Chinese literati of 700 years ago were not much different from their contemporary counterparts. They trained in literature and philosophy, "loved good houses, nice clothes, delicacies, night life, going to entertainments, collecting vintage items ..." Ming dynasty prose writer Zhang Dai (
As Literati Aesthetics in the 21st Century, (
The literati painters in the past set themselves apart from those producing meticulously realistic works for the imperial academy. While earning their bread on government jobs, they sublimated their longing for an idyllic life away from the treacherous world of politics to express themselves in ink and paper.
The works of 10 of the contemporary artists in the exhibition constitute a wide range of genres, from oil painting, furniture/sculpture, installation, to traditional ink painting and calligraphy. As ancient literati artists enthused about their moods and enjoyments in the tranquility of their homes, today's literati artists are more self-absorbed and express that through depicting the apparently uneventful surroundings of their lives.
"The transition into a new century sounds an alarm for traditional literati. Paper fans [a favorite medium in the past] have been replaced by air conditioners. The prevalence of computers made ink brushes useful only for a few calligraphy die-hards. The onslaught of technology and a transformed, Westernized society are testing the traditional literati lifestyle," writes curator Michael Chen (
At first glance, the works are all flowers and mountains, but in their respective choice of media and styles, they are all attempts to solve the traditional/modern and Chinese/Western conflicts.
Lin Chuan-chu (
Chen Kun-de (
Extension of the Unusual combines two studies of popular Sung dynasty subjects -- a gentleman on a horse and a dancing lady. What prevents the Sung man and the woman from catching sight of each other is an expanse of meadow on top of today's Yangmingshan. A stray zebra also betrays the post-modernist era in which Chen made the work.
Cheng Tzai-dong's (
"Literati Aesthetics in the 21st Century" will run until Oct. 5 at Jeff Hsu's Art, B1, 1, Ln 200, Sungteh Rd. (台北松德路200巷1號B1).