A Difference of Opinion: Zhang Dun + Mi Mai, Chambers Fine Art, New York, NY

Mi Mai, 876b1561, 2011
Inkjet on paper
35 x 61 inches

June 30 – August 20, 2011

Chambers Fine Art is pleased to announce the opening on June 30, 2011 of A Difference of Opinion: Zhang Dun + Mi Mai. Zhang Dun and Mi Mai are recent graduates from The Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, in 2010 and 2008 respectively. Although both artists received the thorough training in academic techniques that is still required in Chinese art academies, they have clearly followed different paths, Zhang Dun choosing to continue a practice in which the handmade mark is of supreme importance while Mi Mai has rejected all aspects of traditional craftsmanship.

Zhang Dun’s pencil drawings are haunting for several reasons. As highly-finished as any academic showpiece, they are yet decidedly off-kilter in their representation of space. Vanishing–points shift from one sheet of paper to the next as she aligns them in a format reminiscent of Chinese scroll-paintings. Zhang Dun was born in Shenyang in Liaoning Province in Northeast China, a major industrial city, and has watched as once powerful industries have gone into decline, a process evident in the gradual deterioration of the physical structures that once housed them. After graduating from Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts in Liaoning in 2003, she moved to Beijing and saw the entire process accelerated in the Dashanzi Art District (798) as it evolved from atmospheric decay to tawdry, shopping-mall chic in less than five years. Using her photographs as aides-mémoires, she eliminates all signs of life, people as well as vehicles, any sense of movement or specific historical period in order to create these drawings in which time seems to have stopped still.

In complete contrast are Mi Mai’s colorful ink-jet prints from the Random series. At first glance they appear to be abstract compositions designed above all to please rather than raise questions. To the extent that there is nothing disturbing about them, they are indeed pleasing to the eye although it is the issues they raise that make them interesting and create their aura. He graduated from the Department of Experimental Art at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing in 2008, having learned to question in his final year everything that he had been taught in the previous three. Naturally and not unusually, this included all the traditional skills he had mastered in the first year of his studies although more fundamental was the notion of control. How much control does the artist need to have over the production of his art? Total, some or none at all? In a sense, he was following in the footsteps of John Cage and Huang Yong Ping although his favored medium was shortly to become the computer and inkjet printer.

Recognizing early on that leaving all decisions to the computer would only result in random agglomerations of pixels, Mi Mai has created increasingly sophisticated programs which exercise a certain amount of control over colors, and shapes and the relationship between them. Varied in format as well as tonality, these dynamic compositions demonstrate that it is possible to create effects characteristic of works of art including harmony of composition and co-ordination of color through entirely mechanical means. The fact that it is by chance rather than intent that there are occasional reminiscences of Song Dynasty landscapes or Monet at his most daring in the latest development of the Random series is what makes them so intriguing.