A new exhibition at Seattle Asian Art Museum presents the works of five contemporary Chinese artists. “Beyond The Mountain” explores themes of protest, culture, nature and urban life using traditional Chinese art forms.
The exhibition includes a work by activist and artist Ai Weiwei. His piece titled “Colored Vases” features real clay pots that appear to be old artifacts, but are dripping with brightly colored paint. By defiling the coins, Weiwei challenges China’s history and values.
The visitor discovers this context thanks to an explanation posted on the wall at the beginning of the exhibition, a sort of Notes on the cliffs summary of the show. The idea for this cheat sheet to help understand the exhibit came from students at the University of Washington.
Museum curator Foong Ping taught a course at UW on curating Chinese art in the spring of 2020, just at the start of the pandemic.
“They gave me a week to change my class from an in-person class to a full Zoom class. So I was thinking, okay, what can I do to make it interesting for these undergraduate and graduate students and together to make it interesting for them?”
Ping came up with the idea of having his students create their own shows using the exhibit pieces, which are now on display. As part of the project, the students studied each piece in depth, which enabled them to develop the Cliffs Notes.
“This idea of creating a Cliff Notes in the gallery…I found that to be an incredibly powerful way of telling someone, okay, that’s how these works fit together. I don’t never occurred to me,” Ping said.
In one of the rooms of the exhibition, an animation is projected on a wall. Black and white paintings of protests from around the world are set to music. Chen Shaoxiong’s work connects the “global language of today’s street protests” using the traditional art form. The simplified explanations of the different themes of the exhibition make the book more accessible.
“Beyond the Mountain” is on display until June 2023 and will feature another artist, as the works are scheduled to be shot from January.