» Arts & Culture

Looking past the end

Publication Date : 30-03-2012


Artist Gu Dexin announced his retirement at his last solo exhibition, We Will Go To Heaven, at Gallery Continua inside 798 art zone in May 2009.

His retrospective exhibition, The Important Thing is Not the Meat, which chronicles the three stages of Gu's art career since the 1980s, is ongoing at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA).

Nearly 300 artworks, spanning Gu's amateur paintings from the late 1970s until his climactic final piece in 2009, trace the full arc of his solo career, which is also an alternative history of contemporary Chinese art's development.

"He once said he hated retrospective exhibitions because art has had nothing to do with him since the last show in 2009," UCCA curator and director Philip Tinari says.

Tinari got the idea of staging Gu's retrospective in 2011.

UCCA's exhibition hall's floor is covered with hundreds of apples that visitors can watch rot over the following week.

Other installations line the sides of the hall, as do Gu's watercolours and sculptures.

Tinari met Gu in 2003, and the two became good friends thanks to a box of dried pork, which Tinari brought from New York to Beijing.

"Gu was having his solo exhibition at New York then and the curator asked me to take one of Gu's artworks - a box of dried pork - back to Gu in Beijing," Tinari recalls.

"Then we talked for a long time and became good friends. In 2011, I had hotpot with Gu and talked about the retrospective exhibition. He said he disliked the idea, but since he had quit, he wouldn't give any opinions."

On the exhibition's gate wall, Gu wrote that: "Now that my works are here, together with everyone, individuals will have their own feelings about them and will experience them with their own minds. And that's precisely my hope."

Gu, who never received formal training, first rose to prominence in Beijing's art scene with a 1986 solo exhibition at the International House in Beijing of paintings and works on paper that spanned various styles.

In 1989, he was among three Chinese artists to show in Magiciens de la Terre at the Pompidou in Paris. It was the first time art from contemporary China had been inserted into a global context.

Gu lives a quiet life in a Beijing hutong. He cooks, walks his dog and doesn't use mobile phones.


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