Rainbow Stone
Xu Lei

2013. Color on silk. 267×562cm.

Echo Wall
Xu Lei

2012. Color on silk. 89×200cm.

As A Shadow
Xu Lei

2011. Color on paper. 65×211cm.

Night Watcher
Xu Lei

2011. Color on paper. 65×63cm.

Day in Night
Xu Lei

2011. Color on paper. 65×112cm.

As Time Goes By
Xu Lei

2009. Color on paper. 90 x 172cm.

Dark No. 2
Xu Lei

2003. Color on paper. 90×65cm.

Veneer of the World-Xu Lei

Exhibition dates: Oct 20 – Oct 29, 2013

Address: 2nd floor exhibition hall, Building No.1, Today Art Museum, No.32 Baiziwan Rd , Chaoyang District, Beijing, China

Organizers: Chinese National Academy of Arts, Today Art Museum

Co-organizer: Hive Center for Contemporary Art

Curator: Zhu Zhu

Artist: Xue Lei


The exhibition “Veneer of the World—Xu Lei” will be held at Today Art Museum in Beijing from October 20 to 29, 2013. This is the first major exhibition of Xu Lei’s works in Beijing, and includes his most representative paintings from 1995 to 2013. The exhibition is jointly organized by the Chinese National Academy of Arts and Today Art Museum, with organizational support provided by the Hive Center for Contemporary Art. The Nature Conservancy is the exhibition’s charitable partner, and further support is provided by Society Generale (China) and Aussino Cellars. The exhibition has been curated by famous art critic Zhu Zhu, and the exhibition space and layout designed by famous international architect Steve Leung.


Xu Lei (b. 1963 in Nantong, Jiangsu Province) studied Chinese painting the Nanjing Art Academy, and currently works at the Chinese National Academy of Arts. In the 1980s, he took part in the avant-garde movement known as the 85 New Wave, and was featured in the historic “China / Avant-Garde Exhibition” of 1989. After a period of modernist conceptual practice, he began in the 1990s to follow different path from that of other contemporary artists, a path of reestablishing the values of Chinese traditional aesthetics atop the viewpoints of modernity, using profound metaphors from philosophy and literature as well as a rich visual painting experience to create a unique individual iconology that fuses East and West, ancient and modern.


“Veneer of the World—Xu Lei” begins with Xu Lei’s recent works since 2012. The impressive scale of Gossamer represents not only Xu Lei’s intelligent application of rhetorical techniques to reshape the world, it is also the largest silk painting in history. Meanwhile, when compared to his past works, the Rainbow Stone and Qi and Bone series highlight an awareness of a vast, tranquil space. The precise language, dialectical symbolism and refined subject matter are all markers of a new breakthrough in the view of nature found in traditional Chinese painting. After these new artworks with their powerful implications for future value, the exhibition begins to shift backwards in time, presenting the developmental trajectories of every period in Xu Lei’s art since the 1990s. These works are divided into the categories “Mirror Image”, “Blue-Green”, “Maps”, “Empty Words”, “Empty City”, “Colors”, “Worldviews” and “Curtain,” gradually reconstructing the path of this painter’s maturation. The elegance of these 53 artworks illuminates the mysterious and magical poetic traits of the painter who deftly weaves rigorous thinking, refined imagery, dramatic layouts and subtle allusions into individualized rhetorical signs. The painter’s emphasis on privacy and distance allude to the use of an aesthetic spirit to create a conscious attitude in resistance to the turmoil of the myriad ideologies of reality.

Not only are the exhibited artworks marked by nostalgic visuals and forward-thinking concepts, they also exude a refined and weighty style, embodying the artist’s rich intellectual background. Xu Lei has effected a creative fusion between Song dynasty painting traditions and the principles of Western medieval painting, while also absorbing the conceptual framework of such modernist artists as Marcel Duchamp, Rene Magritte and Yves Klein as he strives to build comparisons between various aspects of visual cultural heritage. Meanwhile, his subject matter firmly grasps the decadent aesthetics and empty visual perspective of the East.


Xu Lei’s two decades of artistic practice have proven his idea of the “revival of tradition” as he has engaged in a deep reading of modern art from the perspective of a Chinese person while also constantly reexamining the archetypal significance of culture. With bravery, tenacity and wisdom, he has opened a channel to the modern world for the once stagnant field of Chinese painting. The results of his practices have come to serve as a milestone for the next generation of young practitioners, and his academic contributions have gained broad acceptance and recognition. The artworks presented here form a unique case study of a stubborn artist using his own methods to bear witness to the relationship between Chinese ink and our modern era.

Xu Lei has taken part in many major exhibitions such as “China, 5000 Years” (Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1998), “Dreaming of the Dragon’s Nation” (Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, 2004), “The Transforming Marks of Ink” (National Gallery, Berlin, 2008), “Europalia Art Festival: Chinese Gardens for Living” (Brussels Conference Center, 2009) and the “12th Venice Architecture Biennale China Pavilion.” He has held solo exhibitions and events at the United States Library of Congress, as well as in New York, London and Hong Kong. For his unique achievements in the fusion of tradition and modernity, he was invited in 2008 to create a wine label for Chateau Mouton Rothschild, joining the ranks of such great masters as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and Andy Warhol, a particular honor for a contemporary Chinese artist.


“Veneer of the World—Xu Lei” has received strong support from many organizations and individuals. Museums, institutions and collectors from around the world have generously loaned their collections for this exhibition. Academic support has come from many art historians including Zhu Zhu, Pi Li and Lu Mingjun. Meanwhile, many famous writers such as Chen Danqing, Yan Lianke, Su Tong, Sun Ganlu, Wu Liang, Zou Jingzhi, Su Kuo-chih, Feng Tang, Song Lin and Xiao Bai will be writing about Xu Lei’s art from various perspectives, and these writings will be compiled into a publication during the exhibition.

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