New Literati Painting

New Literati Painting
(Xin wenren hua)
The New Literati movement asserted itself during the decade 1987–97 as yet another, considerably respected and exacting orientation in the broad field of Modern Ink-Wash Painting (Xiandai shuimohua), distinguished by a masterly technique and a high level of artistry. The movement was conceived in 1986 by postgraduate students in the Ink-Painting Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, notably Bian Pingshan (b. 1958), Ji Youchen (b. 1945) and Wang Heping (b. 1949). On the one hand, they stressed the technical aspects of a painting; on the other, a mutual loyalty within the newly formed group, which was originally called ‘Nanfang beifang Zhongguohua’ (Southern and Northern Traditional Chinese Painting), underlining the fact that their style and approach were widely practised. After exhibitions in Tianjin, Fuzhou and Guilin, they were joined in 1988 by artists based in Nanjing, e.g. Zhu Daoping (b. 1953) and Chang Jin (b. 1951). Other prominent adherents were Chen Ping (b. 1960), Chen Xiangxun (b. 1956), Li Laoshi (1957–96), Lu Yushun (b. 1962), Shen Shaojun (b. 1956), Tian Liming (b. 1955), Wang Mengqi (b. 1947), Xu Lele (b. 1953), Yu Shui (b. 1955), Zhu Xinjian (b. 1953), among others—more than fifty artists altogether.
Since 1989, Chen Shouxiang (b.
1944) of the Chinese Art Research Institute took over the organization of yearly exhibitions (1989, 1990 and 1997 in Beijing; 1991 in Linyi, Shandong; 1992 in Lanzhou; 1993 in Fuzhou; 1994 in Nanjing; 1995 in Shanghai; 1996 in Hangzhou). Chen made up the appellation ‘New Literati’ (Xin wenren), not for any theoretical reasons but by borrowing the catchy title of a book he was compiling. Thus, the link between this movement and the true ‘literati’of the past is somewhat vague, and not very essential. Due to the scarce opportunities of this generation of painters to view and study old paintings (until recently, even good reproductions were hard to come by in China), it is rather doubtful that ancient masters could truly be their inspiration. Rather, the New Literati followed the painters older than themselves by two generations who had continued the classical style even after 1949 and the devastating Cultural Revolution. Thanks to them, traditional painting survived and has remained quite strong in artistic terms. On the whole, however, it had received a severe blow and has remained in the shadow of the progressive, Western-oriented trends of most artists and critics. The New Literati claimed the legacy of classical Chinese painting despite their connection to fineart academies, where ink painting was slighted, and despite the general search for a Western and Chinese synthesis over the last two decades. The New Literati, in fact, have even gone so far as to reject Western influence, and have stressed perfect brushwork, rather than precise drawing. Such attitudes clearly distinguish and separate them from most other contemporary art-currents in China. Nonetheless, while the idea of recovering the qualities and character of classical painting was not a new one, among such efforts, the New Literati have received the widest response by far among contemporary Chinese artists, and their artistic concepts have demonstrated an astonishing ability to reflect and evolve in light of contemporary aesthetic perceptions. Although, after a decade of activity, their adherents have rejected any collective programme and even its name, most of them have maintained the aesthetic approach in their individual work.
Andrews Julia F. and Shen, Kuiyi (1998). ‘Chinese Painting in the Post-Mao Era’. In idem (eds), A Century in Crisis: Tradition and Modernity in the Art of Twentieth-Century. China New York: Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum.
Chen Shouxiang (1999) Xin wenren hua yishu: wenxin wanxiang [The Art of New Literati: Ten Thousand Images of the Literati Mind]. Changchun: Jilin meishu chubanshe.
Dal Lago, Francesca (1998). “‘New Literati Painting” at the China Art Gallery, Beijing’. ART AsiaPacific 19 (July): 32–4.
Olivová, Lucie (2001). The Heritage of the New Literati Painting’. In idem (ed.), Contemporary Chinese Ink Painting: Tradition and Experiment. Prague: National Gallery, 79–88.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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