Visitors to the Bruce Museum in Greenwich will experience a conversation between the art of two major international cities in Tales of Two Cities: New York & Beijing, on view through Aug. 31.
The concept grew out of a 2010 collaboration between Michelle Fornabai of New York City and Qin Feng of Beijing, both featured in this show, curated by Pan Qing at Columbia University’s Studio X in Beijing. Watching the artists “communicate silently through the brush helped open my mind to the myriad possibilities of visual dialogues between artists from very different backgrounds,” she noted, and discussions began with others, expanding the idea. “Tales of Two Cities” is curated by Pan Qing, Michelle Y. Loh and Sarah McNaughton, with Columbia’s John Rajchman as art advisor.
The artists who agreed to participate were matched not only on the kind of work they do and their artistic process, but on the type of dialogue the curators suspected the artists might engage in within the context of their respective urban environments. Some of the artists initially had reservations about the project, Ms. Yoh acknowledged, and some of the initial pairings did not work well and needed to be rearranged, “but we were glad to see how it all resolved.” Over the course of two years, the artists communicated via e-mail, Skype and in-person meetings, sometimes using translators, on a variety of issues, personal to global.
In addition to Michelle Fornabai and Qin Feng, the pairings are (New York-based artist first): Joan Snyder and Wei Jia; Alois Kronschlaeger and Lin Yan; Jorge Tacla and Li Taihuan; and Simon Lee and Chen Shaoxiong. Media represented run the gamut from drawings and paintings to sculpture to video and lenticular works.
Putting the exhibition together, said Susan Ball, Bruce Museum deputy director, “was an amazing process, a fabulous experience. We designed and built the exhibit with the artists; this is an important project involving three curators, 10 artists, advisors, facilitators, matchmaking — some that didn’t work — and now, the viewer is owner of the ongoing dialogue, as you can walk around, it is exciting to see the way that the viewer is brought into the dialogue.”
In addition to the text explanations that accompany the artworks, a cellphone audio tour guide will be available mid-May.
Putting the exhibition together was a collaborative effort between the artists and curators. One of the themes that emerged, said Ms. Loh, “is the abuse of nature; rapid urbanization and displacement are important themes in contemporary Chinese art. Discountenance was something we stumbled upon while working on the exhibition; it was very organic. The artists answered our questions and asked some of their own.
“We live in transcultural world,” she continued, “one of blurred boundaries; many of the artists live in two places… they bring traditional art approaches to contemporary use. They also comment on pollution and express hope for the end of destruction leading to creation.”
This can be seen most clearly in the pairing of Jorge Tacla and Li Taihuan, where the text addressing Mr. Tacla’s work notes his interest in “the idea of social rupture” and that he is “haunted by history,” and Li Taihaun asks, “Why create great cities if they are unlivable?” Ms. Loh notes one work “shows Beijing as it is today as well as wishes for the future.”
The pairing of Simon Lee, who was born in England and has lived in Brooklyn for 20 years, and Chen Shaoxiong involves movement. The latter is a series of drawings that are combined in a video format accompanied by the sounds of the city and can be seen while standing still. Viewers must walk past Mr. Lee’s lenticular pictures, each comprising three images, however, to see them change. “The audience is very much a part of it; where the video moves, here people must move for the changes to occur.”
The images come from Mr. Lee’s extensive collection from tag sales and flea markets, which he began 10 years ago “because I realized photographs were going to disappear.” The five images in the exhibit are the latest part of his ongoing “Mother Is Passing” project, the title taken from a 1953 telegram he found that read “Mother Is Passing. Come At Once.”
Curator Sarah McNaughton noted, “Tales of Two Cities has been experimental for us as well as artists; we gave them some direction, but artists had liberty to create, freedom to do what they wanted to do. Some works are site-specific — sculptors Alois Kronschlaeger and Lin Yan, for example — and changed during the installation, while the Bruce already owned ‘My Pain Is Not More Than Being’s Pain,’ which is one of Joan Snyder’s major pieces; we knew we wanted to open the show with that.”
Looking forward, she said, “We hope to have the exhibition travel; we would love to take it to Beijing at some point, but Chinese museums work differently than American museums do — exhibits may only last a weekend, three days, for example, and their definition of a contract is different, more fluid — but it would be nice to show in China, a further reflection on the process. Perhaps it could become a series, an exchange of history and cultural influences.”
Education for both adults and children is a vital component of the exhibition, which opened May 3 with a daylong symposium, “New York-Beijing: Blurred Outlines, Crossed Stories.” A number of events will be conducted during its run, including:
* Wednesday, May 21, two showings of the film East Wind West Wind — Pearl Buck: The Woman Who Embraced the World, at 10:30 a.m., followed by coffee and informal discussion, and 7:30 p.m., followed by a discussion with the film’s producer, Donn Rogosin, and director, Craig Davidson
* Sunday, June 1, 1 to 4 p.m., World Science Festival Celebration, will include exhibition artists talks.
* Sunday, June 15, 1 to 4 p.m., Exploring China Family Day, to include a performance with Arts for Learning Connecticut’s Dance China NY of Lion Dance Plus at 3.
* Sunday, July 13, 1 to 4 p.m., Year of the Horse: Chinese Celebration with activities for the entire family, including pony rides.
Also on view at the Bruce are Ed Clark: American Photojournalist through June 1, Pasture to Pond: Connecticut Impressionism through June 22 and Extreme Habitats: Into the Deep Sea to Nov. 9.
The Bruce Museum is at One Museum Drive in Greenwich; for additional information, brucemusem.org or 203-869-0376.