Hong Hao – “Elegant Gathering”
Gallery April 19th – June 2nd 2007
Two genial Chinese women greet guests at the entrance of the gallery and adorn them with laminated VIP style invitations on long red thread necklaces before nodding them in the door. Inside a casual crowd of smartly dressed men and women linger in small groups around the artwork. Their mild chatter punctuated with fleeting laughter fills the space of the windowless fourth floor gallery. The scene is a global amalgamation of tongues. This is Hong Hao’s opening, by all accounts an elegant gathering.
Elegant Gathering, Hong Hao’s Opening is the artist’s second solo exhibition at Chambers Gallery since 2004. Cultivating the exploratory theme of the ritual behind an art opening for nearly three years he’s produced something beyond wall hangings; he’s captured a moment and deposited it around your neck. Neither the accidental visitor nor the art aficionado can immediately realize the gravitas of the event, or their role within it.
The focal pieces of the exhibition are large hand scrolls depicting ancient scenes of elegant gatherings in the traditional style of ink on paper made contemporary with digitally infused images of current art world figures. Modern paraphernalia such as cigarette packs, coffee mugs, water bottles, wine glasses, and bottles of sake, dot the landscape alongside their ancient counterparts.
These pieces, all uniformly titled Elegant Gathering, present the familiar and seeming inexhaustible juxtaposition of east meets west and old meets new, but in this context they form a type of post-modern installation in which the art viewers comprise the unwitting final element that elevates the artworks to their decisive contextual moment: the ritual opening night.
This ceremony’s realization is a surreal experience similar to observing Thomas Struth’s photographs of museum goers. At some point everyone is checking to see if there is anyone identifiable in the picture, and on the opening night of Hao’s exhibition more than one person found themselves literally embedded in the art. Helen Chen, assistant director at Chambers Fine Art, explained that some of the footage used in the scrolls was taken at previous openings at Chambers and various Chambers’ related after-parties. She nodded towards a cameraman who was quietly documenting the event—collecting potential raw material—for Hao who was too ill to attend his opening.
The classy VIP invitations handed out at the door on opening night now adorn the wall as an extension of Hong Hao’s Elegant Gathering. The concept of an invitation as validation has fascinated the artist for years. Once he mailed all his artist friends mock invitations to participate in Documenta X, a highly regarded German art exhibition. If Hao’s invitations do anything, they endorse the ritualized opening night as a significant event
In a series of digitally composed panoramic photographs, Hao offers an additional perspective on the recent openings of Xiaodong and Fang Lijun in
Beijing in October 2006. These photographs, like the scrolls, are more of a composition of individual elements than a true image. They have a deceptively authentic look, which—like the mock invitations—adds to the illusion of the moment and distorts the way we consider history, as well as the clarity of memory.
Hong Hao’s Opening: Elegant Gathering proves Hao to be a sharp wit on the international art scene, playfully chronicling history to make piquant art for a global audience.
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Charlie Schultz was born in 1982 and raised on an equestrian farm in
central Pennsylvania. He graduated from Bard College in 2005 and
currently lives and works in New York City.