Evelyn Taocheng Wang
Evelyn Taocheng Wang: An Equivocal Contrast
Ruckbund Art Museum
22 Apr – 9 Jul 2023
The Rockbund Art Museum (RAM), Shanghai, is pleased to present the first solo museum exhibition of the artist Evelyn Taocheng Wang (b. 1981) in Asia. A Rotterdam-based, Chinese diaspora artist, Wang is renowned for her striking blend of imaginative, layered, fragmented, and paradoxical narrations across various mediums, including painting, drawing, writing, and performance. As an immigrant artist from China who lives and works in the Netherlands, Wang makes work that is deeply rooted in the social context in which she finds herself. Her practice juxtaposes the philosophical and the everyday and merges the emotional, the poetic, and the autobiographical, intertwining transcendental concepts with seemingly superficial and absurd commentaries.
Curated by RAM Artistic Director X Zhu-Nowell, An Equivocal Contrast features 17 new works made by Wang for the exhibition, in addition to a loan of Agnes Martin’s 1996 work “Peace”. It builds upon two key themes in Wang’s repertoire: her embodiment of the Canadian-American artist Agnes Martin (1912–2004) and of the Chinese-American writer Eileen Chang (1920–1995), both of whom were immigrants. Rather than appropriating their work, Wang adopts their personae – inhabits their characters – to create a readymade citation using irony, wit, or absurdism imbued with her own unique voice. Her work delves into age-old philosophical questions of individuality, authenticity, and self-representation, exploring what it is to be oneself, at one with oneself, or truly representing one’s self.
Because Wang lives in between many different cultures, she constantly questions the idea of cultural authenticity, believing that this is elusive and that the more accurate condition of life is cultural complexity. This can be seen in every aspect of her practice, including her artistic techniques. For example, Wang’s work deliberately mixes different media, including acrylic, gesso, pencil, oil, and Chinese ink on Xuan paper, linen canvas or silk. She questions the defined categories of art, such as painting and drawing, and plays with different concepts and polemics of art history. To quote the artist: “I deliberately blur the dividing line between the Guo Hua (the cultural identity) and the universal term for artistic materials. This body of work plays with preconceptions about what painting is, how we create different languages to define it, and how boundaries and definitions blur when one takes the time to gaze at those ‘paintings’ or ‘posters’ or ‘rubbings’.”
An Equivocal Contrast is also an exploration of color, beauty, perfection, and desolation that unfolds through a multilayered imaginary dialogue between Eileen Chang and Agnes Martin, with the artistic mediation of Evelyn Taocheng Wang. The exhibition takes its name from Chang’s seminal 1944 essay, “Writing of One’s Own”, in which she reflects on the nuanced complexity of her characters. These equivocal figures are not heroes, but rather ordinary individuals who bear the weight of their times with earnestness. While they lack the closure of tragedy, they are imbued with a sense of desolation that reveals profound truths about the human experience. According to Chang, “Tragedy is a kind of closure, while desolation is a form of revelation.”
Taking inspiration from traditional Chinese handscrolls in which paintings are revealed and then enclosed slowly, section by section, with images and text intertwining to create a complex experience of looking and reading, Wang has designed this exhibition with images unfolding gradually across the second and third floors of the museum. This exhibition invites a slow reading in time and space, with each floor bathed in a different color and viewing experience. It envelops the viewer in a looking glass of complex art histories, searching for the elusive “triggered colors” and their varied interpretations. Chang and Martin are just two of a larger cast of characters in what Wang jokingly refers to as her “eye shadow palette of art history”. For her, each artist, such as Martin or Chang, has a particular color and character, which she likes to mix up and model to make a new color of her own. By considering these creative figures as readymade personalities and reimagining them in her own “make-up”, Wang challenges the modernist ideal of purity and truth, playfully critiquing modernism’s desire for authenticity. In An Equivocal Contrast, authenticity is constantly forged, revealed, and broken.