I have been engaged in the study of art literature for a long time, compiling and publishing Writings of Chinese Oil Paintings, which took us two decades to finish and Chinese Painting Literature of the 20th Century, which is underway. According to my practical working experience, the difference between the finished works and manuscripts is immense. In Chinese Oil Painting Literature, speaking of authenticity, richness, integrity, the manuscript is an important part of the art creation, but if we only see finished works and ignore the existence of manuscripts, the most authentic art history embodied in manuscripts, especially the hidden story in completed works, would be lost. Therefore, what I did was to incorporate the manuscript into the art literature and expand the original system to a holistic concept.
One notable aspect about this exhibition is that in addition to paying attention to the painting manuscripts, it also starts to take manuscripts of installations, performance art, and new media art into account. This exhibition on manuscripts also prompted us to think about how to present these manuscripts, as exhibitions held in the gallery would ignore the presentation of the manuscript. The manuscript, as the new subject of the exhibition will lead to new exhibition methodologies. For example, though Chen Zhen has passed away, his installations are still exhibited in recent years. Even after the artist's death, there are still new exhibitions of his works. Because Chen Zhen made a lot of manuscripts, many of the current exhibitions rely on his manuscripts. In this sense, the manuscript is very meaningful for planning future exhibitions.
From the collecting point of view, in talking with foreign galleries, we touched upon the collection of installations. By visiting international art foundations and art institutes, I discovered that one of the ways to collect such works was to collect the blueprints or manuscripts of installations. These collections truly reflect the artist's thinking and creative process, and keeping the manuscripts or blueprints as a collection also presents the possibility for future exhibitions.
Manuscripts are of great value to the concept of exhibition, ways of display and art collections. In addition, the focus on manuscripts will also promote our study of art history itself.
At present, we must construct a holistic system to support our research on the history of art. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Department of Art History at Central Academy of Fine Arts. In honor of this special occasion, a forum called "Art History in China" is arranged at the moment, which conducts a comprehensive review of the writing of art history and cultural attitudes, and an outlook for the future. Last year, we participated in the "World Conference of Art History" in Beijing. This forum at Central Academy of Fine Arts is an echo of the conference in last year. The theme of last year's conference is the concept of art history in different cultures and historical times. Against the global background, the relation between the birth of the new cultures and the old ones under the culture clashes of different countries and regions was applied to redefine the art history.
Even though we are now emphasizing multidisciplinary research, it has its antithesis. Too much cross-disciplinary research would blur the boundary of art history. What is art history after having no boundary? In the process of discussion about diversification, many art historians and researchers have proposed returning to the works and to the inside of art history, which has become a consensus. I.e. how do we view and study the art works from the perspective of art history.
At last year's Art History Conference, John Onians, author of Neuroarthistory: From Aristotle and Pliny to Baxandall and Zeki gave a keynote speech. He made extensive use of manuscripts to emphasize the influence of personal experience on subjectivity from the perspective of neural plasticity. He also studied individual artistic creation and appreciation, and explain the difference in the individual and regional artistic style with neurological methods.
He used the manuscripts to study Leonardo da Vinci, revealing how Leonardo da Vinci analyzed human nerves and muscles through anatomy, and comparing this approach of Leonardo da Vinci with that in the Greek and Roman era. Although they all pursued realistic expression, they differed from each other as a result of coming from different times. In this process, we can see that manuscripts are very good resources and provide provocative perspectives for the study of authenticity of art history, As for the new vision and understanding of the art work per se, it may provoke new fields and methods in art history.
Now I return to the exhibition at Triumph Gallery. How should we present the manuscript? How can a manuscript exhibition be converted to a new kind of research exhibition? As Sun Zhenhua just mentioned, the purpose of the manuscript is to study the creation of artists, and from this perspective, a manuscript exhibition “research on research”, an “exhibition on exhibition”, and will lead to many interesting ideas. But most of the works on display are still confined to manuscripts per se. It would be better for the expansion and originality of exhibitions if relevant interpretations and research results are also included in the exhibition. In that way, the audience would be offered a gateway, which is a significant access to our research.
Discussions on manuscript research will certainly continue. The manuscript exhibition is due to open this afternoon, and I suggest that the content of our discussions would also be presented during the exhibition as a living form.