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Pioneering artist holds belated first solo exhibition
By Wang Jie

INNOVATOR Geng Jianyi should rank higher in China's contemporary art scene, since his paintings and other creations of the 1980s and 1990s have been widely imitated.

He has never stopped exploring the world through different media.

Geng's first - and maybe his last (he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer) - solo exhibition featuring more than 100 works created from 1985 to 2008 is underway at the Minsheng Art Museum.

The show features early oil paintings, experimental works on photo paper from the late 1990s to 2000s and installation pieces.

Born in 1962 in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, Geng graduated from the oil painting department at the National Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou in 1985.

"After the turmoil during the 'cultural revolution' (1966-1976), our soul is infused with both shadow and passion," Geng says.

Since 1986, the artist started to create a series of exaggerated laughing faces. These hairless, earless, neckless faces appear to be masks. At the time they were interpreted as reflecting awkward social reality.

"Sometimes history is quite personal and not shared by everyone. For example, if you want to learn the period of history through me, then it is chaotic and incomplete," he says. "Those who write history have to fill in the blank pages. Actually, the incomplete part plus imagination become the history."

Geng works in different media. Besides canvas, he experiments extensively in the darkroom but he doesn't "take" and "develop" photos.

For example, the work titled "Ten Days in Vancouver" is a playful piece in his darkroom series involving a trip from Shanghai to Vancouver.

Based on the itinerary, Geng prepared 10 pieces of photographic paper, sealed them in envelopes and carried them on his journey. On the day he arrived, he opened one envelope and then opened the rest at a time on each day until he departed. Because of different exposures, different colors progress through the series.

The installation titled "Useless" was created in 2004. Three days before the opening of the exhibition, Geng went to the exhibition hall with nothing except his phone book, some name cards and his phone. He spent the next two days calling friends and acquaintances in the Shanghai art community, asking them to deliver castoffs, unwanted items and debris to the hall. One the third day, he had a mountain of items that showed a glimpse of the art community.

In his photo series "The Window of the World," he photographs only two subjects over and over - a framed landscape painting and a bottle without a cap. The series conveys a sense of melancholy and helplessness.

"Some people ask why I took these photos," Geng says. "I don't have a clear answer, maybe the reason is the ambience."

There's a similar feeling in the work titled "Holy Border," which features part of a threadbare book eaten by book lice.

"I am enamored with the change in the edges of the paper," he says. "For me, art is not the most important thing in my life, but a medium through which I uncover the world through different and more intricate angles."

Date: Through October 12 (closed on Mondays), 10am-6pm

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