On July 1, 2023, Pearl Art Museum in Shanghai is proud to open “Return to Nature,” an international exhibition that follows the success of “In the Name of Flowers” (2020). We are honored to feature 26 outstanding artists from 10 countries and regions around the world, including (listed alphabetically by last name): Jean-Marie Appriou, Iván Argote, Cao Xiaoyang, Chen Xiaoyi, Chen Yujun, Caroline Cheng, Ellie Davies, Ding Yi, Dong Xiaochi, Lionel Estève, Fu Bailin, Hu Xiangcheng, Inka & Niclas, Kim Chong-Hak, Liu Yi, Long Pan, Luo Dan, Qu Fengguo, Davide Quayola, Gabriel Rico, Shi Zhiying, Tong Wenmin, Un Sio San, Wang Huangsheng, and Yu Youhan. The exhibition showcases more than 100 important or cutting-edge works of painting, installation, sculpture, video, photography, and performance art centered on nature.
“Heaven, Earth, and I were produced together, and all things and I are one.” (James Legge’s translation of Zhuangzi: The Adjustment of Controversies) Based on their own cultural traditions, life experiences, and artistic explorations, the artists present a diverse landscape of different approaches and styles. The exhibition is divided into four sections: Humans and Landscapes; Traveling Visions; Paintings; and Inquiry and Response. The works on display are personalized artistic representations of nature, profound inquiries into and reflections on environmental issues, or unique expressions of a non-Anthropocentric view of nature. We invite you to return to nature through art and join us on a journey into the art and life of the future.
The Call of Nature Resonates
Pearl Art Museum has always been interested in sustainable development and the connection between nature and art, introducing “In the Name of Flowers” (2020), an evolving branded program with a reach beyond the museum, and “Long Life Design: Thinking and Practice” (2022), which fostered a range of sustainability-focused talks and hands-on events. The “green consensus” has informed Pearl Art Museum’s exhibition curation, public education planning, publication research, and cultural development, which are rooted in broader inter-disciplinary perspectives and working methods. “Return to Nature” is an extension of these green principles, but it is also a new beginning. This exhibition presents nature-focused work made by artists from China and around the world, calling on everyone to commune with nature and re-focus on the natural world to which humanity is so intimately connected.
Humans come from nature, so we will always be interested in the connection between art and nature. Our ancestors living in caves were the first to envision and depict nature. “After Altamira, all is decadence,” said Picasso after visiting the paintings in the Altamira Cave in northern Spain. Our ancestors’ unaffected, mysterious colors and lines whisper to us across time and space. In civilizations around the world, nature has inspired rich artistic and philosophical traditions. Western art’s return to landscape and China’s impressive achievements in shanshui and bird-and-flower painting and garden design are still engaging topics for people today.
With the surge in technologies like artificial intelligence, people worldwide have become even more concerned about sustainable development and protecting biodiversity. Humanity is now at a crossroads, vacillating between ecstasy and anxiety. Pearl Art Museum director and curator Li Dandan said, “People from all walks of life are once again feeling a love, longing, and concern for nature, through which we can see ourselves and society and seek comfort, inspiration, awakening, and enlightenment in nature.”
More Than 100 Works of Art by 26 Artists Across 4 Sections
A concern for nature resonates with our times, transcending industry and region. “Return to Nature” features 26 artists from 10 countries and regions across Asia, North and South America, and Europe. Divided into four sections (Humans and Landscapes; Traveling Visions; Paintings; and Inquiry and Response), the exhibition showcases more than 100 important or cutting-edge works of painting, installation, sculpture, video, photography, and performance art centered on nature.
Why do we feel compelled to venture ever deeper into the forest? Why do we always hold out for encounters with the miraculous? Why does nature never cease to amaze and astonish us with its subtlety and vastness? “Humans and Landscapes” explores the relationships between humans and the environment, showing British artist Ellie Davies’ Come with Me series and Swedish artist duo Inka & Niclas’ 4K Ultra HD series. In these two distinctive bodies of land art and photography, the artists do not simply represent nature. By seeing, reflecting, acting, representing, and creating, they elevate nature to landscapes that have aesthetic significance and bear the imprint of human hands.
