"A Painter of the Empire" is never a historical referent. On the contrary, the term pertains directly to every contemporary artist; it coexists with history.
— Su Meng-Hung
A Painter of the Empire, Su Meng-Hung's first solo exhibition since 2012, centers on identity issues for the contemporary artist, where Su interweaves three series "Material Paradise"(2002), "Grandeur．Void．Cloud．Lark" (2013–2015), and "A Painter of the Empire" (2015) into a narrative of painting and installation on artists' place in a globalized art world, and ways to rise above their circumstances.
Recognized by the Taipei Arts Awards in 2002, and the seed for Su's idea of "A Painter of the Empire," the "Material Paradise" installation series at first glance, appears to parody and defy classical aesthetics through the marriage of the 17th-century Western painting replicas and mediocre ready-made merchandise. A closer look at the oil paintings of blooming flowers untouched by the change of seasons in the house of Dutch merchants from the Age of Discovery, juxtaposed with artificial plastic flowers of the 21st century, reveals an eternal yet fleeting question: how standards for taste and appreciation, and rules for art and mechanism, are perpetually intertwined with the destiny of artists in different generations riding the tides of history.
The "Grandeur．Void．Cloud．Lark" painting series explores how the decorative element in the painting form triggers intense visual language. Deeply inspired by Chinese classical painting, Su appropriates Eastern and Western art motifs, as well as popular culture icons to dissect the intricacies in the establishment of social hierarchy and taste. By copying from The Album of Immortal Blossoms in an Everlasting Spring by Giuseppe Castiglione (1478–1529), Qing-dynasty chief imperial court painter, Su imbues the ancient imagery with vivid details by forsaking the traditional mogu (boneless) painting technique while expanding the scale of his canvas.
His latest installation series "A Painter of the Empire" is an unexpected development following his previous body of work. Su collages a taxidermied peacock — a symbol that defies death, the disused roof of a palanquin, and diamond-shaped carbon sculptures into an installation of searing elements that are linked to life/death, religion/superstition, and diamond/carbon — constructs whose differences are rooted in their similarity. Through his appropriation of diverse symbols, meanings are added and expanded as Su provides multiple access points for spectators to understand his work, below the surface of which is brimming with desolate opulence that transcends interpretation.
These three series validate Su’s attempt to rebel against the concept of interpretive text. Exuding a profound sense of chagrin and self-will, Su’s work is dedicated to artists living in different art worlds in different social contexts. Maneuvering ancient and contemporary art history, Su alters the linear path of history while maintaining an aloof distance from the exotic flair of East and West, allowing an endless cycle of self-referential imagery that incidentally mirrors the artist’s own dilemma.
Born in 1976 in Taiwan, Su Meng-Hung graduated with a BFA degree from the department of art at the National Changhua University of Education, Taiwan (1998); a MFA degree from the Goldsmiths College, University of London, UK (2005); and a PhD degree in Art Creation and Theory from the Tainan National University of the Arts, Taiwan (2012). His art practice is characterized by a flamboyance that belies a pungent narrative conveying the mind of an intellectual/artist who segues between cynicism and idealism. He has exhibited both nationally and internationally, including Unreachable Blooming, IT Park, Taipei, Taiwan (2007); Manjusaka, Tina Keng Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan (2010); Poppy, Golden Lotus, Dopamine, Tina Keng Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan (2012); Busan Biennale, Busan, Korea (2008); Aesthetic Jam — Satellite Project Taipei Biennial 2014, Taipei Fine Art Museum, Taipei, Taiwan (2014); as well as at international art fairs in Japan, Italy, UK, Singapore, and China.
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