Sunday, May 07, 2006

A.I.C. : Ren Yi

Ren Yi (1840-1896, Shanghai, Mynahh and Bamboo, 1892 -tribute to Zhu Da (17th c.)

The paintings on display in the A.I.C. Chinese gallery change about four times a year -- and usually I just don't care for them -- i.e. like all bad traditional art -- they just seem to be following a formula -- rather than using it to ascend to the heavens. The last exhibit of rock painters was unspeakably bad --- but this one, featuring the paintings of Ren Yi--- from the collection of Florence Ayscough -- was at least decorative -- and actually seemed related to the French, post-Impressionist decorative painters of the same era.

The exhibition includes photos of the collector, Ms. Ayscough, and properly emphasizes the role that local collectors play in a museum collection: i.e. a museum's collection is no better than the taste of those who have donated to it.

Ms. Ayscough was apparently a big fan of Ren Yi --- and the gallery walls are now exclusively dedicted to his works. They're facile -- showy -- elegant -- well-drawn --- reminds me of Singer Sargent's nearly contemporary portraits of English aristocracy --- but just like Sargent feels fluffy compared with the Baroque masters -- these painting proclaim a melacholy decline from the power of earlier Chinese painting.

I think the difference here is one of silk --- in the earlier masters, the blank silk behind the trees/birds/flowers is equally important -- so there's this tension of presentation -- foreground with background --- and a sense of eternity that is so delicious when contrasted with the brush strokes that feel so spontaneous/in-this-moment.

Without that tension -- the images just feel blowsy --- superficial --- and -- that horrible word -- decadent -- a feeling that's not diminished by the sensual colors which Ren Yi -- and the traditional Chinese brush painters of the 20th C. -- like to use.

(note: I couldn't photograph the other paintings because of the reflections on the protective glass case -- which also, by the way -- makes them difficult to see. Isn't there a better way to display this kind of thing ?)


Blogger Gawain said...

Mynah are everywhere here: they hooligan on my balcony; screech at the pool; strut all around the parking lot. Every time I venture out there, I feel like I have to run a gauntlet.

They fit the same niche as the starling in Europe and America: it is the quintessential city gang-land bird, pushy, loud, short tempered, prone to violence. Unlike starlings, they are brightly colored and they do have that thing on their heads which makes them look brazenly ridiculous: like those gang-members who wear woolen caps in the middle of the summer heat.

May 07, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

According to the notes posted beside the painting, mynah had special significance to the painter, Zhu Da, to whom this was dedicated -- possibly due to their human-like voice. My parents kept a variety of tropical birds many years ago --- and we all agreed the mynah was a mistake.

May 08, 2006  
Blogger Gawain said...

There are several types of mynahs. The one people keep here is all black with a bright yello yellow object on its nose which looks like it is made of soft plastic. This bird learns to speak and has a large repertoire of songs. The common mynah, which is brown, is a pest, but if one is to be pestered, better by a pretty mynah than a drab looking starling, i guess.

i am still thinking about what you wrote about the purpose of individual arts; and now i have something new to think about: your distinction about art and decoration. we shall have to thrash that one out one day. :)

btw, are you familiar with the National Palace Museum Taipei site? It has only a few reproductions of Chinese painting, but, boy, do they rock.

May 08, 2006  

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