Eskenazi shows Japanese bamboo, alongside the first UK exhibition dedicated to the works of Fang Lijun

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Eskenazi shows Japanese bamboo, alongside the first UK exhibition dedicated to the works of Fang Lijun
Eskenazi Ltd is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading galleries for Chinese and East Asian works of art and its exhibitions are always eagerly awaited for the rarity and beauty of the objects offered.

LONDON.- From 1 to 30 June 2023, Eskenazi holds two summer exhibitions: one presenting ceramic artworks by the celebrated contemporary Chinese artist Fang Lijun (b.1963), the artist’s first solo exhibition to be held in the UK; and the other dedicated to classical and contemporary bamboo works by Japanese masters. This is the second in a series of summer exhibitions at Eskenazi which was launched last year and which aims to engage new audiences and to present diverse and often lesser-known subjects related to East Asian art and the aesthetic of the Chinese literati.

Between perfection and destruction: Fang Lijun porcelain works Eskenazi is presenting the first UK exhibition dedicated to works by the celebrated contemporary Chinese artist Fang Lijun (b.1963), a leading figure in the Cynical Realist Movement. The show is focussed on the artist’s porcelain sculptures and presents nine examples, alongside a selection of complementary ink sketches and paintings. The catalogue includes an essay by Shelagh Vainker, Curator of Chinese Art at the Ashmolean Museum and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Oriental Studies, Oxford (available on request).

Renowned for his politically driven paintings, often depicting bald headed young men, Fang returned to porcelain for the first time in recent years having graduated from the ceramic department of Hebei School of Light Industry in the 1980s. To create his ceramic sculptures, he works in Jingdezhen in south-east China, the historical centre for porcelain in China, where he uses the medium as an “extreme exploration of process”. His abstract creations highlight themes of fragility and materiality, and contrast with the millennium-long quest for perfection seen in Chinese ceramics. The sculptures consist of delicate, diaphanous porcelain bricks stacked in modular shapes and executed in a firing process which distorts and tears the surface, creating unique works of art.

Fang was born in Handan in the Hebei province, China, in 1963. Having graduated from the Hebei School of Light Industry in ceramics, he studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in 1989 before rising to prominence as a leading figure in the Cynical Realist Movement that emerged from China in the 1990s. Bridging the traditional and contemporary in Chinese art, he was also trained in the ancient practice of woodblock printing and brings elements of the technique to his painting practice. He has been the subject of more than 70 solo exhibitions worldwide and his work has featured at international museums and institutions including the 45th and 53rd Venice Biennale (1993 and 2009) and the 22nd Sǎo Paulo Biennial (1994). Most recently he has been the subject of retrospectives at the Xi’an Art Museum, Xi’an, China (Wonderland — Fang Lijun Ink painting, 16 July to 16 October 2022) and at the Macao Museum of Art (MAM), China (Fang Lijun: The Light of Dust, 3 March to 11 June 2023). His ceramic works were the focus of a dedicated exhibition at the Musée Ariana, Geneva, in 2017, and will be shown in autumn 2023 at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. His works are collected by major institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre G. Pompidou, Paris; the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Arts, San Francisco.

Bamboo masterworks from Japan - classical to contemporary Eskenazi presents an exhibition of modern and contemporary bamboo works by leading Japanese artists of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Ranging from ‘classical’ baskets by famous bamboo masters to contemporary sculptures by leading artists working in the field, the exhibition includes examples by two of only six artists ever designated as ‘Living National Treasures’ by the Japanese government in the field of bamboo art: Iizuka Shōkansai (1919 - 2004) and Katsushiro Sōhō (b. 1934). The exhibition follows the success of the gallery’s inaugural exhibition of contemporary bamboo art in summer 2022.

Presenting 31 works of art by 18 artists, further highlights include pieces by three generations of masters from the Chikuunsai ("Bamboo Cloud") lineage: Tanabe Chikuunsai IV (b.1973), who gained international recognition for his colossal installations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 2017, and the Museé Guimet, Paris in 2016; as well as his grandfather, Tanabe Chikuunsai II (1910-2000), winner of the Tokusen prize in 1952; and great-grandfather, Tanabe Chikuunsai I (1877
- 1937), who is considered one of the founders of modern Japanese bamboo art and is celebrated, amongst many other things, for his baskets which recycle and incorporate old bamboo arrow shafts - an example of which is included in the exhibition. Other significant artists represented in the exhibition include 20th century masters Maeda Chikubōsai I (1872 - 1950) and Wada Waichisai III (1899 - 1975), and contemporary artists, many of whom are inspired by their environment - nature and the elements, such as Mimura Chikuhō (b. 1973) and Honma Hideaki (b. 1959). The exhibition incorporates floral creations by Mrs Sumie Takahashi, a Master of the Nippon Kadō Koryū School of Ikebana, whose weekly creations have graced Eskenazi's gallery since they held their very first exhibition in 1972.

While Japanese bamboo art was little known in the West until recent years, it has since gained international recognition through a series of notable exhibitions and events including Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection which was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 2017, and Art of Bamboo in Japan which took place at Quai Branly Museum, Paris, in 2019. Examples by the artists shown at Eskenazi can now be found in major museum collections including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; British Museum, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Denver Art Museum; the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Paris; Seattle Art Museum; and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

These artists are both the torch bearers of a long tradition in Japan as well as artists who strive to articulate their own contemporary vision. Traditionally used to make baskets to accompany tea ceremonies, such as for floral arrangements and displaying fruit, bamboo art forms transitioned in Japan in the Meiji era (1868 -1912) with the growth of innovative artists who pushed the traditional boundaries of a craft towards individualistic, artistic expression, resulting partly in an evolution from bamboo artisan to studio artist.

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