Night Paintings celebrates a Chinese artist’s exhibition in London

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Kang Haitao is one of the most important Chinese artists born in the 70s – a generation much admired inside the country but only now recognized outside.

This London exhibition is an abridged version of a recent acclaimed retrospective at the Mark Rothko Art Center on the Latvian-Russian border, where Rothko was born and to which Rothko’s children lent six major paintings.

The title of this exhibition is a phrase taken from the poem “Ode to a nightingale” by the English poet John Keats

‘Tender is the Night’ brings together a number of Kang Haitao’s famous night paintings. The artist himself said, “I think the condition of life is, or rather
should be, like walking in the dark of night… The outer world is full of temptations, materialistic temptations, which distract us – analogous to walking during the day. Live life as if you were walking at night”.

KANG Haitao Nocturne, 2018 Acrylic on cardboard

If spirituality, simplicity, interiority and nature are among the imperatives of our time, then Kang Haitao’s work meets our needs.

As critic Bao Dong puts it in the catalog, “Even seen from just a few steps away, Kang Haitao’s landscape still creates a sense of distance, as if the world in his canvas is somewhere far away.”

The title of this exhibition is a phrase taken from the poem “Ode to a Nightingale” by English poet John Keats. In Keats’s poem there is an unbearable and insoluble tension between everyday life where “but to think is to be sorrowful” and the night song of the “immortal bird”, the nightingale, which beckons towards a life beyond suffering. and beyond “death”.

There is also a tension at the heart of Kang Haitao’s work – a longing for a world beyond the everyday, but, paradoxically, the lexicon used to explore this spiritual world is largely in his earlier paintings the world of daily provincial life: old factories, old schools, walls, isolated trees. More recently the lexicon of paintings has changed and there is now a complex play between inside and outside, between light and shadow, substance and reflection and the color palette is higher.

Not only Kang Haitao’s life, but also his work is strongly shaped by Buddhism – the sense that ultimately the visible world is illusory; its sources are countless, from Giacometti and French Catholic theorist Maurice Blanchot to Chinese masters such as Feng Zikai and Gong Xian.

Renowned Chinese filmmaker Feng Xiaogang rightly said of Kang Haitao’s night paintings that they “emanate a familiar and intimate feeling while carrying an eerie and fantastical undertone.”

The artist’s work has been shown not only across China but also in Europe and the United States and is part of the collections of major museums, including the Long Museum in Shanghai belonging to the important collector Wang Wei, the Minsheng Shanghai Art Museum and the Mark Rothko Art Center. His individual stand at the last Art Basel Hong Kong was selected as one of the highlights of the fair by ArtAsiaPacific.
He was born in 1976 to teaching parents, in a village outside the southwestern city of Chongqing, which became the capital of Nationalist China during World War II. The year of birth of Kang Haitao is also the year of the death of Mao Zedong and the beginning of the opening of China, both economically and culturally. He still lives near his birthplace.

The exhibition is curated by Enrica Costamagna and Philip Dodd whose work between China and the UK won them a Hurun Report Award in 2019. They have curated numerous exhibitions in China – from Sean Scully to Hsiao Chin.

Philip Dodd was also named one of the 100 Global Innovators by Art&Auction and is one of the curators of this year’s Guangzhou Triennale. He is a former director of the ICA.

The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive fully illustrated catalog including an interview with the artist by the curators, an essay by award-winning Chinese critic Bao Dong – and a foreword by Feng Xiaogang.

Top photo: KANG Haitao Memory of Light, 2016-2017 Acrylic on cardboard

Kang Haitao is represented by PIFO GALLERY, Beijing.

For a report on the Mark Rothko Art Center exhibition, see: https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2022/07/29/art-in-the-shadow-of-war-curating-a-show-at -latvias- center-art-mark-rothko

‘TENDER IS THE NIGHT: THE ART OF KANG HAITAO’ CROMWELL PLACE, GALLERY 5, LONDON, SW7 2TH OCTOBER 26 – NOVEMBER 6, 2022

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