Dream Images, Realist Style

Jamie Wyeth, a third generation American artist, at age of 65, in a well-tailored black jacket, stood next to a dry-brush painting, Faraway, which features a young boy wearing a beaver hat and sitting on the grass. The young boy, also in a black jacket, is deep in thought, perhaps, about his future.

“ I was 8 years old, and I posed for him,” said Jamie Wyeth to that’s Beijing in Yuan Space on April 13. It was the opening of a special exhibition, featuring the important of work of his father, Andre Wyeth, one of the most influential artists in America art history.

Organized by Christie’s and Adelson Galleries, the exhibition, Andrew Wyeth in China includes approximately forty works on a wide range of subjects including landscapes of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and the rural coast of Maine, figural works, studies and fully executed masterworks.

When he died in his sleep at age 91 in 2009, Andrew Wyeth had been swimming upstream through his entire career– which is not as easy as it looks. He always painted for himself, expressing his feelings about nature. He depicted nature, and people with stunning details in a poetic, spiritual, dreamlike and romantic way with a bit of blue feeling. One of the most well known images in 20th-century American art is his painting, Christina’s World, currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The New York Times said his precise realist views of rural life “became icons of national culture.” His unique style sparked endless debates about the nature of modern art.

“We are very excited to bring this exhibition to China,’ said Eric Widing, the senior Vice President of Christie’s. “Our goal is to have important works of Andrew Wyeth from each medium and each period.”

An exhibition highlight is the unveiling of the previously unseen work, The Lover, which portrays a nude Helga Testorf, Wyeth’s muse, seated on a stool, looking away from the viewer, as the afternoon sun streams in from the adjacent doorway.

Another highlight of the exhibition is Ericksons, a tempera on paneling, which captures rural American life. This work achieved a world auction record for the artist at Christie’s in May 2007, and is on loan from a private collector.

Wyeth’s work was introduced to China during 1980s, when China was still under the influence of Socialist Realism from the former Soviet Union and Peredvizhniki art. Wyeth’s works, which demonstrates self- consciousness, calmness and the solitude of individual minds shocked Chinese artists, who were taught that each piece was supposed to tell a story with a specific subject.  It raised a question to Chinese artists; “Is it possible for us to hold on to the artistic training we grew up with, and still create something new that is different from Modernist art?”

‘It does not matter whether it is Realism or Abstractionism. The most important thing is to express individual feeling. Art is not representative of any the ideology, but very personalized,’ says Li Xianting, academic consultant of the exhibition.

Li, as a prolific art critic and curator, has been major force behind China’s avant-garde movements since the late 1970s. In the Chinese art world, Li is more like a warrior than an academic artist. He was editor of the magazine, Art, in the early 1980s, when China started to implement the “Reform and Opening-Up” policy.  He bravely reported and promoted the ideological liberation movement, “Art Injuries”, and published many Abstract works. Unfortunately, society was not open to the reform and new concepts during that period and Li’s behavior irritated the officials. He was forced to leave his job, was kicked out from China Art Association, and was banned from working for a while. 

Speaking of modern art in China, Li said “ It was heroism in the 1950s. It became to anti-hero time in the 1960s although it was still some heroism; the 1970s was kind of a cartoons era; during the 1980s, art became more personalized, which was real art itself. From the 1960s to 1970s, the artists were more concerned about social issues. Now, society is dominated by entertainment. Political conflict is very serious. The biggest function of Weibo is the venting of anger. In this era, nothing else belongs to yourself, but anger.”

Li adds, “From the late 1970s to the mid 1990s, China was in the era of learning and copying.  Chinese artists have been copying all Western art genres from the 1920s to the 1960s. Right now, China pretty much keeps pace with international trends. Creation was born in the process of copying.”

Wyeth’s work is a complicated combination — he used a traditional medium and techniques to paint realism. If Wyeth’s work inspired Chinese artists in 1980s, his work also continues to influence the young generation.

Widing said, “It is same challenge for Chinese painters today–how do you bring tradition and the modern together, how do you find the vocabulary and bring it forward to bring out a new kind of art?”

The Exhibition of Andrew Wyeth in China is open to the public from April 14 to May 12 at Yuan Space (65618442) for free. Please phone the gallery to make reservation before you go. 

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