Geng Jianyi.

Geng Jianyi (1962–2017)

On December 5, the artist Geng Jianyi died of cancer in Hangzhou, China, at the age of fifty-five, H. G. Masters of ArtAsiaPacific reports. A founder of Pond Society, and a known figure in China’s 1985 New Wave movement, Jianyi produced work across a multitude of media during his three-decade career.

Jianyi first earned recognition with his oil paintings of deadpan laughing faces, such as The Second Situation, 1987, which was featured in the controversial 1989 group show “China/Avant-Garde” at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, marking the artist’s move to collage, photography, video, and conceptual installations.

Born in Zhengzhou in 1962, Jianyi studied oil painting at Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now the China Academy of Art) from 1981 to 1985. Together with artists Zhang Peili, Wu Shanzhuan, Wang Guangyi, and Wang Qiang, he explored Marcel Duchamp’s idea of “non-retinal art.” Jianyi and Peili organized the exhibition “New Space ’85” in 1985 at the Gallery of Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, a show which presented some of the earliest examples of installation art in China. They also cofounded Pond Society (Chi She), which staged collective works in outdoor locations.

Commenting on Jianyi’s career, Hong Kong curator and gallerist Johnson Tsong-zung Chang said: “Geng Jianyi’s self-effacing practices belie his uniqueness within the art world of our time. We cannot write a history of contemporary Chinese art without giving full credit to Geng’s contribution.” In 1993, Chang included Jianyi in the group show “China’s New Art, Post-1989” (1993) at the Hong Kong Arts Center, one of the first surveys of the country’s avant-garde to travel outside of China.