“Art For Art’s Sake” Exhibition

Shin Gallery (66-68 Orchard St.)

poster for “Art For Art’s Sake” Exhibition
[Image: Marcel Duchamp "Nu Descendant un Escalier IV" (1937) Collotype Colored Pochoir, 13 3/4 x 7 7/8 in.]

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Shin Gallery presents Art for Art’s Sake, a group exhibition of 20th and 21st century artists in open conversation, addressing the innumerable ways in which their respective works inform and transform the other. L’art pour l’art—the title phrase as it was conceived originally in French—has served as an artist’s creed since the early 19th century, emphasizing shape, form and color above all else. This show presents a collection of works that adopt this aesthetic principle, bringing together art that spans cultures and disciplines in search of a higher point of connection.

As Deleuze approaches the concept of the original and the simulacrum—not as a privileged hierarchy of Euro-American centrism, but as a mode of travel to an infinite number of new possibilities—this exhibition aims to disrupt the mode of looking that encourages comparison through division. Rather than separate these works into labels of “Eastern” and “Western” or “modern” and “contemporary,” we invite you to let instinct guide you through the works, traversing all of the aesthetic and cultural elements brought together in this space.

The exhibition begins with American artist Gail Goldsmith (b. 1934), whose rough-hewn abstract sculpture Untitled opens up the dialogue with richly textured clay painted with layers of oxidized glazing. This element of tactility carries over to a work by Lee Ungno (1904-1989), a Korean-born French artist who studied classical Asian and European styles of painting in Korea and Japan before immigrating to Paris in 1958. In 1967, Lee was extradited from Europe to Korea, tortured, and imprisoned for alleged pro-Communist ties during the “East Berlin Affair.” While incarcerated, he continued to create work, making drawings using available materials like toilet paper and soy sauce. Lee’s 1981 piece Composition is rooted in the style he developed during his year in prison. Each crease and fold has been carefully moulded by the artist, forming delicate ridges in the handmade paper.

Crafted after Medardo Rosso’s Sagrestano (1883), Sacristan by American artist Barry X Ball (b. 1955) bridges classical European sculptural technique with ancient Chinese cultural heritage. Ball reinterprets Rosso’s bust of a sexton, opting to use Mexican onyx in place of plaster or bronze. By preserving the raw edge of this otherwise delicate stone and highlighting the naturally occurring pockmarks and mineral striations, the artist strikes a fine balance between softness and hardness. In this way, Sacristan evokes the qualities of ancient gongshi, also known as Chinese scholar’s rocks.

Purely shaped by nature despite the appearance of human intervention, gongshi have been collected for thousands of years, popularized by members of China’s educated class during the Tang Dynasty. Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei (b. 1957) parries against Ball with a provocative riposte, two Han dynasty vases with gleaming coats of auto paint. Ai’s iconoclastic treatment of these valuable objects of Chinese heritage begs the question: who controls the cultural value of art?

In the second exhibition space, Shin Gallery is pleased to be partnering with Chambers Fine Art to present a solo exhibition of Chinese American artist Zheng Chongbin (b. 1961) titled Levity and Gravity. Born in Shanghai and based in the California Bay Area, Zheng holds a degree from the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now China Academy of Art) in Hangzhou and an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. The selection of works in this space is inspired by the Bay Area’s distinctive atmospheric and environmental effects and rich ecologies, as well as by the California light and space movement of the 1960s.

The third room follows the path of the avant-garde, presenting European Cubism and Dada alongside works by Kansuke Yamamoto (1914-1987) and Youn Myeung-Ro (b. 1936). Yamamoto was a prominent figure in the Japanese avant-garde movement; both a photographer and poet, his work merges the Surrealist iconography of Duchamp and Man Ray with distinctly Japanese motifs. Korean painter Youn is internationally recognized for his unique abstract oil paintings. His piece Tattoo (1966) explores the mysticism of ancient cultures, with stylistic elements borrowed from Picasso, Matisse and the abstract landscapes of Richard Diebenkorn. The ubiquity of Picasso appears once more in the color palette of a mixed-media wall piece by Lim Choong Sup (b. 1941), a Korean artist who has lived and worked in New York City since 1973.

Joseph Beuys’ (1921-1986) wood board with two blocks of earth and a pochoir by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) represent the origins of European Dada and its influence on many of the artists in this show. The pochoir (stencil print) is a reproduction of Duchamp’s shocking painting Nu Descendant un Escalier, No. 2, made into a new work complete with the artist’s signature and date over a French cinq centimes stamp. The controversy of the readymade continues to be a subject of debate today, particularly with the rise of NFTs and the conversations of value that come with them.

Like the growth of cumulus clouds or the rising plume from a candle’s flame, shape and form have persistently morphed, unmorphed and re-morphed across the history of art. Images reappear, infinite patterns of fractal geometry recreating referents from parts of another sign. Be it cosmic connectivity, the ill-fated product of colonialism and conquest, or perhaps a more genial form of transcultural exchange, art informs art the way nature bears its cycles.

Rather than viewing this Nietzschean idea of eternal return as a condemnation of humankind, however, we may choose to look at such visual recurrences as a sort of sensorial liberation. The freedom that comes through untethering our expectations of art from reductive categories of context is the ability to navigate toward truth on our own terms.


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