Please see Chinese translation of this article, below. Pan Gongkai came towards me and we hugged. It was the third week of September and he was minutes away from retiring from his job as the President of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. (China's finest art school.) This did not prevent him from spending time discussing the future of art schools and in particular, the future of the Fine Arts in an era when the Humanities as a whole are being relegated to secondary status in many countries.
Pan Gongkai's work sits at the boundaries of architecture, design, traditional ink painting and a profound concern for the future of art and design education and pedagogy. He is as concerned with contemporary innovations as he is with the history of Chinese art. His work reflects a multi-disciplinary approach, always conscious and deeply aware of the need for craft and for depth in the disciplines he chooses to work in.
Ten days later he was in Seattle where I went to participate in a day-long symposium on his work. The symposium was organized by Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, the Director of the Frye Museum in Seattle. The day was wonderful as scholars and practitioners talked about Pan Gongkai's work in reverential words, justifiably, because he is not only a major artist in China but such an important contributor to the art scene internationally.
During the course of the day, I came up with five descriptive categories that in a quite personal way, explains the art that Pan Gongkai creates: The time of preparation/research; The time of making; The time of viewing; The time of reflection; The time of memory.
These five elements speak to the intense self-consciousness of Pan Gonkai's approach. He deals with the intersections of time (scrolls) and viewer position. He invokes memory, while also drafting an approach to history. His work is self-conscious without being pedantic. It was this point, made by Professor Joseph Tanke which resonated for me: "Art in China, especially ink painting was never thought of as separate from life but rather as a conduit of life's energy from the artist to the viewer." Western art has always cultivated the separation of the viewer from the activities of creation. Tanke's comment suggests that creativity is a part of all of us. And, this fits with the extraordinary personality of Pan Gongkai who is not only humble but deeply concerned for the value that the viewer can bring to the art he creates.
At the symposium, I said: "To me the performative core of Gongkai's work links him to the cinema both aesthetically and structurally. His art is the embodied expression of movement in action, pieces that don't end at the boundaries of a frame or the walls of a room."
The Frye will have Pan Gongkai's work up until the third week of January.
Here is the Chinese translation of this essay. Many thanks to XuJia who is the Director of the Department for International Cooperation at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, for doing this.
Ron Burnett 专栏
10.06.2014 Ron Burnett
十天之后，我们在西雅图相会，我到此参加为期一日的潘公凯作品研讨会。研讨会由西雅图弗莱美术馆馆长乔-安（Jo-Anne Brinie Danzker）组织。与会的学者与行家都以虔敬之辞热诚讨论潘公凯的作品，这些虔敬热诚，不仅因为他是中国的重要艺术家，更因为他为国际艺术界做出了如此重大的贡献。