The NGV is hosting dozens of 21st-century Chinese artworks from Sydney’s celebrated contemporary art space White Rabbit Gallery this winter, and we’ll be seeing some spectacular Australian debuts in the mix.
Art patron and philanthropist Judith Neilson began collecting Chinese art in the late ’90s, and today her White Rabbit Gallery, which is based in Chippendale and celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is home to one of the world’s most significant collections of 21st-century Chinese art, with more than 2500 works from more than 700 artists.
A Fairy Tale in Red Times: Works from the White Rabbit Collection features pieces from 26 artists, including Shi Yong’s arresting neon red installation A Bunch of Happy Fantasies (2009), as well as photography, sculptures and paintings. There are five new works, and all are striking large-scale pieces.
Zhu Jinshi’s The Ship of Time (2018) is a 15-metre-long suspended cylinder made from 14,000 sheets of xuan paper held together with 1800 pieces of bamboo and 2000 cotton threads. It hangs horizontally in the middle of the room, delicate and imposing. Visitors are encouraged to walk through the void at its centre.
Two other artists use less delicate methods: Mao Tongqiang’s Order (2015) is a 45-square-metre wall of mirrored stainless steel riddled with 2000 bullet holes, which distort the viewer’s reflection, evoking indeterminate violence. And Constellations (2017) is a three-metre silk embroidery depicting a bullet hole in glass by artist Zhao Zhao in collaboration with his mother.
Two large, surreal murals are also featured. Yang Jiechang’s Tale of the 11th Day (2012–14) is a 20-metre-long ink-on-silk depiction of humans and animals in various states of copulation, made using Tang dynasty Daoist and Buddhist religious painting techniques. And Zhang Xiaogang’s three-meter-long oil painting Bathtub (2017) is an entry in the artist’s Bloodline series of macabre family portraits. It has a heavy surrealist influence, featuring a gang of vaguely threatening children, including one wielding a hook and another in a rabbit mask.
This snapshot of the White Rabbit collection will show alongside the ancient Terracotta Warriors and Cai Guo-Qiang’s all-new show The Transient Landscape in a Chinese-focused winter at the NGV. Mao Tongqiang’s and Zhao Zhao’s trigger-happy works, in particular, will complement Cai’s gunpowder paintings well.