The Art of Chinese Sculptor Liu Shiming
I think that sculpture should be focused on people and the depiction of people, because people are social beings and creators of art. When we lose people and the human spirit, art loses its soul. Chinese methods and Western methods are different, and I was determined to return to Chinese methods. Chinese methods revere spontaneity, but also stress regularity. You must observe closely and imprint things in your memory, but when you start, you can’t be a stickler; you must simply let loose.
— Liu Shiming
This exhibition presents to the world the sculpture of Liu Shiming, part of China’s first generation of locally trained sculptors, and the Chinese methods of sculpture that he proposed and developed. This will allow the American public to appreciate and understand Liu’s art historical importance; his work is rooted in Chinese folk sculpture traditions, but he gives this heritage a contemporary twist. Showing viewers the distinctive and fresh contributions that Chinese modern and contemporary sculptors have made to world sculpture will also improve understanding and exchange between the cultural communities in China and the United States.
On December 24, 2018, the Central Academy of Fine Arts established the Liu Shiming Sculpture Museum, which is dedicated to researching and investigating Liu’s artworks and their art historical meaning. Liu Shiming was part of CAFA’s first generation of Chinese sculptors trained after the founding of the People’s Republic. He had significant training in ancient and modern Western sculpture, and his artistic achievements were recognized as early as the 1950s. He was distinctive in his time for consciously choosing to root himself in Chinese traditional art and maintain a clear distance from the ideas and forms of Western sculpture, which held a commanding position at the time. Instead, he persistently grounded himself in a Chinese local context, uncovering various kinds of folk art within the Chinese tradition, and perpetuating ancient Chinese modeling methods. In particular, he advocated for drawing nourishment from the Han dynasty folk clay sculpture tradition and Chinese painted pottery culture, making them contemporary. When Liu activated these resources, he employed clay, a material that bears the wisdom and qualities of the Chinese and Eastern aesthetic. He made full use of his love and respect for clay, and his reverence for “kneading.” Clay is entirely different from the marble and bronze favored by the Western sculptural tradition, enriching and expanding the materials for world sculpture with this Eastern material; Liu stresses the reverence for and activation of kneading, the modeling language that is intimately linked to Chinese folk art. Kneading stands in contrast to the emphasis on carving and molding in the Western sculptural tradition. Through the sculptor’s heart and hands, kneading conveys the relationships between people and objects and the expression of human sentiment and emotion, which gives the works further folk aspects. Using what he called “Chinese methods,” he recorded and presented myriad facets of daily life among the average people of his times, and with nearly half a century of practice and research under his belt, he found a distinctively Chinese path that is markedly different from the concepts and forms of Western sculpture. His work enriched and broadened the development of modern Chinese sculpture, which was rooted in the ordinary lives that have existed in China for thousands of years, reflected the popular will on the lowest rungs of society, and presented the popular sentiments of the Chinese people. Liu’s work contains a respect for every individual, as well as his pursuit and expression of freedom. He provided more ways for us to understand the world, ourselves, and human nature, thereby enriching both the depth and breadth of our knowledge.
Standing in the twenty-first century, when we look back on Liu Shiming’s half-century of sculptural explorations, we must marvel at his foresight and self-awareness. He was a rare intellectual of his time who always maintained clear understandings and preferences with regard to Eastern and Western culture. He was an intellectual who always retained pride and respect for his own culture. He was always faithful to his own cultural conscience and aesthetic tastes, and he set his own course, keeping his distance from trends and intellectual talking points. He persisted in his lonely, solitary exploration of Chinese sculpture using his own “Chinese methods.”
Associate Professor, Graduate Advisor, Ph.D., Central Academy of Fine Arts Head of the Theory Publishing Department, Central Academy of Fine Arts.
Event was co-organized by Dragon Summit Foundation