I’ve just finished reading this book and was really impacted by it, so first I want to share my feelings with you.

I feel the book gives a really solid treatment of Contemporary Chinese Ink and is really the best place to go to learn more about this fascinating topic. It’s an exciting exploration of both conventional and experimental Chinese ink work. It’s left me with the feeling that I have a solid grasp of the background. And that I’m well-equipped to see the world of Contemporary Chinese Art and even the whole art world in an entirely new light, through an entirely new lens.

The theme, unsurprisingly, is contemporary Chinese ink art. Ink in China embraces both the fundamental principles of renewal as well as a reinterpretation of the past. Somehow I found myself reminded of the idea of the ‘standard’ in jazz – something that is left constant, but that is constantly reexamined.

The book provides a deep treatment of the subject. In general, it focuses on the history of contemporary Chinese ink and its perception in the West.

The author Maxwell K Hearn produced the book to accompany MoMA’s first major contemporary Chinese art exhibition – an exhibition which was curated by the author himself.

The body of the book comprises a treatment of 80 different works by 40 top contemporary artists from China. For each work it asks how the artist has responded to, subverted and reinterpreted the past to create a new, modern artistic identity.

The works have a really broad range of subjects. They diverge all the way from radical abstractions through contemporary landscapes and of course the written word. The media used across the works is even more diverse. We photography and video mixed with ceramic, bronze and stainless steel – all with an ink connection, obviously. On top of that there’s more standard ink work but each with a diversity of substrate – sometimes painted on cardboard, other times on polyester and even the human body.

The artworks featured in the book include—

  • Handscrolls by Liu Dan
  • Pseudo-characters by Gu Wenda
  • Videos and Animation by Qiu Anxiong and Chen Shaoxiong
  • Overpainted with Coca Cola Logo by Ai Weiwei
  • Book from the Sky by Xu Bing and Han Jar

I just wish they’d also featured the incredible Qu Leilei – one of my favourite contemporary Chinese artists and one of the original founders of Contemporary Chinese Art.

A great bonus to the book, and a really a stand-alone piece in itself, is the included essay by Wu Hung. Wu Hung is a Professor of Art History at University of Chicago. The essay is titled Transcending the East/West Dichotomy: A Short History of Contemporary Chinese Ink Painting and is really worth a read.