Contemporary Chinese art: The collection of Pat Hui

Pulse, June 22, 2005

An exhilarating collection of two-dimensional works by contemporary Chinese artists will fill the spacious walls of the Katherine Nash Gallery until the end of July. Many pieces are so sublime they give you that bursting-in-your-chest, elevated-to-midair feeling. It is astonishing to see the mystique of a 3500-year-old tradition influenced by Western expressionism and abstraction. You’ll recognize the poetry, painting and calligraphy, typically intertwined in Chinese art, as well as the rigorous techniques used to depict the majestic breadth of the natural world. You’ll also recognize the restless energy, fragmentation and coloring of Western art. You’ll see collaborations between painters, calligraphers and poets; immense vitality; exploding ink paintings; the Grand Canyon; computer generated calligraphy. There’s too much to mention. This is a noteworthy time in the history of Chinese art, since the West had little effect on China until the 20th century.

Artist and art collector Pat Hui, whose collection this is, finds herself at the epicenter of contemporary Chinese art. She lives in Minneapolis and runs Hui Arts, a gallery in the warehouse district. The color of her clothing is in the same palette with her paintings. Friends and well-wishers surround her.

She comments, with a twinkle in her eye, on the benefits of bringing expressionism into Chinese art: “It’s freedom from trees and mountains.”

There is a noticeable absence of the human face and figure throughout the show. Hui says it is her personal preference. She likes abstract, nonrepresentational art.

Only the modern, scrawling calligraphy, unlike the reassuringly perfect letters on the scrolls in museums, seems to be somewhat representational. If you read Chinese, the characters are legible, but if not, they look like crowds of people, dancing or running into the woods, or demonstrating for a cause. The experimentation with calligraphy is unique in that there have been few changes in written Chinese since 1300.

Jovial personal notes by Hui are posted next to the works. They tell about her life and her friendship with the artists. In 1961 she met Wucius Wong, now a well-known painter in Hong Kong. Wong led her to standout 20th century Hong Kong painter Lui Shou-kwan—one of the first Chinese painters to embrace abstraction—who became her teacher.

Hui started collecting art in 1980. She had gone to visit an artist named Chui Tze-hung, who lived in a room so small he had to put a piece of wood over his bed while he was painting and then take it off when he wanted to go to bed. His paintings were bigger than his room. Hui was so moved by his work and his circumstances that she started buying his paintings. Then, in Toronto, she established a gallery and, although she wasn’t rich, continued to meet artists and buy their work. Artists began giving her their work, and a lovingly tended collection was born.

Katherine E. Nash Gallery in U of M Regis Center for Art, 405 21st Ave .S. West Bank Campus Summer gallery hours: Tue., Wed., Fri. and Sat. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Thu.10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Show runs until July 28. Free and open to the public.

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