Critic essay on Illusory Metamorphoses of Fu Wenjun

      Richard L. Tooke, Former Curator of Fundraising Exhibitions for the Patty and Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art and Active Member of the Friends of Arts. Mr. Tooke brings his thirty years experience in the field of Photography where he was Director of Rights and Reproductions at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art in New York.

      I had graduated fromcollege and was working at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, when I washaving difficulty being fitted for contact lens. My eye doctor tried toconvince me that because of the corrections needed that I should have one eyefitted for close up viewing and one for distance informing me that one does notsee with one’s eyes but with your brain. I found that difficult to believe and proceeded to have contacts for amedium distance which worked fairly well. One weekend I went into work, knowing that I could get much accomplishedwith the telephone not ringing and interruptions by colleagues. Almost immediately I inadvertently flickedone of my contacts out of one eye. Icould not find it anywhere. I did nothave my glasses me and to go home and retrieve them and get back to the Museumwould take an hour and a half. The eyewithout a contact lens gave excellent vision up close and the one with thecontact lens made distance vision clear. I stayed at work and was able to complete the tasks that I have set formyself. I subsequently went back to myeye doctor and was fitted with different lens for each eye. From that time on I realized that the brainfilters the images that your eyes send to it and that it is the mind that letsyou see what it wants to.

      I apologize for thislengthy introduction, but I relate my story for a specific reason. In Mr. Wenjun’s statements about his work hetalks about beginning as a traditional painter of oil on canvas. Then “documentary photograph”, i.e. therecording of historical or daily events was his métier, then on to conceptualphotography.. When he discoveredconceptual photography this opened up a way for him to create images of realityin concert with images from his mind. Many photographers, began by recording what the camera saw. They soon realized that what they saw andwhat the camera recorded were not the same. This is what led Wenjun to use conceptual photography to record hismind’s images. In looking through Wenjun’s first photographs and those oftoday, you can see his progression initially it was the camera’s viewpoint thatwas primary. His images today reflect more of the images in his mind.

      When all photographs weremade on film there were “purists” who thought that the images captured on filmshould be printed with no manipulation. Some even printed the edges ofnegatives to show that the prints made from the negatives were pure, with nocropping or manipulation. With the advent of digital images the artist couldchange the imagery to show what was in their minds and not just what the camerarecorded. This of course was possible with film, but it was a long andcomplicated process, which many artists found too cumbersome.

      My first viewing of his conceptual photography brought forthmany images from my Western sensibility. What Wenjun says about these images are not what I or someone else wouldsee. What I saw came from the storedimages in my mind and my historical Western perspective.. What Mr. Wenjunintended and what I “saw” was sometimes at odds. Reading about his influencesand history adds another dimension to viewing what he produced. When an artist,like Wenjun, has such a pletherer of knowledge and imagery, anyone who viewsthem will be enriched, both intellectually and visually.

      I was initially struck bythe relationship between his images and the sacred Egyptian Scarab with itsreligious symbols. I was not familiar with the Dazu Rock Carvings, but theirsophistication and refinement certainly spoke to me from across time. My nextvision brought to mind a chrysalis of the butterfly or moth. Of course, when Iread his title: Illusory Metamorphoses, I could understand my reactions.

      As an artist myself, Itend to look at a work of art without reading its title, or even the name ofthe artist. I feel that frees me of preconceived ideas and images. Wenjun hasbuilt his images using ancient and contemporary art. I was surprised by seeingsome images of Greco/Roman sculpture. The incorporation of xrays of skulls andskeletons was a brilliant layer of imagery from the 20th century,but melded perfectly with the ancient works of art. He has made them to existin the same time period and not hundreds of years apart. His combination of thereligious and secular also adds another dimension to his photographs. Putting these disparate images together as acohesive whole is amazing.

      I have seen only one of Mr. Wenjun’s photographs in person, but I can tell you that his technical skillin endowing the images with reality of their individual qualities isastonishing. The hardness of the stone sculptures is real, the abstract shapesaround the sculpture seem alive with their own beings. The grass cloth does notseem to be a photograph of grass clothe, but is grass cloth itself.

      Iam looking forward to seeing many of Wenjun’s photographs in a installationsetting. Lookingat images in a book, or on line, is very frustrating to me, as I believe thatscale and size of works of art are integral part of experiencing their fullimpact. This is a mature artist whocontinues to push the boundaries of his art. Where he ventures next is something that we should all look forward towith anticipation.

