When commenting on his work Colored Vases, a group of earthenware vessels covered with industrial paint, the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei remarked that by covering the surfaces with new paint, what is underneath—like history itself—is “no longer visible, but is still there.” Awakening the viewer’s curiosity to wonder about the next hidden layer is the artist’s true intent.
This exhibition shows that Chinese artists traditionally employ different approaches to construct layered meanings in an indirect but intriguing way: using one motif to represent another, either through their literary associations or shared pronunciations (homophones); playing with mediums such as using contemporary ceramics to imitate ancient lacquerware; or the pretext of metaphors to make social or political commentaries. This purposeful layering by the artist invites the viewer to mentally peel the layers and reveal the embedded meanings.
Image: Focus No. 37, 2004, Lin Tian Miao, Chinese, b. 1961, black and white photograph on vinyl with embroidery, 55 1/8 x 66 15/16 in., Seattle Art Museum, General Acquisition Fund, 2004.25, © Lin Tian Miao, Photo: Susan Cole.