Artists confront their Chineseness
Friendship in Art: Fou Lei and Huang Binhong
by Claire Roberts
Hong Kong University Press, $59.95 hb, 247 pp, 9789888028405
This fascinating book tells of the friendship between two Chinese artists: the traditional brush painter Huang Binhong (1865–1955) and the Chinese writer, critic, and translator Fou Lei (1908–66). While the long tail of Modernism swept through the twentieth century, decelerating only during the two world wars, and following reductive tendencies based on the early work of either Picasso or Duchamp, cultural workers in China had to deal with the end of the old imperial order, foreign invasion, the rise of communism, and the imposition of socialist realism, quickly followed by the decade-long Cultural Revolution. Then came Tiananmen Square and its twenty-year aftermath of commercial openness and democratic closure. These were dangerous times, and just as Walter Benjamin in the West committed suicide in the shadow of the rise of totalitarianism in Europe, so too did Fou Lei in 1966, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.