Friday, August 29, 2014

Seeing the Unseen: Contemporary Chinese Artists at the Ringling

Li Wei
I like surprises. Especially nice ones. One of the more exciting unexpected finds for me took place while traveling in Florida a couple years back: the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. I'd already known about Ringling Brothers Circus Museum being in Sarasota where the circus wintered like snow birds. I did not, however, know that John and Mable were art collectors.

Like many from America's privileged classes, they took up an interest in art collecting. During the Roaring 20's post-WWI European art could be snapped up on pennies for the dollar. The Ringlings even purchased a 16th century theater they found on the outskirts of Venice, disassembled and re-assembled the whole of it in Sarasota.

Unfortunately, the Thirties hit and many -- like the Ringlings -- got stung and lost all. Fortunately, a few years before, they donated their art collection to the University. And what a collection. One highlight is an enormous painting Peter Paul Rubens, but there are many other famous artists represented include Benjamin West, Diego Velázquez, Paolo Veronese, Rosa Bonheur, Gianlorenzo Bernini, Giuliano Finelli, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Frans Hals, Nicolas Poussin, Joseph Wright of Derby, and Thomas Gainsborough among others. But the highlight for me was running into two paintings by Marcel Duchamp. Very special.

The museum is host to other exhibitions and through the end of February 2015 The Ringling is featuring eight contemporary Chinese artists in an exhibition titled “Seeing the Unseen.” Artists in this show include Cao Fei, Li Wei, Wang Qingsong, and Miao Xiaochun. A promotional blurb on the show states, "Reflecting the artistic innovations of our media age, their works provide a fresh view of China’s rapidly changing socio-cultural landscape. These Chinese artists apply new concepts and technology to record and present inspiring moments veiled in daily life."

One of the featured artists in this exhibit is Liu Bolin, whose invisible man pictures went viral a couple years back. I remember seeing links being shared extensively whenever it was, not knowing who he was at that time. Here is a promotional image from the show that may jog your memory on this artist. Yes, there is a man in the photo.

Liu Bolin... 
If you're a Sun City resident or a someone who likes to escape South for the winter, the Ringling Museum is worth going out of your way to see. And this winter at least you'll have this treat to look forward to.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Dig it.

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