New York

Weimin Huang

Lance Fung Gallery

Weimin Huang’s paintings are at once subdued and stunning: subtly luminous vertical lines, of various lengths and widths but all more or less narrow and self-contained, suspended in a grisaille field. The lines sometimes extend to but never quite reach the edges of the canvas, and broad bands of gray space bracket them, creating an effect of balance despite the asymmetry of each group of verticals. The illusion that the lines are floating seems to intensify the longer one looks. This doubtless has something to do with the fact that each line is composed of minute, intricately linked gestural marks, which slowly but surely make their intimate presence felt, contradicting the detachment of the tall verticals they constitute. The lines are like stalactites formed drip by drip in a cave of space so unfathomably deep that it appears flat. In Huang’s paintings we are dealing with the numinous, which, as theologist Rudolf Otto wrote, involves not only awe but anxiety—the anxiety that Pascal said the empty space of the night sky aroused in him. Huang has “depicted,” with meticulous nuance, the uncanniness of space—inner space as well as cosmic space, which seem to converge in the experience of the numinous.

Huang was born in 1955 in China and trained in architecture in Japan; he lived in New York for ten years, until his sudden death during the run of this show. Art historically speaking, his works are mannerist reprises of the abstract devices of spontaneity and transcendence; expressive gesture and Minimalist geometry remain precariously alive, even as they have been ingeniously assimilated. Ecstasy and enigma have been reined in, and what remains is hypnotic but controlled, yet there persist some loose edges, some prescribed awkwardness, as it were. This is typically mannerist: a finicky awareness of the unfinished as a technical device that lends the work an aura of manufactured intensity, and an underlying alienation or distancing from its own abstract sources, which are by now stale and familiar, traditional to the point of being obsolete.

I want to suggest that Huang was caught on the horns of the dilemma that epitomizes the current position of abstract painting, perhaps of all art in this so-called postmodern situation (and it is a recurrent situation rather than a period): how to make something new out of something old. The Italian Mannerists who were the epigone of Michelangelo responded to his Neoclassicism by deliberately going against its grain, answering his new norms of balance and wholeness with calculated, at times cynical, perversity and unbalance—a reversal of values that became a value in itself, as well as a source of elegance. And how else is one to move forward, other than by adopting an ironic stance with regard to the past (including the modern past), however unwitting the irony? Huang, a student of gesturalism as well as field painting, goes against the unrestrained spontaneity of the former and the transcendence of the latter—not only refining his response into elegance, but using these devices to restore credibility to the idea of the numinous. This seems to me a better mannerist solution than the old Italian one, for it introduces an idea that is bigger than art.

Donald Kuspit