‘Zhu Wei: Utopia’

by C.B. Liddell

Special To The Japan Times

Tobin Ohashi Gallery
Closes June 5

The status of contemporary Chinese art often seems driven by the notion that China is projected to overtake America as the world’s leading economy and superpower sometime in the future, combined with the rather naive hope that artistic freedoms will somehow spill over into wider political freedoms.

The inherent qualities of the art seem somehow secondary in this grand socio-economic-artistic narrative. That Chinese art has accrued such a political patina is enough reason to be wary of it, but among all the buzz and chatter of a preternaturally active art scene, it is still possible to find art that sidesteps the hype and exists on its own terms as the culmination of authentic artistic processes.

The color ink wash paintings of Zhu Wei are a case in point. Painted with a traditional Chinese painting technique, these have a delicate, old-fashioned charm; while their contemporary subject matter avoids kitschy evocations of the past. The individualism and character of the artist is also strongly present in the distinctive way he has managed to stylize these modern motifs — mainly slightly satirical closeups of human figures — to fit this time-honored medium.

Given the nature of his art, it is also appropriate that Zhu Wei has opted to make his Tokyo solo debut with a small, low-key show at the Tobin Ohashi Gallery. The ironically titled “Utopia” show will present four specially prepared paintings along with eight prints.

This intimate outing represents quite a contrast to the loudly-trumpeted but hugely disappointing “Ai Weiwei — According to What?” at the Mori Art Museum, which welcomed China’s most renowned contemporary artist to Tokyo a couple of years ago — especially as Zhu Wei is by far the more palatable artist.

Tobin Ohashi Gallery is in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, nearest station Kodenma-cho (Hibiya Line); open Wed.-Sat. 1 p.m.-7 p.m., Sun. 1 p.m.-6 p.m., closed Mon, Tue; admission free. For more information, visit www.tobinohashi.com