The Rural Dreamscapes of Qiao Wanying
Source:艺术国际 Date: 2013-08-21 Size:
The exhibition of Qiao Wanying’s paintings here in Zurich continues Switzerland’s commitment to and involvement with the art and culture of the People’s Republic of China. Indeed, Qiao could not have chosen a better site to bring his work to the international stage.

The exhibition of Qiao Wanying’s paintings here in Zurich continues Switzerland’s commitment to and involvement with the art and culture of the People’s Republic of China. Indeed, Qiao could not have chosen a better site to bring his work to the international stage. The number and extensive range of Chinese art exhibitions mounted by Swiss institutions over the last three decades have prepared this audience to welcome and embrace the unique contributions of this painter.  

Swiss Encounters with China’s Art and Culture
Switzerland was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. In that same year, 1950, a sinological institute was established at the University of Zurich. Following the inclusion of a degree programme in Japanology in 1968–69, the department was named the Institute of East Asian Studies.

Since 1970 Chinese art history has been taught as an academic discipline at the University of Zurich. The East Asian Art History department is the sole institution where this topic is taught in Switzerland. Its emphasis has been to teach the history of the art of China and Japan. In 2002 the institute launched an archaeological project in Linqu County, Shandong Province, to explore the remains of a Buddhist temple from the sixth century. More than 120 fragments of Buddhist sculptures were excavated from the Temple of the White Dragon along with ceramics, roof tiles, and objects of daily use. The project was prompted by research done in preparation for the exhibition The Return of the Buddha, which was shown in Zurich, Berlin, London, and Washington D.C. in 2001, 2002, and 2004.
Fruitful collaborations between the department of East Asian Art History and Zurich’s most important museum of fine arts, the Kunsthaus, brought about two major international exhibitions dedicated to ancient Chinese art and culture. The 1980–81 travelling exhibition Art Treasures from China (Copenhagen, Berlin, Hildesheim, Cologne, Brussels) presented archaeological discoveries from the Neolithic period to the Tang Dynasty, including – for the first time in Europe – terracotta soldiers from Lintong. In 1996 another ground-breaking exhibition at the same venue, Ancient China: Men and Gods in the Middle Kingdom, 5000 BC to AD 220, was again devoted principally to recent archaeological discoveries from the People’s Republic. Among the 200 objects on loan from 19 Chinese museums and collections were finds from the sacrificial pits of Sanxingdui, never before shown outside China. 

Since its founding in 1950, the internationally renowned Museum Rietberg in Zurich has been an important promoter of Chinese culture in Western Europe. The museum owns one of Europe's most important collections of Chinese art, with a focus on Buddhist sculpture, funerary art (bronzes, jades, ceramics), and painting from the Ming and Qing periods (1368–1911). This year the museum is also presenting more than 600 objects from the world-famous Meiyintang Collection of Chinese ceramics, which offers a unique overview of the development of Chinese art from the Neolithic period to the 18th century. 

Several temporary exhibitions were successfully realised in cooperation with Chinese institutions. In 2009 the two most important museums in China, the Palace Museum in Beijing and the Shanghai Museum, along with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, came together under the direction of the Museum Rietberg to assemble the first-ever comprehensive presentation of the work of the outstanding eighteenth-century Chinese artist Luo Ping (1733–1799). 

Swiss engagement with contemporary avant-garde Chinese art is equally considerable. In the mid-1990s, when the international art world began taking an interest in China’s experimental artists, Swiss galleries and private collectors were at the forefront. This was the period when Uli Sigg, the former Swiss ambassador to China, began to build his distinguished collection. Comprising works by more than 350 artists, the assemblage is today considered the most comprehensive collection of Chinese contemporary art worldwide. The 2005 exhibition Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts Bern, presented around 400 works surveying a quarter of a century of Chinese avant-garde art from 1979 to 2004 and was a watershed for the Western perception of contemporary Chinese art. Today, Mr Sigg remains active in China and also plays an important role in Chinese art circles as an intermediary, promoter, and patron of the artists. In 2011 he announced the donation of 1,463 pieces of his collection to the museum M+ in Hong Kong, which is scheduled to open in 2017. 

