From October 31, 2014, through February 16, 2015, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presents Wang Jianwei: Time Temple, an immersive exhibition of new work by the Beijing-based artist and his first solo museum exhibition in North America. Wang is recognized within China for his bold conceptual practice and vital contributions to the avant-garde and experimental art movements of the reform era that spans the early 1980s to the present day. Informed by critical theory and philosophy, his work links formal concerns about art making and process with inquiries into contemporary society and the experience of time. Time Temple is the first in a series of three commission-based exhibitions through The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative at the Guggenheim Museum, which explores key ideas and core artists shaping contemporary art and discourse from China, within a global context. As a part of the initiative, the commissioned works will enter the Guggenheim’s permanent collection as The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Collection.

The exhibition is organized by Thomas J. Berghuis, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Curator of Chinese Art, as part of the Guggenheim Museum’s Asian Art Initiative, which is under the direction of Alexandra Munroe, Samsung Senior Curator, Asian Art. Stephanie Kwai, Curatorial Assistant, Asian Art, has provided curatorial support.

Wang Jianwei: Time Temple is made possible by The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation.

About the Exhibition

Viewing art making as a continuous rehearsal, Wang Jianwei uses a process-based practice that resists interpretation and alternates between chance and iteration, fiction and reality. Theater is the basis for his work in painting, sculpture, installation, photography, video, and time-based performance. Steeped in history and social memory, Wang’s work is conceptually driven while grounded in the reality of everyday life in China today. The exhibition title, Time Temple, alludes to one of the artist’s central concerns, the question of how one thinks of and experiences time. For Wang, time is both abstract and real, finite and potential, still and moving. It implies a state of uncertainty that can be linked to his nuanced observation of contemporary Chinese society and resistance to absolute ideologies. The exhibition comprises three components: an installation of painting and sculpture, a film, and a live performance. Individually and collectively, these parts explore ambiguity and potential, express time and movement, and consider the ideas of metamorphosis and rehearsal through physical forms.

The installation features a series of large-scale paintings and sculptures that exemplify the artist’s practice of working across media—transposing one form into another and causing the object to transcend a single perspective. Filling an entire wall of the Tower Level 2 gallery is a monumental four-panel painting that is based on an altered set of stills from one of the artist’s videos. It is mounted in four frames of varying depth that emphasize the idea of the painting as a staged event much like theater; when viewed, this variation and repetition of content suggests both movement and the passage of time. Each panel contains elements of superimposed abstraction, playing with perception and inviting multiple interpretations. The alleged realism of this work is countered by a second, abstract painting of what appears to be an enlarged object under a microscope, showing the abstraction of scientific forms. Taken together, the paintings challenge the viewer to consider multiple concepts of the painted medium outside of traditional frameworks of perspective and into time-based viewing processes. As the curator explains, the artist is commenting on how every truth undercuts another truth, thus rendering the distinction between realism and abstraction obsolete. As the artist states, “it is futile to think about painting using traditional terms, such as style and color, but more important to think about painting as an interpretation of time.” Complementing the paintings are five monumental abstract sculptures, which the artist produced through a laborious and repetitive process of cutting, joining, and sculpting many layers of wood with the addition of metal, rubber, and paint to accentuate the forms. Viewing the time of production as a rehearsal, Wang worked without a plan for how the sculptures would ultimately appear, using only a fluid daily response to the moving angles, forms, lines, and planes made the day before. Akin to the paintings, as the viewer moves around each sculpture, the forms change and shift, evoking moments in time and revealing the process of their production.

Given the commission-based nature of the project, the film and performance are being produced by the artist at the time of writing. Further details on both components will be announced in advance of the exhibition opening. The film, The Morning Time Disappeared, will be screened in the Guggenheim’s New Media Theater throughout the duration of the exhibition. Inspired by Franz Kafka’s novella Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis, 1915), the film explores both the transformation of contemporary China and the multiple ways of experiencing time and its disappearance. The live performance, Spiral Ramp Library, focuses on the gathering and circulation of people and ideas within the museum space. The artist views theater and the concept of an event as strategies to open up interaction and conversation in what he calls a “communal moment of the staged event.” Wang sees the role of the contemporary art museum as a vehicle to not only create such spaces but also call its visitors to action by allowing them to choose how to engage. According to Wang, the work takes its inspiration from American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for the Guggenheim Museum, Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges’s short story “La Biblioteca de Babel” (“The Library of Babel,” 1941), and notions of time and possibility. The two-part event is scheduled to take place in the museum during the course of the exhibition. The first part is a live performance, slated to involve a number of unscripted orators, each simultaneously addressing one of ten topics with an audience of listeners. The ten subjects proposed are disappearance, Gnosticism, library, map, universe, climate, Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Guggenheim. Using his characteristic process of an evolving rehearsal, the artist will use recordings of the improvised conversations as a foundation for the script of the second theater performance, which will be performed during the final weeks of the exhibition.

Wang Jianwei is considered one of the leading artists of the reform-era avant-garde and experimental art movements in China. Wang is also recognized as an influential thinker and cultural catalyst in China for his writings and contributions to the public discourse on contemporary Chinese art and culture. Born in 1958 in Sichuan Province (Western China), Wang pursued graduate studies at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now China Academy of Art) in Hangzhou. Beginning in the early 1990s, Wang became a pioneer of video and installation art in China, while developing a singular practice invested in increasingly elaborate multimedia productions.

Wang has had two recent solo exhibitions in Beijing: Yellow Signal, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (2011), and . . . the event matured, accomplished in sight of all non-existent human outcomes, Long March Space (2013). Wang’s work has been featured in several group exhibitions, including Gwangju Biennial (1995); documenta X (1997); São Paulo Biennial (2002); Venice Biennale (2003); How Latitudes Become Form: Art in a Global Age, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2003, traveling to the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo per L’Arte, Turin [2003], and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston [2004]); Past in Reverse, Contemporary Art of East Asia, San Diego Museum of Art (2004–05, traveling to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City [2005], and Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire [2006]); Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China, International Center of Photography and Asia Society, New York (2004), and Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago (2004–05, traveling to the Seattle Art Museum [2005]; Victoria and Albert Museum, London [2005–06]; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin [2006]; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California [2006]; and Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina [2006–07]); and The Wall: Reshaping Chinese Contemporary Art, Millennium Art Museum (now Beijing World Art Museum), Beijing (2005), Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, and University of Buffalo Art Gallery (2005–06).