"Ink Dreams" at LACMA

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Lightning Fields 138, 2009
LACMA's Resnick Pavilion is hosting two shows of contemporary Chinese art, each drawn from a private collection. The flashier "Legacies of Exchange" is a thematic sampler from Budi Tek's mega-collection. The more austere "Ink Dreams" draws from the 400-piece Fondation INK collection assembled by Gérard and Dora Cognié and promised to LACMA in 2018. Single-collector shows usually wander. "Ink Dreams" is a rare case where the collectors had an interesting concept and stuck to it. The collection surveys how Chinese, East Asian, and Western artists have reacted to the tradition of Chinese ink painting with a mixture of reverence, playfulness, and invention. Media span ink, oil, and acrylic painting; sculpture, ceramics, photography, and video. Somehow, everything fits.

It's a layered show in more ways than one. Among of the most compelling works are photographs that look like painted abstractions, and paintings that look like the kind of photographs that are praised as "abstract." In Lightning Fields, Hiroshi Sugimoto creates dragon and landscape forms directly on photographic film with 400,000-volt electrical discharges.

Rhee Kibong, Wet Psyche–No Wind, 2010 (acrylic, Plexiglas, and mixed media on canvas)

"Ink Dreams" installation view with Sunagawa Haruhiko's Convergence, 2005-7, in foreground
Yang Shih-Chih, Modern Landscape, 2008
There are literal ink paintings too, riffing on Chinese tradition, Zen, and the Western proclivity for reading Asian ink play as abstraction. For that see an exuberently drippy Modern Landscape by Yang Shih-Chih, scaled to Peggy Guggenheim's hallway. 
Lui Shou-kwan, Wood Houses in the Mountains, 1964
The earliest piece in the show is Lui Shou-kwan's Wood Houses in the Mountains, from 1964. It's displayed next to a work it inspired, by Xu Bing.
Xu Bing, Background Story: Ink Variation (from Lui Shou-kwan), 2016
Background Story is from a series of light boxes. From one side, the box shows a transparency of a traditional ink painting, in this case the Lui Shou-kwan Wood Houses. The other side exposes the illusion. The ink wash chiaroscuro has been counterfeited with a Plato's cave of junk, the detritus of global consumerism. It's a Penn and Teller flim-flam that reveals the cheap trick we live in and can never leave.
Reverse of Xu Bing's Background Story
Wu Chi-Tsung, Still Life 012—Buttercup Tree, 2019
Dreams have no color, except when they do. A misty Still Life by Wu Chi-Tsung is a 7-minute video in which time passes but almost nothing happens. Two more video flower pieces by the artist were recently acquired by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Chen Haiyan is "Ink Dreams"'s supreme colorist, albeit by default. Her Horse and Rose was inspired by a dream of a horse with a bouquet of roses in place of its head.
Chen Haiyan, Horse and Rose, 2005