The Uncanny Valley of Chinese Stones
|Wu Bin, Ten Views of a Lingbi Stone, 1610. Private collection.|
Newly opened is "Wu Bin: Ten Views of a Lingbi Stone." The Chinese literati prized certain stones for their weirdness of form. "Wu Bin" is a focus exhibition built around the extraordinary scroll known as Ten Views of a Lingbi Stone, 1610. Ming painter Wu Bin meticulously records the appearance of a stone owned by calligrapher Mi Wanzhong (who supplied the scroll's text and calligraphy).
The stone in question was taller than a man and is not here. LACMA curator Stephen Little has taken the opportunity to debut the venerable Taihu Stone acquired earlier this year.
Spirit stones are natural things selected for their uncanny resemblance to other things. Representations of spirit stones double-down on the paradox. "Art" shares a root with "artifice" and "artificial."
In a way, "Wu Bin" rhymes with another newly opened LACMA show, "Richard Prince: Untitled (Cowboy)" in BCAM. Prince came to fame in the late 1980s for (re)photographing "Marlboro Man" cigarette ads. He cropped the ad copy, scaled the images up to gallery size, and presented them as art. The original ad campaign's photographers sued, resulting in a settlement and much discussion of the ethics of appropriation.
A gallery video traces the complicated story. The Marlboro campaign had been inspired by Leonard McCombe's 1949 Life magazine photoessay of Texas cowboy Clarence Hailey Long. Ad execs hired illustrator Robert Peak to adapt McCombe's vision into drawings and paintings (one below, shown here) and then hired a team of photographers to shoot photos based on McCombe's conceptuals. Nobody was an "original," unless maybe it was cowboy Long. The Chinese tradition understands appropriation as a given. Art succeeds by revealing the strangeness of something familiar (pretty much what Prince did). Western thought more often sees the artist as a maverick, cowboy proprietor of an intellectual property brand.
Below, Prince's bronze sculpture of a young gunslinger (2011-2015).