Wang Gongxin

White Cube, Hong Kong

‘What goes around comes around’ provides an apt description of the way in which Wang Gongxin’s work has come full circle since the 1990s, even as a distinct sense of unease pervades ‘Rotation’, the Beijing-born artist’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong.

Consider, for instance, Wang’s recurring use of liquids. Water, milk, ink and even antifreeze seep into Wang’s multimedia works here: recent constructions based on sketches from the mid-1990s alongside other pieces made during the same period that have reappeared following their inclusion in the 2017 Shanghai Biennale. The exhibition combines Wang’s past and present work, but ‘Rotation’ is neither survey nor retrospective and the process of looping back represents less of a return to form than a vehicle for rethinking familiar tropes.

Wang gained early recognition as a painter before notably changing tack to become one of China’s first artists to experiment with moving-image media. As such, his work has been included in significant survey exhibitions, most recently ‘Art and China After 1989’, the large-scale survey of experimental – and increasingly controversial – art currently on view at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

web_2017-equal.jpg

Wang Gongxin, Equal, 2017, wooden bench, metal container and flashing light, 150 x 18 x 52 cm. Courtesy: White Cube, Hong Kong

Wang Gongxin, Equal, 2017, wooden bench, metal container and flashing light, 150 x 18 x 52 cm. Courtesy: White Cube, Hong Kong

‘Rotation’ instead opts for quiet potency, beginning with Dialogue (1995), which dominates a darkened ground-floor gallery. The large rectangular table resembles minimalist works such as those by Tony Smith, except for two light bulbs suspended above it. Hanging like balance scales, these alternately descend at a metronomic pace to pierce what otherwise appears as a smooth black surface.

In Horizontal (2017), one of three new works created for the exhibition, Wang again uses a metal container, this time set inside a tilted antique Chinese table to prevent its dark liquid contents from spilling over. A hidden motor causes the surface to intermittently ripple in grid-like formations, drawing associations with anything from Ad Reinhart to ink art that dissolve in front of our eyes.

Along with Wang’s tables there are chairs, such as the set of four fabricated from burnished metal in the installation Unseatable (1995). These alternately hold milk and ink in their seats, and are placed in a circle to allow for another dangling light to pass slowly over them. Other furniture appears, too, including cribs hand-constructed from copper pipes in Baby Talk (1996), while Humidifier (2017) adapts a ready-made version. In the former, the artists’ family members mouth child-like gibberish, while the latter rocks mechanically back and forth. 

web_2017-humidifier-1.jpg

Wang Gongxin, Humidifier, 2017, metal bed, plastic box, stone, motor and LED lights,100 x 60 x 117 cm. Courtesy: White Cube, Hong Kong

Wang Gongxin, Humidifier, 2017, metal bed, plastic box, stone, motor and LED lights,100 x 60 x 117 cm. Courtesy: White Cube, Hong Kong

Old and new techniques coalesce in the aptly titled Sunset No. 1 and Sunset No. 2 (both 2017), wall pieces installed in an upstairs set of galleries. Created by layering car paint over rectilinear canvases and mounted next to similarly shaped marble slabs, both are partially framed by the same metal Wang uses to prevent liquid from overflowing elsewhere. Wangs Sunsets radiate light: through the glossy car paint that renders the canvases reflective and by way of a pulsating glow made possible by hollowing out the marble stone to conceal a light source behind its crystalline surface.

Although Wang’s unseen mechanical devices ensure wide-ranging visual and audible effects, they are never cheap tricks. Rather, the rippling, gurgling, rocking and glowing features not only enliven our experience of the works in ‘Rotation’ but denote Wang’s adroit handling of materials. Wang’s self-proclaimed focus on the ‘mobile’, ‘radiant’ and ‘liquid’ manifests itself through a sometimes literal balancing act of elements that never lose their sense of fragility.

Main image: Wang Gongxin, Unseatable, 1995, metal chairs, flashing light and motor, each chair 48 x 49 x 83 cm,  installation view at White Cube, Hong Kong, 2017. Courtesy: White Cube, Hong Kong

Ingrid Pui Yee Chu is a Hong Kong-based curator, writer and, with Savannah Gorton, co-founder and director of the non-profit commissioning organization Forever & Today, Inc.


 

Issue 191

First published in Issue 191

November - December 2017

Most Read

Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018