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Who Is He? A Geng Jianyi Retrospective
Solo Exhibition UCCA, Beijing
Date: 03.18, 2023 - 06.11, 2023

Artists: GENG Jianyi 耿建翌

Curator: Karen Smith & Yang Zhenzhong
Special Consultant: Zhang Peili

Throughout his career, Geng Jianyi (1962-2017) pushed boundaries through constant experimentation. One of the most important figures to emerge from the ’85 New Wave movement, he went on to pose fundamental questions about the nature and practice of art: How to see? How to justify? How to regulate? How to read? How to visualize? How to recover? In works which remain innovative and inspiring to this day, he redefined and reconceived the relationships between different forms of media and content. The titular question “Who is He?” comes from an important 1994 piece of the same name, when the artist instinctively asked it about a stranger who called at his home in his absence. Geng then created a set of texts, drawings, and photographs based on specific clues provided by neighbors about the appearance of that mysterious “he.” This work introduces a number of threads that run throughout Geng’s art, including the exploration of individual identity, reflection on the everyday, and the use of investigation as a methodology.

Surveying the breadth of his career with key works and archival materials, “Who is He?” likewise aims to answer the viewer’s question, “Who is Geng Jianyi?” It reexamines his practice through themes including books, darkness, new media, paper pulp, and the concept of “50 percent,” Geng’s idea that half of the work of a given piece of art is done by the artist, and the other half by the viewer. Having debuted at the Power Station of Art in Shanghai in 2022, the exhibition now brings around 90 of Geng’s works to Beijing audiences, many for the first time, and continues UCCA’s ongoing emphasis on the history of contemporary art in China. Co-organized by the Power Station of Art and UCCA, “Who is He? A Geng Jianyi Retrospective” is curated by Karen Smith and Yang Zhenzhong, with Zhang Peili as special consultant.

About the Artist

Geng Jianyi (1962-2017) was born in Zhengzhou, Henan province, and graduated from the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, Oil Painting Department in 1985. After settling in Hangzhou, he worked at Zhejiang Sci-Tech University and the China Academy of Art. As an important figure of the ’85 New Wave, Geng Jianyi became widely known from the mid-1980s. In 1986 he joined the avant-garde art community “Pond Society,” and he established the “Sneeze” work group and the “ImageLab” in 2008 and 2010, respectively, which developed experimental art projects like “Lunar Eclipse” and “Classroom.” Through media and formats such as performance, basic materials, installation, and collages, Geng observed and asked questions about society and our surroundings, as well as initiated discussions on themes like personal expression and identity. Geng consciously strove to maintain a distance between himself and the world, and to take an attitude of disengagement when observing, to contemplate in this detached manner the rules, instruments, or various components behind the automatic operation of society. Geng attached great importance to building a relationship between the audience and his artworks. In some of his works, he tried to control the distance between viewer and art, so as to engage or help solve the barrier of communication between the two. By using certain symbols, he would challenge and test the audience’s awareness.

His major solo exhibitions include the 57th Venice Biennale (2017); “Stubborn Image” (OCAT Shanghai, 2016); “East to the Bridge” (OCAT Shenzhen, 2015); “Wu Zhi, Geng Jianyi Works 1985-2008” (Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai, 2012); and “Geng Jianyi, Excessive Transition” (ShanghART Beijing, 2008); Important group exhibition include the Gwangju Biennale (2014); “’85 New Wave: The Birth of Chinese Contemporary Art,” (UCCA, Beijing, 2007); the 1st Guangzhou Triennial (Guangdong Museum of Art, 2002); “Another Long March: Chinese Conceptual Art in the Nineties” (Chassé Kazerne, Breda, the Netherlands, 1997); the 45th Venice Biennale (1993); “China Avantgarde” (Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 1993); “China/Avant-Garde Art Exhibition” (National Art Museum of China, Beijing, 1989).

Show More


Who Is He? A Geng Jianyi Retrospective | UCCA, Beijing
不保留骨灰、5年内不做展,这位前卫艺术家是谁?| 时尚芭莎艺术
“ 妙人” 耿建翌 : 不妥协、不做作、不煽情 | 新周刊

Works Exhibited :

Related Exhibitions:
Who Is He? Retrospective of Geng Jianyi's Works 11.10, 2022 -02.12, 2023


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