of the universal life-force that permeates what we call the “world”. As the viewer engages with the images, the empty surfaces begin to vibrate in myriad shades of white, as the outlines of hidden landscape features emerge from the misty haze.
Qiu Shihua prefers to work in the landscape format that echoes the traditional handscroll, projected however onto the larger dimensions of the wall. Upright rectangular hanging scroll formats appear less frequently, with the pictorial elements superimposed in horizontal layers as in traditional painting.
With its masterly ink washes and misty areas, the hanging scroll from the museum collection (A 64,5), attributed to literati painter Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), clearly illustrates the enormous importance of monochrome Chinese ink painting for Qiu Shihua’s work. As in traditional painting, Qiu presents the viewer with a bird’s-eye view, drawing the eye into infinity as the gaze, enthralled, meanders across the pictorial surface. Literati painting has never been about depicting reality. The real goal was lyrical, pared-down expression of moods, atmospheres and cosmic energies or feelings, concentrating on the essentials.
Courtesy Michael Dannenmann © Leiko Ikemura / VG Bildkunst, 2022
Caves, cavities and openings play a key role in Leiko Ikemura’s sculptures, as do hares, veering off in all directions. The monumental bronze sculpture of the Hare Bodhisattva (Usagi Kannon) in the museum foyer bears witness to this.
The reflective countenance of the Usagi Kannon shown in the exhibition corresponds to the idea of the 12th-century Eleven-headed Kannon (B 11,36), long held in the museum. The eleven heads in the figure’s crown, with diverse facial expressions (anger, pity, sternness, kindness, serenity, sadness, thoughtfulness, etc.), embody the means of persuasion that esoteric Buddhism in Japan ascribed to the eleven-headed Bodhisattva. The friendly faces represent the desirable pathway of Buddhist enlightenment, while the angry and thoughtful variants manifest ignorance that turns away from enlightenment and nirvana (extinction). Ikemura’s hollow, reclining sculptures take up the theme of transience and extinction. Ikemura herself speaks of the hollow figures as “memento mori” (“Remember that you will die”).
Ikemura’s horizon paintings represent mindscapes that pick up on the concept of Japanese landscape painting in their content and composition. The artist’s imaginary, inner worlds are revealed in her horizon paintings, as well as in the ceramic sculptures of mountain spirits.
Evelyn Taocheng Wang
Courtesy Antenna Space, Shanghai; Carlos/Ishikawa, London and Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam. © Gert Jan van Rooij
Evelyn Taocheng Wang describes herself as a 21st-century Chinese literati painter. Her unadorned, long paper strips, known as the “naked scrolls”, take up the idea of the traditional Chinese handscroll, which is viewed as the earliest Chinese book format. Painting and text alternate. To protect them, handscrolls were reinforced with paper and decorative fabric sections.
The two Japanese copies from museum holdings (A 09,11) recount a fantastic legend about the original manifestations of the Buddhist deity Bishamon in great detail with luminous colors. This is the earliest surviving illustrated version, which is also an outstanding example of professional studio painting. A wafer-thin, precise line drawing (baimiao) was first placed on the paper and subsequently filled in with finely graded opaque mineral paint.
In her “naked handscrolls”, Evelyn Taocheng Wang confronts the viewer with topics of concern to a 21st-century female Chinese intellectual. In the process, she deftly deploys the full range of all painting styles, encompassing methods used in professional, realistic studio painting and in ink painting in the style adopted by literati and scholars. She annotates her paintings with colophons, quotations, literary references and red seal impressions. Her work often provide insights into how Europe is perceived from the perspective of a 21st-century Chinese intellectual. Wang’s preferred topics include issues pertaining to female identity and overt or subversive violence against women.
Evelyn Wang’s hanging scrolls with mountings she has sewn are replete with enigmatic irony, especially her calligraphic works deploying European script. The “Quoted Elegance” series notes in laconic, simple lettering: “She was the perfect 50ies wife to a respectable man (a judge).”
As in traditional stone rubbings, the white letters are set against a black background, like a stele inscription carved in stone and copied as a rubbing by laying a wet sheet of paper over it with a pad soaked in ink. This method for copying canonical texts can be traced back to the 2nd century A.D.
