Five years ago the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma) began a concerted effort to focus on Chinese contemporary art, both in its collecting and its curating. The result has been several major exhibitions including The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China (2019), Ink Dreams: Selections from the Fondation INK Collection (2021) and, most recently, Legacies of Exchange: Chinese Contemporary Art from the Yuz Foundation (until 13 March). Today, in the final week of Legacies, the museum announced that seven works now on view in the exhibition have been gifted to Lacma by Budi Tek and the Yuz Foundation. Tek is one of the world’s leading collectors of Chinese contemporary art and founder of the Yuz Museum in Shanghai.
The Legacies exhibition is part of an ongoing collaboration between Lacma and the Yuz Foundation that Tek announced in 2018. However, the joint foundation that was to be created as part of the partnership to preserve Tek's collection has not yet been established. This is the collector's first transfer of works to the museum.
“Artists in this donation are some of the most well known in China and in the world,” says Susanna Ferrell, Lacma’s associate curator of Chinese art. “They fill some of the gaps in our collection.”
The gifted works are Qiu Anxiong’s sculptural installation The Doubter (2010), three works from Shi Jinsong’s series Blade (2003), Yu Youhan’s painting Mao in New York (1995), Zhou Tiehai’s painting Venus and Cupid (2006) and Ai Weiwei’s installation Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads (2011). Except for Ai, all of the artists are new to Lacma's permanent collection.
Zodiac Heads is an internationally celebrated piece, by arguably the best-known Chinese artist today. Various editions have travelled the world, exhibited in London, Vienna, New York, Mexico City and elsewhere, including the Lacma courtyard in 2011-12. It is made up of 12 animal heads, each a creature from the Chinese zodiac, perched on columns in the form of water spouts and often installed in a circle since they refer to the sculptures which surrounded a fountain in Yuanmingyuan, the Chinese imperial garden destroyed by European soldiers during the second Opium War of 1860.
Like all the artwork in Legacies, Ai's Zodiac Heads references Chinese culture and China’s uneasy relationship with the West, which was partly shaped by the latter's brutal demands for unfettered trade access and other concessions. In Qiu's The Doubter, a chimpanzee (an artificial one) slumps dead atop a toilet within a jail-like cage—it has killed itself, presumably after reading the Chinese-language versions of the bible and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species that lay at its feet, beside a gun. The work is a sly reference to Jacques-Louis David painting The Death of Marat (1793) in particular and to Western influences and the end of revolutionary idealism in a larger sense.
“The chimpanzee is a stand-in for humanity,” says Ferrell. “[The artist] is looking back at his education as a child growing up during the Cultural Revolution, and reflecting upon how the celebration of revolution is something he looks back at through a critical lens.”
- Legacies of Exchange: Chinese Contemporary Art from the Yuz Foundation, until 13 March, Los Angeles County Museum of Art