Beijing-based Wang Jianwei will be the first artist commissioned by the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative at the Guggenheim Museum, which is a collaboration between the Hong Kong-based foundation and the celebrated New York museum. The 55-year-old artist, who is known for working across a variety of media, will exhibit the completed work, which has the working title Wang Jianwei: The Texture of Reality, in autumn 2014.
The nature of the work is still being discussed, but is likely to focus on the multimedia aspects of Wang's work, says Dr Thomas J. Berghuis, the initiative's curator of Chinese art.
"We are really concentrating on bringing in all the elements that characterise his work. Theatre has been mentioned as the foundation of his practices; I am very interested in putting film in, we are looking at painting, which he has recently moved back to, and we are looking at sculptural installations," says Berghuis.
Wang, who was sent to the countryside for re-education in 1975 during the final years of the Cultural Revolution, graduated in oil painting from the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now the China Academy of Art) in Hangzhou in 1987. He became a prominent painter, but abandoned the medium in 1991 and expanded his artistic process to include documentary-style video, theatrical video, performance, sculpture and installations. Notable works include Production (1997), Ceremony (2003) and Flying Bird is Motionless (2005).
One of Wang's interests is how modern media affects the practice of the arts, and he has a highly theoretical approach to his work that is also demonstrated in his writings and speeches. He is also interested in the effects of urbanisation on the mainland; his work has been variously described as sociological and anthropological.
The commission is the first of three that are planned by the Ho family foundation and the Guggenheim. The initiative was announced earlier this year to draw attention to contemporary Chinese artists and art and to fund selected Chinese artists to produce artwork for the Guggenheim's permanent collection.
Berghuis, an expert in Chinese art who was previously based in Sydney, travelled to Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland before commissioning Wang. The artist's intellectual grounding played a part in his selection, the curator says.
"In his work and his public speaking, Wang makes a connection between art and society; art and politics; and aesthetics, art and art history," he says. "He is in contact with artists, curators and intellectuals in China and Europe and this gives him a kind of cultural provenance."
One of the aims of the initiative is to expand the practices of Chinese contemporary art, and Wang fits the bill, Berghuis says.
"Wang Jianwei is an artist whose work traverses 30 years, as well as three or four generations. Berghuis says a younger generation of artists seems connected to Wang. "Wang utilises cross-media practices that do not define him in terms of a single medium. They really expand the practice of contemporary art," he says.
"It is also very important that, with the commission, we ask questions about China: how do we consider China today, especially concerning the move that it is now making in terms of a global China? It is feeling very confident," Berghuis says, noting that Wang's works address these queries.
"Not everyone who comes to the Guggenheim will be looking for Chinese art, but they will all be looking for an experience, and we hope to provide that," the curator says.