Swiss curators and gallery owners have also played a significant role in expanding the reach of the Chinese contemporary art scene. In 1996 Lorenz Helbling opened ShanghART, one of only two galleries for Chinese contemporary art in China at the time. In 2000, ShanghART became the first gallery representing Chinese artists to be admitted to Art Basel, and with that, Art Basel became the first international art fair to show avant-garde art from China. Known today as one of Shanghai’s and greater China’s most respected galleries, ShanghART is the home of thousands of works by over 50 renowned Chinese artists.

Another pioneer Swiss art dealer is Urs Meile, who in the mid-1990s became intensively involved with Chinese contemporary art in the media of painting, sculpture, photography, installation, and performance. Currently the Urs Meile Gallery operates out of two locations. While the operating centre is based in Lucerne, Switzerland, the Beijing branch – set in the middle of the artist and gallery quarter Caochangdi – has established itself as an international meeting place for collectors, curators, and aficionados of the arts. 

There were also Swiss among the first freelance curators to turn their attention to China’s thriving art scene. With the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, curated by the late Harald Szeemann and featuring 20 Chinese artists, Chinese contemporary art made its definitive breakthrough in the international art arena.

During the past years, Switzerland, and especially Zurich, saw an increased and varied involvement with the Middle Kingdom. On the occasion of the 2009 exhibition The Art of Paper-Cutting: East Meets West, the Zurich Haus Appenzell invited a number of leading paper-cutters from China to tour the eastern Swiss regions of Appenzell and Toggenburg. The aim of the cultural exchange was to bring together both established artists and practitioners of folk art. Inspired by the landscapes and popular culture of eastern Switzerland, the visiting Chinese artists translated their impressions into traditional and abstract works employing a range of techniques. 

In 2010 the non-profit foundation CULTURESCAPES dedicated its entire program to the cultural scene of present-day China. The festival was a great success. With around 180 events throughout Switzerland involving more than 400 Chinese artists from different disciplines – world music, jazz, theatre, performance, literature, film, and the visual arts – the festival reportedly attracted over 60,000 visitors.

In 2011 Basel’s Museum der Kulturen presented the exhibition On Stage: The Art of Beijing Opera in cooperation with the Mei Lanfang Memorial Museum in Beijing and the Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe. A year later the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich staged the exhibition The Culture of the Cultural Revolution: Personality Cult and Political Design in Mao’s China. 

In May of this year one of the most influential contemporary art institutes of international stature, Kunsthalle Zürich, dedicated a solo show to the Chinese artist Yang Fudong, one of the most important figures in China’s contemporary art scene and independent cinema movement. The exhibition presented a selection of Yang’s films, installations, and photographic works from the late 1990s up to the present. 

Another institution worthy of mention is the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK). During the past several years various initiatives and projects with China as a key partner have been developed at this international educational institution. One of ZHdK’s achievements has been to establish relationships with prominent art schools in China, which now offer opportunities for Swiss students and lecturers to study or teach there. ZHdK has also spearheaded a number of cooperative endeavours with Chinese institutions in such fields as design, music, theatre, film, and cultural studies. Among the partner schools in China are the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing; the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts, Beijing; the School of Design of Jiangnan University, Wuxi; the film department of Shanghai Theatre Academy; and the China Academy of Art, Hangzhou. Some of these projects have been awarded considerable financial support by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia in the scope of its extensive cultural program ‘Swiss Chinese Explorations’ (2008–10).

Last but not least, one of Switzerland’s cultural highlights of this year is dedicated to China’s rich cultural heritage. On show until November 17, 2013 in the Historical Museum of Bern is the magnificent exhibition Qin: The Eternal Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors. For the first time, a Swiss museum is presenting an entire group of authentic terracotta figures from Qin Shi Huangdi's monumental imperial tomb, along with around 220 other precious and fascinating artefacts pertaining to the early history of the Chinese Empire.

As this brief history has shown, the endeavours launched in the past three decades have fostered the Swiss people’s awareness and understanding of Chinese art and culture, from thousands-of-years-old relics to cutting-edge avant-garde art. It is in this receptive environment that Qiao Wanying unfolds his unique contributions to modern Chinese painting.

[Editor] 纪晓棠