Long Museum holds New China art exhibition
The Long Museum's ongoing exhibition to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of New China. [PHOTO BY HONG XIAOLE/FOR CHINA DAILY]

The event encompasses an impressive compendium of modern artwork, a result of one couple's lifelong passion for the genre, Zhang Kun reports in Shanghai.

The Long Museum in Shanghai is currently presenting a showcase of modern Chinese art in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Titled Thinking of the Seven Decades of History at My Space, the exhibition is named after one of the paintings on show by renowned artist Chen Yifei. The showcase opened on June 21 and will end on Sept 8.

About 200 works of art are on display at the show, including oil paintings, Chinese ink paintings, prints, sketches, sculptures, political posters and New Year posters, many of which are iconic images that used to appear in textbooks and other publications.

According to Chen Lyusheng, curator of the exhibition and deputy director of the art theory committee under the China Artists Association, the Long Museum's collection of New China art started because of the personal interests of the founders of the museum, Wang Wei and Liu Yiqian.

Chen Yifei's oil painting, Thinking of the Seven Decades of History at My Space. [PHOTO BY HONG XIAOLE/FOR CHINA DAILY]

The couple established the first Long Museum in Pudong in 2012 before opening the second one, the Long Museum West Bund in Xuhui district, in 2014. Two other branches of the museum opened in Chongqing in 2016 and Wuhan in 2018.

Chen Lyusheng notes that while Liu has always been collecting classical Chinese art, his wife Wang has instead been focusing on collecting New China art from 1949 onward.

"Long Museum has gained a special position in the field of modern Chinese art since 1949, having accumulated a unique collection of art because of Wang Wei's personal enthusiasm," he says.

Wang began collecting revolutionary art in 2003 after she bought a painting titled Hard Times by Zhang Hongxiang at an auction. The artwork depicts Chairman Mao Zedong standing among Red Army soldiers in the mountainous area of Jinggangshan.

Oil painting Sending the First Seamless Steel Tube to Chairman Mao, by Jin Shangyi and Fu Zhigui from 1954. [PHOTO BY HONG XIAOLE/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Following that purchase, Wang went on to amass a collection of more than 100 paintings from the period before presenting an exhibition at the Shanghai Art Museum in 2009. The collection currently has about 300 artworks that have been presented in exhibitions in Shanghai and Chongqing.

According to Liang Jiang, the head of the research institute of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in Guangdong province, the Long Museum's art collection is so impressive that he often has to borrow their works for exhibitions.

"I was one of the curators of a major exhibition of Guangdong art, and we had to borrow some paintings, including important pieces depicting Chairman Mao in the countryside, from the Long Museum," he says.

"I see that the collection at the Long Museum is making up for the deficiency of national art collections in State-owned institutions. I believe the Long Museum is leading a good trend that is worthy of praise. I know how difficult it is to achieve this."

Hard Times, by Zhang Hongxiang from 1973. [PHOTO BY HONG XIAOLE/FOR CHINA DAILY]

The ongoing exhibition in Shanghai is presented in six chapters. The first part, which is titled Leaders and the Revolution, features artworks about the early life and achievements of Mao Zedong before 1949.

The second part, War and Peace, features heroic soldiers in the Long March (1934-36), on the battlefields fighting against Japanese invaders during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1931-45) and in the Korean War (1950-53).

The third section comprises portraits of Chairman Mao from the 1960-70s when art was used as a major tool for politics. Art that was produced during this period can be easily identified by its distinctive style.

The other three chapters are about innovation and experimentation, the construction of New China, and the development of Chinese society.

"Chen Yifei already showed his extraordinary creative power with a series of historical paintings ... but in this piece he gave up the realistic creative methods which he used so adeptly," says Chen Lyusheng, referring to the exhibition centerpiece Thinking of the Seven Decades of History at My Space.

According to Chen Lyusheng, the work features a combination of multiple layers of blurred images of historical events and a painting of the artist's own back, making it seem as if he is meditating before history.

"It was a challenge to the established principles in the creation of historical paintings in China," Chen Lyusheng adds. "The artist Chen Yifei was exploring new possibilities in this field. The painting appeared in a special period of history after the 'cultural revolution' (1966-76), and was one of the first signs of post-modernism appearing in the Chinese art scene."

Born in 1946, Chen Yifei was one of the first Chinese artists to win recognition in the international art scene. In his later years, Chen established a business focused on visual art, achieving major breakthroughs in filmmaking, fashion design and publishing. He died in Shanghai in 2005.

In 2009, Wang bought Thinking of the Seven Decades of History at My Space for 43 million yuan ($6.25 million), making it the most valuable painting with a revolutionary theme in the Long Museum's collection.

"Chen Yifei was an artist from Shanghai and so were my family and me. It meant a lot to us to bring the painting back home to Shanghai," said Wang.

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