Liao Fei, A Straight Line Extended, 2015, Marble, Steel Plate, Concrete Base, 275 × 70 × 160 cm.
“Silent Thunder” is a concentrated presentation of an under-explored thread in Chinese contemporary art—the connection between Buddhism and contemporary art, and the ways in which it departs from classical notions of Buddhist art. “Buddhist art” as a field of study was first established by Okakura Tenshin and Ernest Fenollosa at the beginning of the twentieth century, and since its introduction has limited how we imagine possible relationships between Buddhism and visual culture. When the two scholars visited Horyu-ji Temple to uncover a hidden Buddha (hibutsu) for art historical research, only to be rebuffed by the attendant monks, it became clear that religious and academic communities held radically different beliefs regarding the category of objects known as art. Later, D.T. Suzuki’s highly individualized interpretation of Chan Buddhism spread throughout the Western world, influencing a generation of post-war artists and intellectuals like John Cage, Arthur Danto, and Robert Rauschenberg, before being reintroduced to another generation of practitioners in East Asia. This long history compels us to reevaluate the complex, urgent question of just what Buddhist art is and can be, taking into consideration lineages East and West, pre-modern and modern. With this in mind, the exhibition “Silent Thunder” brings together the artists Chen Lizhu, Chu Bingchao, Liao Fei, and Shao Yi, each with a different relationship to Buddhism in their personal and artistic lives. In preparation for the show, the artists each selected a different Chan Buddhist text from the Tang or Song dynasty as the starting point for a newly commissioned work, attempting to present new relationships between Medieval religious texts and contemporary visual culture. The exhibition also explores how Chinese artists refine and translate different modes of thought and belief, seeking out new discursive possibilities between Buddhism and contemporary art. “Silent Thunder” is curated by UCCA Assistant Curator Neil Zhang.