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A Conversation with Chicago: Contemporary Sculptures from China

Chen Wenling "Valiant Struggle No. 11"

Millennium Park will resume the summer tours of the four large-scale sculptures by four leading Chinese sculptors each Thursday at 12:15 pm this June 10 through August 16, 2010.  Staff members from Millennium Park will lead the free tours through works by Sui Jianguo, Zhan Wang, Shen Shaomin, and Chen Wenling.  The exhibition, organized especially for this celebrated venue, continues until October 3, 2010 and is available for all to enjoy free of charge.

In recent years, contemporary Chinese art has emerged from a domestic avant-garde movement into one of the fastest growing and most dynamic components of the international art scene.  Representing the current stage of contemporary Chinese art, the four large sculptures, never before seen in the United States, brought the global conversation into one of Chicago’s most popular public spaces.

Coming from different regions and educational backgrounds, the artists use varied materials and visual styles, but show commonalities as well.  Each work is intensely engaged with important contemporary issues such as the energy crisis, materialism, and globalization.  They also share inspiration from traditional Chinese art, commercial culture, folk art, and industrial machinery as they explore ways to react to a public space.

The sculptural works are on view in Millennium Park’s outdoor Boeing Galleries.  Shen Shaomin’s Kowtow Pump is presented in Millennium Park’s North Gallery, while the South Gallery feature works Valiant Struggle No. 11 by Chen Wenling, Windy City Dinosaur by Sui Jianguo, and Jia Shan Shi No. 46 by Zhan Wang.  The exhibition is curated by Wu Hung, University of Chicago Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor of Art History and a Consulting Curator for the Smart Museum of Art, and by Millennium Park staff.

Contemporary Sculptures from China is presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Millennium Park, in cooperation with Millennium Park Inc., and is sponsored by The Boeing Company with support from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.

Shen Shaomin "Kowtow Pump"

The following artists’ works are featured:

Chen Wenling (b. 1969) – Valiant Struggle No. 11
The youngest among the four artists, Chen Wenling also most  acutely  responds to the heightened commercialism and materialism that has seized Chinese society in recent years. Made of stainless steel and painted red and gold, his sculptures frequently consist of blissful, self-indulgent human and animal figures, who embrace one other to form a tight, three-dimensional cluster. Chen derives the pig motif—one of his signature images —from the folk art of his birthplace in Fujian, but he turns this local symbol of wealth into a humanized icon of contemporary Chinese society. His human figures, on the other hand, are often animal-like, absorbed by the simple delight of material possession. Displaying a highly organic style, these images are at once fantastic, ironic, satiric, and comical.

Shen Shaomin (b. 1956) – Kowtow Pump
An energetic sculptor, installation-artist, and film maker, Shen Shaomin has been pushing the boundaries of Chinese experimental art through various daring projects. Kowtow Pumps—his contribution to this exhibition—is inspired by his childhood growing up near one of China’s major oil fields.  The locals called the numerous machines that stood among their schools, hospitals and residences ‘Kowtow’ for their rhythmic, up-and-down movements.  By refitting the mechanical transmission, Shen changes the pumps’ stable, uniform motions into twitching, convulsing gestures; the result is like an old man suffering from constricted blood vessels and atrophied nerves, struggling to complete the task before him. Moved from Beijing to Chicago, Kowtow Pumps forges a contemporary allegory for the dangerous dependence of modern society on oil production.

Sui Jianguo "Windy City Dinosaur"

Sui Jianguo (b. 1956) – Windy City Dinosaur
Professor and head of the Department of Sculpture at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Sui Jianguo emerged as one of the leading Chinese experimental artists in the early 1990s. His sculptures often respond to China’s social and political transformation, and reflect on cultural clashes in the process of globalization. With ‘Made in China’ engraved on their chests, his larger-than-life toy dinosaurs reference the cheap, mass-produced goods that have become a foundation of the booming Chinese export economy. Witty and incisive, such work questions the source of China’s economic prowess as well as a stereotypical image of China in the West.

Zhan Wang (b. 1962) – Jia Shan Shi No. 46
Having graduated from Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1988, Zhan Wang has become world famous for his stainless steel copies of “scholars’ rocks” found in classical Chinese gardens. By applying a pliable sheet of steel over a scholar’s rock and hammering it thoroughly, he achieves a form that reproduces every minute undulation on the surface of the stone. To him, both the original rock and his stainless copy are material forms created for people’s spiritual needs; their different materiality suits different cultural environments at different times. With their glittering surface, ostentatious glamour, and illusory appearance, his stainless rocks symbolize how the Chinese cultural tradition has adapted to today’s postmodern conditions and acquired new aesthetic qualities.

Hard Rock Hotel Chicago is the exclusive hotel sponsor for Contemporary Sculptures from China.  Transportation support has been provided by Midway Moving & Storage.

Millennium Park is located in the heart of downtown Chicago. It is bordered by Michigan Ave. to the west, Columbus Dr. to the east, Randolph St. to the north and Monroe St. to the south. The Boeing Galleries are located along Millennium Park’s midlevel terraces, just east of Michigan Avenue. Millennium Park is open every day from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Zhan Wang "Jia Shan Shi No. 46"

Millennium Park is an award-winning center for art, music, architecture, and landscape design. The result of a unique partnership between the City of Chicago and the philanthropic community, the 24.5-acre park features the work of world-renowned architects, planners, artists and designers. Among Millennium Park’s prominent features are the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the most sophisticated outdoor concert venue of its kind in the United States; the interactive Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa; the contemporary Lurie Garden designed by the team of Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, Piet Oudolf and Robert Israel; and Anish Kapoor’s hugely popular Cloud Gate sculpture. Since its opening in July 2004, Millennium Park has hosted more than 15 million people, making it one of the most popular destinations in Chicago.

Public tours of the large-scale public sculptures by leading Chinese artists
resume in Chicago’s renowned Millennium Park
Thursdays, June 10 – August 26, 2010

For more information about Contemporary Sculptures from China and Millennium Park, call 312.742.1168 or visit www.millenniumpark.org.