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Traditional and Contemporary Artistic Worlds Collide in New CSU Exhibitions 

East meets West

Opening this week, the two latest exhibitions at the Galleries at Cleveland State University bridge East and West — and traditional and contemporary — through thoughtful, in-depth explorations of Chinese and Asian art. A Tradition Re-Interpreted: New Work by Chinese Artists and A Spirit Resonates: Chinese Art from the Degenfelder Collection open with a public reception from 5 to 8 p.m. this Thursday. A gallery conversation with the organizers takes place at 4 p.m.

"The decade-long Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) uprooted the cultural sophistication that is now only understood and preserved by trained Chinese scholars," explains Diana Y. Chou, curator of A Spirit Resonates. "Many artifacts were either destroyed, kept in local museums, buried in unknown locations, or secretly transported out of China during the ensuing social and political chaos. Because of a rapid growth in wealth in recent years, China has significantly sped up the retrieval and reproduction of traditional art forms and cultural objects. This widespread phenomenon has brought some confusion to the Chinese art market of today. The objects in this exhibition may reflect some of these trends and thus stand educational opportunities."

CSU's North and Center Galleries host A Tradition Re-Interpreted: New Work by Chinese Artists. Curated by CSU professor Qian Li, with academic advice from New York City College of Technology professor Zhijian Qian, this group exhibition features contemporary Chinese artists who re-interpret traditional aspects of Chinese art through the lens of ongoing social, economic and cultural changes. Through explorations of conventional forms, styles and materials, these artists re-contextualize historical traditions and culture.

A Tradition Re-interpreted is the first exhibition of its kind in Northeast Ohio. It explores and addresses numerous relevant themes, such as historical traditions, environmental issues, life experiences and economic developments as well as the impact of contemporary art in everyday life in modern-day China.

Participating artists include Guangbin Cai, Shuxia Chen, Hailu Chen, Fei Cui, Qinghe Liu, Xuguang Liu, Wentao Liu, Xin Song, Qingji Wei, Zhongyan Wen, Leah L. Wong, Qiuyan Wu, Lu Yao, Yongliang Yang and Yueying Zhong.

Meanwhile, the South Gallery showcases A Spirit Resonates: Chinese Art from the Degenfelder Collection, curated by Chou, a Chinese art history scholar who teaches at both CSU and Cleveland Institute of Art. The exhibition showcases the rich cultural heritage of Chinese and Asian art from Pauline and Joseph Degenfelder's fine art collection. The Degenfelders are longtime art collectors, as well as supporters of the Cleveland Museum of Art and Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

"Pauline and Joseph Degenfelder are seasoned executives in the health care and chemical/energy industries," explains Chou. "Longtime collectors in areas as diverse as Op Art and glass, they became interested in Chinese works more recently. Their elder son Eric and his family were based in China for five years, and Pauline and Joseph's 2008, 2010 and 2011 trips were a firsthand immersion in the arts of China, following Joseph's 1999-2000 visits to Taiwan.

"This exhibition not only serves as a generous gesture to the CSU community," Chou adds, "but also provides an important venue for student learning in the areas of Chinese art and history, art collecting in the 20th century, and particularly by supporting the University's diversity mission educationally, culturally and intellectually."

The exhibition's title, A Spirit Resonates, was chosen by the Degenfelders in homage to Sherman Lee (1918-2008), former director of the Cleveland Musuem of Art. Lee served as director from 1958 to 1983. He redefined spirit resonance as "sympathetic vibration and greatness of character conveyed from the artist to the observer through the art work."

"This exhibition attempts to recreate a physical setting evoking the worlds of upper-class merchants and cultural literati families of the late 19th and early 20th century in China," adds Chou. "Prior to the modern era, Chinese art objects were generally created with specific purposes in mind: for use either in ancestor worship, burial, religious practices, or everyday life. In this sense, objects were acquired for their practical use regardless of an owner's religious belief and/or background ... . These complex cultural values, which reflect broader Chinese belief systems, were an essential part of daily life until their gradually dissolution in the wake of a series of political upheavals in the 20th century ... . The installation arranges objects based on their function and cultural context in the hope of simulating that long-lost environment, which one could regularly and consistently appreciate and contemplate in the past."

In addition to Thursday's opening events, the Galleries at CSU will host a gallery conversation with Chou at 2 p.m. this Saturday.

Both exhibitions are presented with the support of CSU's College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and the Ohio Arts Council. A Tradition Re-Interpreted: New Work by Contemporary Chinese Artists also receives support from the Confucius Institute at Cleveland State University.

Both exhibitions remain on view through Dec. 5. Gallery hours are Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fridays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays noon to 8 p.m., and by appointment on Mondays and Tuesdays. The galleries are closed Sundays. The exhibitions and all related events are free.

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