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Art Show Reveals China’s Modern, Industrialized Side

Meridian International Center Seeks Cultural Link

In artist Chi Peng’s “Why Should I Love You?— print, a building shaped like a human towers over a large Chinese city.

That unsettling image is a part of a new exhibit called “Metropolis Now!—at the Meridian International Center. The show, which displays the work of 31 Chinese artists, commemorates 30 years of formal diplomatic ties between the U.S. and China.

The works are all displayed inside Meridian House, a 1920s brick stone house at Crescent Place Northwest, not far from Meridian Hill Park. Like its neighbor White-Meyer House, the home was designed by John Russell Pope, the architect who also did the Jefferson Memorial, the National Gallery of Art and the National Archives.

The exhibit is the result of international cooperation between the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, the Chinese embassy and the Meridian International Center, a nonprofit organization working on “cultural diplomacy— in Washington, D.C.

“This exhibit represents a new achievement in cultural exchange between China and the United States. It is the first exhibit of its kind to reach Washington,— Fan Di’an, director of the National Art Museum of China, said in a statement.

The exhibit includes 52 paintings, sculptures and mixed media works. Through these, the Chinese artists express their views on how urbanization and globalization is changing their country, cities and people.

“Ultimately, this is an example of an extreme boom of buildings, some of which is creative and innovative,— said Curtis Sandberg, Meridian’s vice president for the arts. “Some people, as is the case in the U.S., can look at these new buildings and wonder what they mean.—

The “Why Should I Love You?— print “is about whether or not we should love these,— he said.

The Meridian House’s interior, with its stucco, antique furnishings and crystal chandeliers, contrasts with the exhibit’s modern pieces, including pictures of urban buildings and youth, as well as characters inspired by computer games and cartoons.

Consumerism as a result of globalization is the theme of Wang Mai’s sculpture “Capturing the Petroleum Monster Through Wisdom No. 9.— The sculpture is made up of a doll figure balancing on a pipe, and the theme addresses the competition for limited resources. “The job of the people is to manage — control — the creature that is energy,— Sandberg said.

One consequence of urbanization is lifestyle changes, he said. For example, in communities, many Chinese families that used to live close together now live apart.

“Life in China began to mirror [life] in the U.S. and Europe,— Sandberg said. The exhibit will help to show Americans the changes in Chinese society, he said, adding, “What we live on a daily basis happens in China now.—

An oil painting connected with today’s youth is He Sen’s “Sleeping With a Toy,— showing a young woman with eyes fixed on the viewer and a stuffed pig next to her in bed. Sen’s prior works include portraits of urban women who face debilitating “emotions that range from depression to vacancy to confusion,— according to the supplementary text.

The use of the Internet and media are another aspect of globalization. Lv Shanchuan has used newspaper stories involving politics, economy and culture to create oil paintings for the past three years. His “January 21, 09— shows the masses of people at President Barack Obama’s inauguration, a work created from the headlines of a Chinese newspaper.

“They all look like newspapers. He tries to get the effect you have when you open [the paper],— said Erica Buentello, exhibitions assistant at the Meridian International Center.

Although the market for Asian contemporary art has dropped recently, Buentello said the Meridian International Center expects quite a crowd at this exhibit, which is as much about the relationship between the countries as a chance for the artists to show their work to a larger audience.

“Chinese contemporary art is very important, also in areas of politics and economy. I think the exhibit provides a good platform to discuss and creates a firsthand glimpse of what’s going on in China,— Buentello said.

Although the focus is on modern ideas, several of the artists have used “ancient approaches— and traditional materials when “telling new stories,— Sandberg said. For instance, two displayed pieces are silk race cars and a skyline done in porcelain.

Small ant sculptures climb the inside walls of the exhibit. Outside, three 8-foot-long ants are the centerpieces of the Meridian House’s garden. These stainless steel ants were one of Sandberg and his colleagues’ discoveries when they traveled to the National Art Museum of China to collect art with Di’an.

After briefly seeing the ants on display in Shanghai, Sandberg unintentionally ended up at the studio of the artist Chen Zhiguang in Beijing’s outskirts. “I love the ants,— Sandberg said, explaining how the animals — in their collective behavior — are an allegory that illustrates architectural developments in China. “It’s a symbol of urban growth.—

The exhibit runs until July 26.

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