Asian art heats up MFAH
Two towering stainless steel sculptures flank the doors of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, marking the entrance into an intense overdose of contemporary Asian art. Yue Minjun’s shiny self portraits are just the beginning of the saturated colors, massive glossy sculptures and icons of consumerism that fill the Audrey Jones Beck Building as part of the new exhibition, RED HOT -Asian Art Today from the Chaney Family Collection.
While the bright colors and cutesy cartoon characters made popular through anime and manga may be the most widely recognized symbols of Asian art, RED HOT shows that contemporary artists have been busy producing bold artwork laden with equally bold political and social commentary. With more than 100 pieces from 66 artists, this collection of photography, videos, paintings and sculptures highlights the burgeoning movement of art in countries such as China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
Tying the works together are the running themes of rampant consumerism, globalization and political unrest. Coupled with the distinctive style of Asian pop art, the work makes an impressive impact. It catches viewers’ eyes with neon colors and, in many cases, sheer size, and keeps their interest with the underlying messages.
Chinese artist Zhao Bo’s paintings dominate the walls of one room of the Beck Building. Bo’s graffiti-like oil paintings depict ghoulish people sneering in front of McDonalds’ golden arches, popular movie posters and various other logos and icons. Bo’s work shares the space with Chinese artist Feng Zhengjie’s looming portraits of blank-eyed women. The paintings have a luminous quality about them, with rich pinks, reds and greens, and the combination of the size and colors of the artists’ work makes it almost impossible to simply glance around the gallery space – one is overcome by the images.
"Welcome to the World’s Most Famous Brands" is a grouping of art by the three Luo Brothers. Traditional Chinese good luck figures lounge atop golden Coke cans and stuffed burgers in heavily glossed sculptures that stand in front of colorful, confection-like paintings. The high sheen, bright colors and meaning of the symbols form a unique type of intellectual eye candy.
This style of high-gloss, fiberglass sculpture is found throughout RED HOT, and while the enormous, solid-colored works may initially garner the most attention, the various other mediums of sculpture are equally compelling.
Yin Xluzhen’s "Portable Cities – San Francisco" utilizes an open rolling suitcase as a foundation for a fabric reproduction of the Golden Gate Bridge and skyline of San Francisco. American artist Jean Shin balanced prescription pill bottles in "Chemical Balance," forming small, graceful towers out of the distinctive orange containers.
Korean artist Do-Ho Suh suspended a woven parachuter from a canopy of neon-colored silk shirts in "Parachuter III," and the seemingly weightless object hovers above visitor’s heads as they make their way through the exhibit.
Suh takes a different approach with "Karma," a fiberglass sculpture of two monstrous legs clothed in matte grey pants and shiny black shoes. The feet hang over the heads of hundreds of miniature people who both flee from and offer support to the giant feet.
Like Suh, Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen, a Chinese married couple, play with proportion in their collaborative sculpture, "The Way of Chopsticks." One of the oversized pair of sticks is made of steel and is imprinted with maps of Beijing, while the second chopstick is crafted from stuffed stockings and dotted with three-dimensional stuffed buildings.
The over-sized and over-saturated artwork found in RED HOT mirrors many of the artists’ perceptions of their countries’ economies and politics. They mask political and personal messages in flashy colors and offer it to the public as a glitzy package. Similar to American pop art, the art that makes up RED HOT comments on society as well as the individual’s relationship to their country and the world. This collection of work is unabashed and gives American viewers a chance to view some of the most impressive and interesting art being produced today. The exhibition will be on view through Oct. 21. For more information visit the museum’s Web site, MFAH.org.