Wang’s calligraphy is framed by a primitive, self-stitched mounting made of old rags and fabric scraps, which gives the lie to the fairy tale of the happy “perfect wife”. The prints of Wang’s rustic, self-incised name and motto seals also testify to humor and self-irony. Her works are a radical reinvention of Chinese “literati art”, always considered the undisputed domain of male creativity in China.
Foto: Simon Vogel © Kimsooja, Courtesy: The artist and KEWENIG, Berlin
In Kimsooja’s Bottari installations, the viewer encounters the typical bales of luggage and bundles of cloth that the rural population of Korea still travels with today on mopeds or by van.
In the 1990s, Kimsooja discovered colorful traditional wedding blankets with clearly outlined woven good-luck symbols (phoenix, dragon, crane, lotus, etc.). She knotted bundles (bottari) from the fabrics, which in her installations symbolize the diverse “baggage” that every person consciously or unconsciously carries with them. In the context of her “Bottari Truck” video, the bundles represent homelessness, migration and female nomadism; at the same time, they raise the question of identity in the global world.
The precious early 15th-century gift box for a wedding (E 61,1) made of black lacquer with mother-of-pearl and dyed horn inlays, is decorated with a pair of phoenixes as a symbol of marital bliss. The lively, powerful rendering of the birds as well as the blossoms and borders are reminiscent of colorful Bottari motifs. They bear witness to the vital, natural handling of contrasting symbols that is characteristic of Korean art, which are grouped and placed in a stylized, yet natural, unconstrained manner.
During her studies in London, Yu Duan studied the relationship between humans and nature. London’s small, lovingly laid-out gardens bear witness to their owners’ longing for a refuge in the midst of the urban world. Yu Duan contacted the owners, gained their trust, interviewed and photographed them. Her aim was to portray the characteristic idiosyncrasies of the gardens and their gardeners. In some photographs, the garden paradises seem like a backdrop for self-expression, in others like a protective hiding place.
The idea of the garden as a paradisiacal retreat also plays a central role in traditional Chinese portrait painting. This becomes apparent in the idealized portrait of the famous poet Tao Qian (365-427) from a 17th-century album (A 12,1). Tao resigned from his civil service post and retired to his home to devote his attention to poetry, wine and chrysanthemum cultivation. The portrait of Wu Yihan (A 2000, 13 OS) is dated 1689. The painter presents the man of letters with the typical attributes of education and aspiration to intellectual freedom: Wu wears a Taoist headdress, the zither (qin) rests on his lap, and a servant attends to his needs. A waterfall and the suggestion of rustling pines evoke the musical inspiration the scholar draws from cosmic nature.
The photographic works in which the artist reveals the “hidden green” in the rural regions of Yunnan province stand in marked contrast to London’s urban gardens. Her idiosyncratic photographs of the casual, often ignored, greenery that surrounds people on a daily basis, as well as the artificially constructed paradisical gardens, testify to great empathy, openness and subtle humor.
with friendly support
Qiu Shihua, Leiko Ikemura, Evelyn Taocheng Wang, Kimsooja und Yu Duan.
Galerie Karsten Greve, Köln/Paris/St. Moritz; Antenna Space, Shanghai; Carlos/Ishikawa, London, Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam, Galerie Kewenig, Kimsooja Studio sowie Michael Dannenmann, Julia Mullié, Nick Terra und weiteren privaten Leihgeber*innen.
Fördererkreis des Museums für Ostasiatische Kunst Köln
Orientstiftung zur Förderung der Ostasiatischen Kunst
Kimsooja, Cities On The Move – 2727 km Bottari Truck, 1997–2001, video still, 7:33 min., loop, silent © Kimsooja, Courtesy: The artist and KEWENIG, Berlin
Tuesday to Sunday
11am – 5pm
Every first Thursday in the month
11am – 10pm
Closed Mondays; open on All Saints' Day
Museum is closed on December 24th, Christmas Day (25 Dec), New Year's Eve (31 Dec) and New Year's Day (1 Jan). Museum is opend on Easter Monday, Whit Monday, German Unity Day and December 26.
€ 9.50 / reduced € 5,50
KölnTag on the first Thursday of the month (except public holidays): free admission to the Museum for all Cologne residents.
How to get here
Public transport: Tram routes 1 and 7 and bus route 142, alight at ‘Universitätsstrasse’
There is a car park at the museum
The museum is barrier-free. Disabled toilet available.