The Nationalgalerie at the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin is proud to present the first solo exhibition by the Chinese artist Qiu Shihua ever to go on show in a European museum. A selection of works, spanning from his early paintings from the seventies up to his most recent canvases, are emblematic of Qiu Shihua’s overall oeuvre. As such, the exhibition offers a representative overview of the creative output of an artist whose work undoubtedly ranks as one of the most outstanding artistic achievements in contemporary art.
At first glance, Qiu Shihua’s works appear as monochrome, almost completely white canvases. However, on closer inspection, expansive landscapes emerge from their painterly surfaces, which, depending on the way you look at them, gradually blossom with detail, or recede again from view. The complex visibility of the images can only be truly grasped through closer scrutiny. Beyond the mere act of seeing, an appreciation of these canvases requires the ‘thinking eye’, a mode of seeing consistently demanded by relatively few contemporary artists working today.
With the white landscapes the artist questions the concept of visibility in painting. The artist has his motifs appear and disappear, as they lie captured in and under thin, white layers of paint and translucent glazes. The way Qiu repeatedly revisits the ‘white landscape’ as a picture type and his tireless occupation with the nuances of its changeability are signs of Taoist thinking and a Taoist approach to work. This outlook is characterized by the process of repetition, whereby presence and absence, the full and the void, depiction and withdrawal are brought into constant interplay with each other. The depiction of a landscape forms one pole in this process, while the simultaneous effacement of the same forms the other. Seeing becomes an interplay of perception. In this, associations can be drawn with the shan shui (or ‘mountain-water’) tradition of Chinese painting, which required similar modes of seeing in a shifting process between the opposite poles of emptiness and fullness of the depicted subject.