The Chinese abstract sculpture, its social and cultural messages

The Chinese abstract sculpture, its social and cultural messages
The Gate of The Vast Profound stainless steel, weather resistant steel 9x4x3m Zhangzhou International Sculpture Park, Fujian Province, China

Although the development of contemporary abstract sculpture in China is tortuous, it has made remarkable achievements.In the 1930s and 1940s, China introduced western academic realistic sculpture from France, but did not introduce the emerging abstract sculpture at that time. A few Western abstract paintings also lost their living space because they were incompatible with the social reality at that time. In the 1950s and 1960s, Chinese literature and art were influenced by the creation concept of socialist realism from the Soviet Union. However, its artistic modeling concept and expression method came down in one continuous line with the French academic realistic art introduced before. It was only the corresponding integration between Russia in the 19th century and the Soviet Union in the first half of the 20th century. Therefore, it can be asserted that before the late 1970s, there was no abstract sculpture with contemporary significance in China.

The Eighties and the return to realism

In the early 1980s, with the reform and opening up, Western abstract sculpture and other modernist art poured into China and became known to Chinese artists. However, it is a pity that in the more than ten years since this kind of modern abstract sculpture, which took the first half of the 20th century as the main body, was introduced into China, it was diluted by the later influx of western postmodernism and contemporary art. The multiple overlapping styles and schools also made Chinese sculptors more  perplexed. During this time, some people decided to end their pursuit and return to what they knew, the concrete realism; some people rose to the challenge and hoped to become a trendsetter through new art. Abstract sculpture is mixed among various art forms, which is neither traditional nor contemporary. Its existence is like half cooked rice.


The Chinese abstract sculpture, its social and cultural messages
Harmony but difference granite 3.5×3.5×1.5m Wuhu International Sculpture Park, Anhui Province, China

Between westernization and nationalization

Chinese sculptors have really formed a sense of subjectivity in the field of abstract sculpture, began to make achievements in an orderly and orderly manner, and created sculpture works with Chinese cultural connotation and contemporary abstract meaning, which is 20 years after entering the new century. The process gradually shifted from the early on stage of novelty and fanaticism to a state of calmness and settlement. This transition from learning and reflection to creation and production is not very different from the many cross-cultural communication methods of mankind. The difference is that China’s reform and opening up coincides with the third wave of mankind at the time node. The rapid pace of information and global integration in the information age has greatly shortened the space distance between China and other countries in the world, the cycle of collision to integration of Chinese and foreign cultures has been completed for hundreds or even thousands of years in history. This is not only the background of the transformation of Western abstract sculpture from Westernization to nationalization in the past 40 years after it entered China, but also the result of cultural confidence brought about by China’s economic prosperity.


The Chinese abstract sculpture, its social and cultural messages
Solitary smoke in the desert cast copper 9x4x3m Minqin International Sculpture Park, Gansu Province, China

The last two generations of artists engaged in abstract sculpture

Therefore, I believe that the artists engaged in abstract sculpture creation in China today can be roughly divided into two generations, the one before the 1980s and the one after. The middle-aged sculptors included those from the 1950s to the 1970s. After the collision and integration of Chinese and Western cultures, they focused on interpreting life and nature with local culture. The young sculptors were mainly from the 1980s to this century. Because their growth process was synchronized with the process of reform and opening up, they rarely had the burden of traditional culture and the shackles of old habits and customs, and tried to face up to the way of thinking, creative concepts and expression techniques, The cognition of art nationalization and globalization is also more straightforward. However, their judgment of the world development trend and their different understanding of art do not hinder their main body from advocating and exploring classical art.

Xu Jianguo’s 40year investigation on the contemporary abstract sculpture in China

As a witness and practitioner of the 40year development process of contemporary abstract sculpture in China, my research on abstract sculpture started in the mid-1980s, germinated in the early 1990s, and has been going on for 20 years since the new century. Though from time to time I had taken a pause from knowing and exploring the abstract sculpture to focusing on the creation, I have never stopped thinking or been distracted, in order to understand the abstract thinking and creative methods in China and the west, I not only discussed the ancient Chinese philosophy, thinking methods and modeling consciousness, but also conducted relevant research on the representative Abstract sculptors in western modernism, such as Henry Moore’s analysis of human body space, ALP’s shaping of life form, Blanchusi’s simple and mysterious form, and Giacometti’s alienation and loneliness. However, the most profound influence on me is the idea of “The greatest order takes the simplest form” in Laozi’s Tao Te Ching, an ancient Chinese philosopher, and the form of “minimalist art” that rose in Europe and America in the 1960s. Although everything evolves to complexity, the truth of things is nothing better than refining from one. This is also the way in which my works for many years strive to express my feelings and ideas from arc and arc surface to straight line and plane, from internal structure to external image.

Three points about abstract sculpture

As for the Tao Te Ching, I read it when I was a teenager and did not understand it. When I was in my 20s, I read it again. Yet I was still not able to capture its essence. At middle age, I devoted all of myself to my family and career. My life was full, my pursuit was fruitful. But I was unaware of the truth beyond material success, my spiritual growth. When I read it again at the age of 50, I suddenly understood. So, I created The Greatest Music Has No Sound, The Greatest Form Takes No Shape, The Wisest Heart Has No Shade, The Gate of The Vast Profound, etc. Reading yet again at the age of 60, I understand the way of life, let go of what life is not and to move along with its tide. What is after 70? We shall see.For abstract sculpture, I mainly think about three points. First, how to apply the abstract thinking of China since ancient times to the creation of contemporary sculpture; Second, how to use for reference and transform the achievements of Western abstract sculpture in formal language into an art with Chinese contemporary humanistic spirit; The third is to seek the original base point, explore the true meaning of man and nature through rational thinking, present the image in the heart with pure modeling, reveal the deep culture with simple language, and create abstract sculpture works with originality and the spirit of the times.


The Chinese abstract sculpture, its social and cultural messages
Unite to make a city metal spray painting 15x15x36m Qinhuangdao City, Hebei Province, China