Plenty of spirit in Chinese artist Li Lei’s Hong Kong show of abstract seasonal paintings

Well-connected artist’s desire to create a new ‘Eastern abstract art’ adds to significance of new works, though they are tame when compared with those of other Western and Eastern artists

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 October, 2015, 11:18am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 October, 2015, 12:24pm

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Li Lei’s curriculum vitae smacks of establishment. He is the deputy director of the China Art Museum, Shanghai, the city’s main public art gallery that took over the China Pavilion after the 2010 World Expo. He is also a cultural sector representative on the Shanghai branch of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

But the new works by the 50-year-old curator and art educator are far from stodgy. Featured in an exhibition, “Water to Water”, at the Hong Kong Arts Centre in Wan Chai, are energetic and poetic abstract paintings celebrating the changing seasons.

A separate section is devoted to the work he produced for a project hosted by the Republic of San Marino at this year’s Venice Biennale. Here, he has stuffed the multi-coloured fabric banners that were hanging from the roof of the  Palazzo Venezia in glass boxes and covered them with cutouts from Western magazines. These time capsules are also mementos of his journey to the city of water, the artist says.

The works may not seem revolutionary compared with the past efforts of Western and Asian abstract artists, but the way Li is informed by his personal understanding of Buddhist and Taoist ideas means he has something new to add to the international language of abstract art, says Catherine Maudsley, guest curator of the exhibition.

Considering Li’s standing in the Chinese art world – last Saturday’s opening was packed with VIPs – his declared wish to create a new “Eastern abstract art” is noteworthy, as there is a growing sense within China that there is a need to reclaim a “right to speak” about Chinese contemporary art from Western critics and dealers.

“Water to Water”, Pao Galleries, Hong Kong Arts Centre, 2 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, Mon-Sun, 10am-8pm. Ends October 25