"It was just about configuration," she said. "Anytime you hang art in a certain setting it's kind of an amazing thing that comes alive to you. It's going to speak to you in different ways. It's just a matter of it all just speaking together."
"This one, I thought would resonate so well from the street ... your eyes should come into it, and you should feel welcome to come in and look at these works," Sullivan said, pointing to the mauve-hued front-and-center painting in the gallery, artist Wang Guangle's "140716."
Inspired by "lacquer of longevity," the ancient Chinese tradition in which elderly people layer coats of red paint onto a casket once a year to celebrate their longevity, Guangle plays with brush strokes, color and light to create an optical illusion. The eye is drawn to the center of each of his works by multiple layers of paint gradually sweeping inward to create spatial depth.
The exhibit's only porcelain artist, Liu Jianhua, tells a story of his father's passing with a collection of sky-blue porcelain plates, "Untitled." As a way of coping, he created each of the plates as a representation of the different emotions he felt. After studying ceramic production for several decades, Sullivan said, his works evolved and became more minimalistic.
"These are extremely hard to make — I love how it kind of creates this shadow," she said, pointing to the curvature of one of Jianhua's smooth, white rectangular creations called "Blank Paper."
"Most people think it's just a piece of paper but I'm like, 'No! It's porcelain!'" she said, laughing.
Opposite of Jianhua's work, Hong Hao's elaborately constructed black-and-white acrylic piece "Everchanging Appearance" is one of two works that Sullivan defined as, "a lot of found pieces." She's particularly fascinated by the aesthetic of its intensely angular block-shaped pieces.
To the right of Hao's work, conceptual artist Song Dong's artistic practice confronts themes of wealth, accumulation and waste in Asia. In previous works, he has experimented with performance, photography, sculpture and video art. A collection of four framed, ornately creased rice papers drizzled with soy sauce represent Dong's works at Pace Palo Alto: "Stir-Fried Paper Airplane," "Pan-Fried Paper Frog," "Braised Paper Crane" and "Dry Fried Paper Fortune Teller." Although each piece is individual, Sullivan said that she thought they looked best grouped together in the second room of the gallery.
Further into the back of the gallery, Xie Molin's abstract, curvilinear and almost gothic works "Ji No" and "Inconsistent No. 9" exemplify the intersection between the high-tech and the traditional. Following in his father's footsteps as an engineer, the youngest artist in the exhibition created his paintings using an "XYZ triaxial linkage painting machine" he created himself, which replaces traditional painting tools with new technology.
"It makes it so thick," Sullivan said of Molin's machine-generated abstract painting technique.
"Across from (Molin), we have the only woman artist in the exhibition, Yin Xiuzhen," Sullivan said. "She's married to Song Dong."
As a leading female figure in Chinese contemporary art, Xiuzhen's watercolor-esque, shimmering metallic paintings articulate her focus on preserving memory, despite China's rapidly changing culture. Xiuzhen's previous installations incorporated secondhand objects and recycled materials to explore themes of proliferation and the drive toward excessive urbanization.
"These are made to look like concrete blocks," Sullivan said. "She's done this tablet with writing on it, and she's created these three different colors. They look like they're so heavy, but they're sort of light. These are acrylic, but she made them look really thick. I like it across from (Molin's work) because you get a kind of orange effect."
Sullivan hopes that visitors can get a feel for what popular artists are currently doing in China and looks forward to opening up a dialogue with viewers as they observe each artist's narrative.
"You definitely have a different experience as you go through each part," she said. "Everything is telling this beautiful story, but doing it in its own way. Everything is everyone's own journey. You're going to come in and you're going to see something I didn't notice, and I'm going to be really thrilled to hear something like that. It's their (the artists') story, but people can kind of interpret it as their own story as well."
What: "Form Through Narrative: New Chinese Art"
When: Through Aug. 27, Tuesday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Pace Gallery, 229 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto
Info: Go to pacegallery.com/exhibitions/12875/form-through-narrative-new-chinese-art
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