      Richard L. Tooke, MFA -May 2014

      Richard L. Tooke, Former Curator of Fundraising Exhibitions for the Patty and Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art and Active Member of the Friends of Arts. Mr. Tooke brings his thirty years experience in the field of Photography where he was Director of Rights and Reproductions at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art in New York.

      I had graduated fromcollege and was working at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, when I washaving difficulty being fitted for contact lens. My eye doctor tried toconvince me that because of the corrections needed that I should have one eyefitted for close up viewing and one for distance informing me that one does notsee with one’s eyes but with your brain. I found that difficult to believe and proceeded to have contacts for amedium distance which worked fairly well. One weekend I went into work, knowing that I could get much accomplishedwith the telephone not ringing and interruptions by colleagues. Almost immediately I inadvertently flickedone of my contacts out of one eye. Icould not find it anywhere. I did nothave my glasses me and to go home and retrieve them and get back to the Museumwould take an hour and a half. The eyewithout a contact lens gave excellent vision up close and the one with thecontact lens made distance vision clear. I stayed at work and was able to complete the tasks that I have set formyself. I subsequently went back to myeye doctor and was fitted with different lens for each eye. From that time on I realized that the brainfilters the images that your eyes send to it and that it is the mind that letsyou see what it wants to.

      I apologize for thislengthy introduction, but I relate my story for a specific reason. In Mr. Wenjun’s statements about his work hetalks about beginning as a traditional painter of oil on canvas. Then “documentary photograph”, i.e. therecording of historical or daily events was his métier, then on to conceptualphotography.. When he discoveredconceptual photography this opened up a way for him to create images of realityin concert with images from his mind. Many photographers, began by recording what the camera saw. They soon realized that what they saw andwhat the camera recorded were not the same. This is what led Wenjun to use conceptual photography to record hismind’s images. In looking through Wenjun’s first photographs and those oftoday, you can see his progression initially it was the camera’s viewpoint thatwas primary. His images today reflect more of the images in his mind.

      When all photographs weremade on film there were “purists” who thought that the images captured on filmshould be printed with no manipulation. Some even printed the edges ofnegatives to show that the prints made from the negatives were pure, with nocropping or manipulation. With the advent of digital images the artist couldchange the imagery to show what was in their minds and not just what the camerarecorded. This of course was possible with film, but it was a long andcomplicated process, which many artists found too cumbersome.

      My first viewing of his conceptual photography brought forthmany images from my Western sensibility. What Wenjun says about these images are not what I or someone else wouldsee. What I saw came from the storedimages in my mind and my historical Western perspective.. What Mr. Wenjunintended and what I “saw” was sometimes at odds. Reading about his influencesand history adds another dimension to viewing what he produced. When an artist,like Wenjun, has such a pletherer of knowledge and imagery, anyone who viewsthem will be enriched, both intellectually and visually.

      I was initially struck bythe relationship between his images and the sacred Egyptian Scarab with itsreligious symbols. I was not familiar with the Dazu Rock Carvings, but theirsophistication and refinement certainly spoke to me from across time. My nextvision brought to mind a chrysalis of the butterfly or moth. Of course, when Iread his title: Illusory Metamorphoses, I could understand my reactions.

      As an artist myself, Itend to look at a work of art without reading its title, or even the name ofthe artist. I feel that frees me of preconceived ideas and images. Wenjun hasbuilt his images using ancient and contemporary art. I was surprised by seeingsome images of Greco/Roman sculpture. The incorporation of xrays of skulls andskeletons was a brilliant layer of imagery from the 20th century,but melded perfectly with the ancient works of art. He has made them to existin the same time period and not hundreds of years apart. His combination of thereligious and secular also adds another dimension to his photographs. Putting these disparate images together as acohesive whole is amazing.

      I have seen only one of Mr. Wenjun’s photographs in person, but I can tell you that his technical skillin endowing the images with reality of their individual qualities isastonishing. The hardness of the stone sculptures is real, the abstract shapesaround the sculpture seem alive with their own beings. The grass cloth does notseem to be a photograph of grass clothe, but is grass cloth itself.

      Iam looking forward to seeing many of Wenjun’s photographs in a installationsetting. Lookingat images in a book, or on line, is very frustrating to me, as I believe thatscale and size of works of art are integral part of experiencing their fullimpact. This is a mature artist whocontinues to push the boundaries of his art. Where he ventures next is something that we should all look forward towith anticipation.

      Richard L. Tooke, MFA -May 2014


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