When art history invokes the ‘contemporary’, it refers to now, the current moment, and thus points into an unresolved perplexity. Now remains undefined, whether by science, philosophy, or mystical religion. Our contemporary ‘now’ is not merely an instant — not even a stretched or dilated instant. It is a time that is still with us, or which we continue to participate in, at once proximate and elusive, still awaiting its sense, obliquely intersecting the narrower present of chronological location and practical schedules.
The visual arts, at their most reflective, enter into this perplexity as into an animating spiral. Whilst succumbing to categorization — or time definition — within a still obscure and incomplete contemporaneity, the art work can also make the act of definition its own, reaching out into the now, and telling us what it has found. In doing so it tests itself against an ultimate abstraction.
In some such now, current but chronologically indeterminable, Chinese visual art encountered a critical threshold. The difference between heading forward or backward, advancing or retreating, ceased – at some ‘point’ — to be an option, or a choice. Instead, for that complex cultural trend and inheritance at once defined as — and defining — neotraditionalism, true modernity was discovered in the acceptance of tradition as a path. This wave of creative – even explosive – experimentation was also an excavation, and a recovery. It demonstrated that innovative variation was inextricable from the maintenance of a course, directed into a future already cryptically indicated by the past.
Beyond Black and White: Chinese Contemporary Abstract Ink, on show at Pearl Lam Galleries (until September 7, 2013), focuses with glorious intensity upon the neotraditionalist current. In keeping with this focus, it both fulfills and deranges expectations, through the audacious explorations of a heritage made new.