MU art exhibition shows East-West exchange

Saturday, August 9, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:15 p.m. CDT, Sunday, August 10, 2014
East-West Dialogues features artwork from four visiting Chinese scholars and MU professors. The show, which runs until Friday, is the culmination of a semester-long exchange for the Chinese professors.

*CORRECTION: A mixed-media drawing by Mark Langeneckert included in the East-West exhibition is called "HA." An earlier version of this article confused the title with an element of the artwork.

COLUMBIA — At every turn, an art exhibit at the MU Craft Studio captures the exchange of ideas between Eastern and Western art. In some cases, a single piece has elements of both; in others, the dialogue is between the artworks.

On one wall, for example, is a mixed-media drawing of a woman with a black ponytail looking into the distance. English letters cover her naked bust; colorful Korean letters float around her. The drawing, called "HA," is by Mark Langeneckert, an MU assistant teaching professor of art.

Across the room are a quartet of oil paintings of multicolored rectangles — in purples, whites, yellows, pinks and blues. The four "Door" series mono prints are by Zhonghua Gao, an associate professor from Jiangsu Normal University in China. 

"East-West Dialogues: Paintings by Chinese Visiting Scholars & Their Hosting Art Professors," on view through Friday, is the culmination of a semesters-long visit by four Chinese art scholars and the exchange and interaction between the Chinese artists and MU art professors, said Lampo Leong, an MU art professor.

The visit is part of a larger Exchange Visitor Program for international visiting scholars at MU and other schools, according to information from the International Center on campus.

Leong began coordinating the program for the art department after lecturing at universities in China. During his lectures, he introduced American art education, including its conceptual, analytical and critical-thinking approaches, as well as multimedia and problem-based research. This drew lots of attention from Chinese art professors and students, some of whom wanted to come to the U.S. to observe and experience Western art and art education.

Leong said in recent years, there have been more art scholars from other countries, especially China, coming to MU — usually just one person staying for a few months at a time. In fall 2013, however, four art professors from China arrived.

This encouraged Leong to organize the exhibition to showcase what the Chinese scholars and MU art professors got from the exchange and to create a concluding experience for all of the people involved.

"The exhibition and the visiting scholars program are ways to demonstrate the dialogue between East and West and to encourage people from both countries to learn and experience other countries' culture and art," Leong said. "Art has long been recognized as one of the best ways for people to break down boundaries and create understanding between cultures."

During their time in the United States, the scholars attended MU art professors' classes, lectures and graduate seminars and collaborated with Leong on research grants, publications and creative and artistic projects. They also visited art museums across the country, including in New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City.

Ruiqin Wang, an associate professor of art from Jiangsu Normal University, and Zhonghua Gao both wanted to learn more about oil painting in the United States, a painting medium mainly used in the West. Chinese brush painting usually uses water-based ink and watercolor as the mediums, Leong said.

Not only were the scholars curious about Western art techniques and concepts, they also were fascinated by the different approach of teaching art in the West.

"In Chinese art education, hands-on experience is most important. For example, in a painting class, 90 percent of the class time consists of actually doing the paintings," Leong said. "But in the United States, we spend only 50 percent of our class time actually doing painting, and the other 50 percent includes discussing art and challenging students to think of art conceptually."

Langeneckert, whose classes the scholars visited, said that despite the language barrier between him and the scholars, all exchanges they had were positive.

"We were in a drawing class and during a break they came up to my drawing," Langeneckert said. "The medium I was using was a powdered graphite mixed with lighter fluid. They have never seen that before."

Langeneckert said that in his portrait "HA," he is depicting the sometimes difficult communications between himself and his wife, who is Korean. The woman adorned with English letters represents him, he said, and the Korean letters on the outside represent his wife talking to him.

During a reception Tuesday for the exhibition, Langeneckert observed that the three paintings in Wang's "Blessing" use delicate watercolors on rice paper. He said later that he took away another way to use watercolor — on rice paper, as Wang did.

"I would be interested to try to use watercolor on rice paper," he said.

Wang's "Blessing" series is in the typical style of Chinese ink painting. The focal points are images of hands holding flowers on backgrounds of red, gray or gold.

Leong's mixed-media acrylic paintings on canvas in the show are a fusion of Western and Asian elements. "The Gathering of Nebulae II" and "Antiphony I" synthesize the abstract quality of wild cursive Chinese calligraphy with imagery representing powerful energy from nature and outer space, which could be a symbol of scientific investigation and exploration in the West.

"I want to bring new ideas to the old form of abstract expressionism painting by using a post-modern approach and incorporating new elements from the East," Leong said. "The way I create art is based on who I am, my education and life experience from both China and the United States."

The gallery is in the basement of Memorial Union South. Starting Monday, hours are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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