Happy Lunar New Year from the USC US-China Institute!
Art Through the Cultural Revolution and "From the Masses to the Masses: Art of the Yan'an Cave Artists Group" a film documentary
The Woodbury Art Museum at Utah Valley University presents an art exhibit of Cultural Revolution art to complement a documentary film, "From the Masses to the Masses: Art of the Yan'an Cave Artists Group".
The exhibit includes the work of several artists known as the Cave Artists Group (Yaodong Huapai) who worked under the direction of Beijing based artist Jin Zhilin. Jin, a student of Xu Beihong and later a contemporary of Constantine Maximov at the Beijing Academy of Fine Arts, was sent to Yan’an in the midst of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) where he recruited local artists such as Feng Shanyun, Chen Sanqiao, Song Ruxin, and others to study art at the Yan’an Masses Art Studio that he directed.
Yan’an was the Chinese Communists’ revolutionary capital in Shaanxi Province in northwestern China for thirteen years (1936-1949). Although a remote and poor rural area, Yan’an has a strong folk art tradition. However, Yan’an is unique because of its rich revolutionary traditions. Following the Maoist dictum of “learning from the masses,” Jin Zhilin required his students to go to the countryside and study local folk art with peasant artists. Jin’s students incorporated Shaanxi folk art influences, such as paper cutting, into their woodblock prints. The art in the collection reflects these elements of local folk art and the historical significance of the region. Art was created using various mediums: woodcuts, watercolors (gouache) and oil. Woodcuts and watercolors were more common because oil painting in the countryside at the time was less practical.
The collection includes Jin’s early work from the 1950s, which was heavily influenced by Soviet Social Realism, work produced during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) that towards the end was illustrative of the Revolutionary Romanticism engulfing the arts in China, and works from the post-Cultural Revolution period (late 1970s-early 1980s), reflecting more traditional themes and aspects of local culture that Jin encouraged his students to study. Geographic landmarks such as the Yan’an pagoda, traditional Shaanxi cave residences, the headdress worn by local Shaanxi men, and influences of local folk art are common characteristics of the works of the Cave Artist Group that emerged under Jin Zhilin’s influence.
The collection is original and was acquired in numerous trips to China between 1999-2008. The art of the exhibit was not originally created to be sold, as there was no commercial value to art at that time. Instead, art was utilized for social and political purposes. In the case of the woodblocks, making only a few copies before shaving the block for a new woodcut was common. In most cases the artists were not even sure what happened to their work once it was turned over to local authorities to be reviewed and exhibited in support of domestic and even international policy initiatives. As a result, nearly all of the pieces are the only known copies to exist.
Period photographs and two documentary films will be part of this exhibition.
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