For the Best of 2013 In Print, see the December Issue of Artforum.

Fiona He


Tang Song, In Memory of Hans van Dijk, 2006–2013, mixed media on canvas, 10 x 82’.

THIS PAST YEAR, ignoring the excitement over young and emerging artists (many of whom know all too well what’s expected of them if they’re to thrive in the contemporary art world), and eschewing the gossip pertaining to the political and socio-economic complexities that drive large-scale biennales and mega-group exhibitions, I found myself drawn to the artists who emerged from the puritanical 1980s, many of whom continue to investigate epistemology, ascetics, or aesthetics via their artistic practices.

On the closing day of Tang Song’s exhibition “Elegy – In Memory of Hans van Dijk” at Boers-Li gallery (March 23–April 20, 2013), the artist unveiled an artwork of the same title—a scroll measuring over eighty feet long. A five-year-plus effort, the piece represented a shift from his negotiations of social and political factors (as he took blame for his then-partner Xiao Lu’s famous decision to shoot a gun at her installation, Dialogue, in the 1989 China Avant-Garde exhibition) to a process-based abstraction that focuses on its process. But it also marked the artist’s revelatory perspective on extreme polarities: past traditions and contemporary forms, East and West, life and death, illuminated by the asceticism that’s intertwined with his painting process.

Yu Youhan’s retrospective, “yiban” at Yuan Space (June 23–August 17, 2013), on the one hand, was evidence of the artist’s diachronic repertoire—references to movements including Fauvism, expressionism, pop-art and abstraction are found within this one artist’s oeuvre over the span of four decades. An adroit elegance pervades Yu’s signature abstract series, “Circles,” which incorporates Chinese ink painting techniques with aspects of Western abstraction, while meditating on the mind and on the universe in flux.

Failure of communication formed the thematic core of Wang Jianwei’s sculptures, installations, and paintings on view at “...the event matured, accomplished in sight of all non-existent human outcomes” at Long March Space (September 14–October 13, 2013). Wang’s deconstructive approach conjured colliding epistemological interpretations of the contemporary, allowing for a myriad of reads, all reflecting the complex contexts brought to bear by Wang’s audience. “The world indeed has no meanings,” the artist said in an interview. “It leads to more possibilities.”

Fiona He is a researcher for mainland China at the Asia Art Archive.