Shen Fan: Works in Abstraction

Works in Abstraction, 1992–2017 is a pithy show, coherently spanning twenty-five years and multiple bodies of work, serving as an excellent introduction to the work of Shen Fan. In late eighties and early nineties, Shen (b. 1952, Shanghai), already into an established career as an artist, began painting a new kind of landscape. It was a seminal period in the history of Chinese contemporary art. In Beijing, China/Avant-Garde opened in 1989 at the National Art Museum of China—the same year as the June Fourth Incident at Tiananmen Square—marking the country’s change beyond an art dominated by traditional genres, on one hand, and a Soviet-influenced Socialist Realism, on the other. Indeed, prior to the Open Door policy of 1978, art in China had mostly itself as a frame of reference. All at once, the doors were open and couldn’t be closed again. The question, for Shen and other artists working at the time, was how to identify the way forward. As Xiang Liping posed, in 2011, “In order to become contemporary, traditional Chinese paintings need to break away from the sole medium of brush and ink and establish a new and diversified evaluation system and value proposition. As one of the most important categories of Chinese art, traditional paintings will have to become contemporary before there is truly contemporary art in China.”

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