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Contrasting the old and the new

ANTWERP has given the world more than its fair share of great artists such as old masters like Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony Van Dyck. Wang Jie reports on a new exhibit. When it comes to Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony Van Dyck, two masters of the 16th century, or Luc Tuymans and Jan Fabre of today, many are amazed at how artists from Antwerp could earn such a global reputation.

"A Story of the Image, Old & New Masters from Antwerp" is currently running at Shanghai Art Museum, considered as a must-see exhibition in the first half of the year in the city.

The show features classic Flemish paintings, prints and contemporary art, "thus providing Chinese art enthusiasts a rare opportunity to learn about Flemish art," says Li Lei, director at Shanghai Art Museum.

Interestingly, Chinese art lovers are familiar with many Flemish artists, from baroque masters Rubens (1577-1640) and Van Dyck (1390-1441) to contemporary artists Marlene Dumas and Tuymans.

However, the chance to see the original works of both old and new masters at one time in China is rather rare.

The highlights include Van Dyck's "Virgin and Child at the Fountain," painted in 1439.

Likewise, Rubens' "The Adoration of the Magi," created in 1624, reveals an extraordinary ability of the master to turn the simplest event or situation into a whirling spectacle.

During the 18th century, most French painters were enthralled by the work of Rubens, as he attempted to equal or even surpass the creations of his Italian peers. He wanted his human subjects to have plump bodies, blushing cheeks and moist lips.

There is a cluster of figures in "The Adoration of the Magi," yet each one is vivid and so life-like, from costume and hairstyle to posture and facial expression.

However, this exhibition is not merely a tribute to the old masters of Belgium, it also incorporates sundry art concepts and ideas from contemporary Antwerp artists.

David Claerbout is a Belgian artist who prefers to use video projection. He always goes for broad themes rather than tell stories through his creations.

For example, "Carl & Julie" is a video projection featuring a man and a girl at a table on a patio. The man gazes toward the viewer as the girl faces away, drawing in a sketchbook.

When a visitor enters, the man gestures, hinting to the girl that someone is present. The girl turns and looks towards the viewer for a few seconds, then turns back and continues drawing.

It's really stunning that a pre-recorded image could return the gaze of viewers as Claerbout subverts the expectations about what a cinematic image can do.

In "Fault Fold," Aglaia Konrad suggests a fantastic experience by wrapping an urban scene, an aerial photograph of Seoul, South Korea, around the visitor. The way she unfolds her image is impressive.

She unveils the image not only on the wall but also across the ceiling to make you feel as if you are really there.

The exhibit confronts contemporary art with historical art works and the stories are told only through the eyes of Antwerp's artists.

Date: through June 19, 9am-5pm

Address: 325 Nanjing Rd W.

Admission: 20 yuan

Tel: 6327-2829


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