‘Graduation shows’ are helping art students exhibit their skills and glimpse the market. Lin Qi reports.
Liu Sizhao speaks in the manner of an eloquent gallerist while explaining to viewers his mixed-media artworks on show. The postgraduate student at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts believes clothes are as important for an artist’s public image as is the person’s creativity: He wears a well-fitted suit and a floral-patterned white shirt, with a pocket square, to his exhibition.
Many of his peers go to the venue in casual outfits.
Liu’s work, Hundred Birds Painting, is displayed among some 400 artworks by CAFA students, who will receive their master’s degree and doctorate in June. The works of various media are on show on four floors at the school’s art museum and some public space outside.
The main part of Liu’s work is a floor-to-ceiling oil painting across four canvases. In vibrant hues, he presents a scene of birds resting on a tree. He was inspired by refined Song Dynasty (960-1279) paintings. He gave it an additional modern touch, with the help of two projectors that cast images of birds on the painting. Liu created one based on handmade paintings and the other on an iPad.
“Oil paintings have only one perspective and Chinese classic painting takes multiple perspectives. But painting above all is still and limited to a single surface. Utilizing modern technologies has added more dimensions to the surface,” he says.
Cross-disciplinary ideas underline many artworks displayed at the ongoing show, titled Yan Zhan, literally meaning “research and extension”.
CAFA’s deputy head Su Xinping says this year’s exhibition sees an increase in employing crossover approaches by postgraduate students and doctoral candidates, such as oil paintings mixed with installation and woodcut animation.
He says students are embracing a more individual and experimental spirit, especially those who study painting and sculpture. The students attempt to translate traditional art forms in the contemporary context.
He believes critical thinking can prompt an art student to become an independent artist.
“Only when they face the world independently can they have insightful views,” Su says.
CAFA hopes to promote Yan Zhan to be a branded annual event of social influence, just like the school’s other annual exhibition, The Start of a Long Journey. The latter, a monthlong show, usually opens after the graduation ceremony each year, and has been held six times. It has become an important event where gallerists, dealers and art collectors scout for young talent.
“Graduation shows” used to be small-scale events only within academic communities, but through the years, respected art schools in China have started to open their doors to the general public.
“It (graduation exhibition) should be an open platform, where a school’s achievements are assessed and critiqued by the whole of society,” Su adds.
Such shows also offer platforms for students to sell their works, if they wish.
Visitors to Yan Zhan can get almost all upcoming artists’ cellphone numbers and e-mail addresses on information booklets. Or they can simply scan QR codes beside artworks and access detailed information about the artists and their works.
Liu says his work has attracted several buyers, and he will sell it to a collector on the condition that he can still exhibit the work for non-commercial purposes. He declines to reveal how much the work will be sold for. His works will be featured at a grand art fair in late August in Beijing, staged by Art Nova 100, a Beijing-based organization that promotes emerging artists.
Other students have already moved further ahead.
Cai Lei, a postgraduate in the sculpture department, displays an installation which can also be found in his one-man show In Ambiguous Sight. He presents 14 works in which he explores multidimensional space at a carefully curated exhibition at Linda Gallery inside 798 Art Zone.
“Graduation shows” are sometimes criticized for producing artworks too sophisticated and market-oriented, or pieces that look similar to those of the tutors who are themselves established artists.
Su, also a professor of engraving art, says it is teachers who should be blamed for not correcting their students’ mistakes in time.
Liu refutes the charge that the market shapes his work. “All I do is to focus on my works and solve the problems. Simply focus and that’s only how one can create a really good piece of work.”