Critics’ Picks

Ni Jun, Indian Ocean, 2016, oil on canvas, 6' 2 3/4“ x 13' 1 1/2”.

Ni Jun, Indian Ocean, 2016, oil on canvas, 6' 2 3/4“ x 13' 1 1/2”.


Ni Jun

SGA | 沪申
3 Bund, Third Floor | 上海市中山东一路3号 外滩三号 三楼
November 12, 2016–January 7, 2017

Ni Jun’s “Deep Blue Sea” opts for bilgewater over Condé Nast vistas. The exhibition is filled with mostly small, nautically themed paintings lashed to the gallery’s pillars with twine and wire. A few paintings are scattered randomly atop large stock photos of sea vessels and waterways that cover every wall. The space is awash in dark blues that seem painted, perhaps, from the perspective of a seafarer, a castaway, or maybe even a drowning victim. In part, Jun seeks to redress the absenting of the sea from Chinese painting, as exhibition texts suggest, not so much to fill a void but to return to a premise: the spiritual and worldly balance of water and its indifference to us even as it forces us to yield. Jun resuscitates the sea with equal doses of Lao-tzu and Steve Zissou.

The two most recent works in the exhibition are the most impressive. Indian Ocean, 2016, is a large-scale painting whose composition lists heavily to one side, the horizon line tilted as it portrays the view from the deck of a vessel caught in unpredictable currents and violent waves of green foam. Passing Through the English Channel, 2016, is subdued: a small boat seen at a distance through hazy moonlight, passing into a blue-gray nothingness. Even the smallest works offer impossible depth. Tianjin Bay, 2013, is filled with intense blues, a tiny cargo ship in the distance. The beach in Morning Sea, 2007, shares the precision of a Hiroshi Sugimoto photograph. The still life Old Cowboy, 2011, depicts a fishmonger’s catch of the day, showing Jun’s lightness of touch. The artist’s paintings can be quiet and meditative or they can be filled with the sounds of engines and waves and the taste of salt and Dramamine.