“Traveling Vision” draws on the ancient Chinese artistic tradition of travel paintings, which inspire the imagination with minute figures in magnificent landscapes. This section juxtaposes 11 works by 4 artists that are the visual results of their constant questioning, exploration, action, and creation, even as the pieces remain unified by the impulse to delve into the unknown depths of nature. Luo Dan traversed western China and recorded with his camera a vast land that seems to lack inhabitants but abounds in marks made by humanity. Chen Xiaoyi concentrates on the scars left by mining and extraction in the Hengduan Mountains, in an attempt to place a “video scan” of the western mountains within a broader narrative. During her residency in the Arctic Circle, Un Sio San focused on space in mixed media works that blend video and photography and explored the relationships between non-places, public spaces, urban ruins, and nature. Wang Huangsheng has thought deeply about life and his experiences since 2020, which awakened living, emotional memories of plant specimens collected at the source of the Pearl River several decades prior. He created a series using these plants to explore the themes of time, process, growth, life, emotion, and memory. Viewers will be inspired by the surprising and unique artistic languages in these works of art, which respond to similar questions.
The Chinese title of the “Paintings” section is drawn from The Analects: “The Master said, “The business of laying on the colors follows (the preparation of) the plain ground.” (Translated by James Legge). This section contains the most artists with the broadest range of ages and cultural backgrounds, including (in order of appearance): Caroline Cheng, Cao Xiaoyang, Fu Bailin, Yu Youhan, Iván Argote, Chen Yujun, Shi Zhiying, Kim Chong-Hak, Qu Fengguo, Ding Yi, and Dong Xiaochi. When faced with a blank canvas, all of these artists investigate similar themes. While their work spans the representational and the abstract, the monochrome and the colorful, the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional, they all rely on their brushes to capture their own impressions of nature and reflect their thoughts and feelings in refined styles and layered brushwork.
The final section, “Inquiry and Response,” features an inspiring array of diverse works, including videos and installations, that reflect a unique awareness of the issues and an exploratory spirit. In Hu Xiangcheng’s Light, Shadow and Time series and Lionel Estève’s Papiers de Provence, living material is collaged into a vital compendium. Jean-Marie Appriou’s Tree of Life series presents the tree of life in heavy bronze, while Long Pan’s Copper Tree and Wind Bell offer a poetic warning about the dangers of our excessive interventions into nature. Davide Quayola’s Pointillisme: Provence uses cutting-edge technology to approach and capture life and vitality. In Metawoman and El Horóscopo de Jesús, Gabriel Rico tactfully reflects the limitations of humanity and the infinity of nature. Tong Wenmin’s Archive of Botanical Specimens and Reflections: Pine Trees are unexpected bodily interventions that showcase the beauty of nature and the obvious but often overlooked fact that humans are a part of nature. Finally, Liu Yi invites visitors to return to nature by participating in Bird Radio, which can be heard in the eighth-floor Pearl Art Museum space. Occasional birdsong filters down into the seventh-floor Xinhua Culture & Creativity + Light Space Bookstore.
Interdisciplinary Art and Science Activities and Events
Pearl Art Museum will hold themed lectures, symposia, and workshops during “Return to Nature,” which will touch on art, nature, science, and philosophy from the perspectives of the natural sciences, Chinese and Western philosophy, botany, anthropology, and art education. Artists, as well as experts and scholars from a range of fields, will inspire new ideas and perspectives and promote a green consensus and a sustainable future. The first discussion, held during the opening on July 1, will center on the curator and the artists as they lead viewers on a deeper journey into the exhibition and exhibited artworks. Pearl Art Museum has collaborated with the participating artists to develop art workshops for children and adults. Please follow our social media for future programming announcements.
Pearl Art Museum has created a version of its distinctive children’s booklet for “Return to Nature.” Every section (Entering Nature, Exploring Nature, Recording Nature, and Imagining Nature) has its own icon, which appears next to the labels of certain artworks and invites children to explore the exhibition using the booklet. By approaching the exhibition in an entertaining way, we engage children in the show and help them learn.