A new exhibit at the Frost Art Museum crams Chairman Mao's Little Red Book through the shredder. In fact the gang of 12 Chinese artists whose works are on view in "East/West: Visually Speaking" traffic with the currency of American pop culture and runaway globalization in a way that probably has the ghosts of Mao's vicious wife Jiang Qing and the Maoist radicals known as the Gang of Four turning cartwheels in their coffins.
The traveling group show features works by a generation of artists who were born or came of age during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and have experienced an alternate vision of Mao's blueprint for China's great leap forward.
Seamlessly curated by Dr. Lee Gray, the sprawling exhibit includes close
to 40 contemporary works by Cai Lei, Cang Xin, the Luo Brothers, Ma
Baozhong, Shen Jingdong, Shi Liang, Sun Ping, Tang Zhigang, Zhang
Hongtu, and Zhong Biao.
The artists on view have filtered the lexicon of American and European
visual arts and represent a more democratic and multifaceted view of the
real and imagined swaps underway between the world's two biggest
superpowers. While some of the works reflect an adoring view of the
West, others parody our values.
Among the more unusual and attention-grabbing works on display are by
Sun Ping, who hijacks classical sculpture and reinterprets agonized
figures as acupuncture dummies. As if skewering the West's fascination
with alternative medicine, Ping re-creates Michelangelo's Dying Slave
and a fragment of the iconic Laocoön from Greek antiquity, using painted
copper instead of marble and then poking them full of needles until
they bristle like porcupines.
And not unlike the two classical statues symbolizing the soul's struggle
for freedom, Ping's works also appear to be riffing on the temptation
to sacrifice Eastern ideals for Western values. For Ping, the needles
represent both healing and torture, as well as a way of warning his
compatriots of invading forces while also attempting to heal
But when it comes to delivering corporate America a smack in the snoot,
it's the Luo Brothers who pull the fewest punches.These guys employ
images of hamburgers, fries, Coca-Cola cans, and even Pizza Hut boxes in
their image bank to communicate capitalist gluttony and Asia's addled
consumption of Western culture.
Don't miss the painting of a horned Chairman Mao haloed by a Pizza Hut
Meat Lover's pie as a team of wild, unbridled stallions gallops above
him under the vault of Heaven. Or how about yet another opus that
features the portrait of a leering Sly Stallone appearing alongside one
of Red China's sober commies?
The trio's work is jaw-dropping -- like experiencing a notion of
capitalism as theorized by the Marx Brothers rather than Karl -- and
alone merits a visit to the museum. But hey, that's what you get after
going batty from seeing the mugs of Colonel Sanders and Ronald McDonald
suddenly given equal billing with Mao's sour puss all over Tiananmen
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Look for our extended review in this week's issue.
"East/West: Visually Speaking" is on view through September 11 at the Frost Art Museum (10975 SW 17th St., Miami). Call 305-348-2890 or visit thefrost.fiu.edu. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.