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February 21, 2011

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Long scroll depicts the city of fast-paced change

ALONG the River During the Qingming Festival" was the work of Song Dynasty (960-1279) artist Zhang Zeduan.

The renowned painting captures the daily life of people of the Song Dynasty in the then capital in a long scroll with 684 figures.

The work shows a cross-section of both the rich and poor as well as different economic activities in rural areas and the city from that particular period.

Inspired by this masterpiece, Xu Jianguo, a Chinese-American artist, created a 14m-by-47.9cm scroll on silk, titled "A New Vista," depicting a glamorous scene in Shanghai.

"A New Vista" premiered at the VIP room in the China Pavilion during the World Expo 2010, and it was unwittingly echoed by the animated version of "Along the River During the Qingming Festival" which was showcased on the third floor in the pavilion.

This piece and 80 other ink-wash paintings created by Xu over the past four decades are currently being displayed at Shanghai Art Museum until March 3.

The exhibition, organized by Shanghai Artists' Association and the US Consulate General in Shanghai, is Xu's first solo exhibition in the city.

"I spent 14 years in achieving this daunting work," reveals the 60-year-old artist. "I painted nearly 14,000 buildings, ranging from the Pudong New Area, People's Square to the city's suburbs. But my brushstrokes still can't match the fast-paced development of the city."

The long scroll is divided into two parts: a black-and-white one and a colored one.

"The city is a fusion of modern and ancient times," he explains. "The high-rises, the old buildings and the old village all exist in the same space. That's why I choose to paint on silk and sometimes only use black-and-white hues, as it mixes an aura of mystery with history."

Born and raised in Shanghai, Xu went to the US in 1984 to further his studies and became a professional artist in 1985.

"I was stunned to find how fast Shanghai had altered when I first came back in 1991," he recalls. "Suddenly I had a brave idea, I wanted to create a new landscape fusing traditional ink-and wash technique with a modern spirit."

Although the artistic splendor of this long scroll has attracted many collectors both home and abroad, Xu has refused all offers to sell the piece.

"I culminate all my dreams and responsibilities in this piece, and I hope that this would be a work that could be handed down."

Date: through March 3, 9am-5pm

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