In the 1960s, the Chinese Cultural Revolution was fueled by the drive of destroying old customs culture, habits and ideas. Beginning with the destruction of artwork and historical artifacts representing centuries of imperial rule, the Cultural Revolution also destroyed the lives of many. Following the death of Chairman Mao in 1976, government policies of economic reform and opening up to the world created a new hope for the Chinese people. This exhibition of approximately thirty paintings and a thirty-minute film featuring the collectors focuses on the work of post-Cultural Revolution artists of the 1980s, who survived that revolutionary period to thrive through the creation of new works that pushed the boundaries of art in China.
These artists became a new generation for new artists both domestic and international. Through paintings in ink, oil and mixed media, these artists developed a new artistic language for their homeland, often depicting the common people, including workers, soldiers, peasants, children, the elderly and marginalized ethnic minority groups. These subjects were not common in art prior to 1950, and indicated a profound shift in Chinese culture and socio-economics as well as a major transformation of Chinese visual art.
The collection has been carefully built by Gerry and Leslie Jones, who lived in China in the 1980s. Through special permission granted by the Ministry of Culture, Mr. and Mrs. Jones had the rare privilege of visiting the homes and studios of artists across China and thus building their rare collection of modern Chinese art. For Gerry Jones, who first spent time in China during World War II, this was a life fulfilling experience. He developed a lasting passion for the unique beauty and heart of these works. He writes about his experiences, “Seldom in recent history have a people suffered so much and yet produced such artistic beauty.”
What is most important about the Jones Collection is that it provides a valuable document of how and why Chinese art changed so dramatically from the 1960s to the 1990s. The kinds of work that these artists produced will not happen again, as China has now moved on to join the international art market, and avant-garde art has become the current trend. These works show the humble yet passionate spirit of artists in China when few dared to paint what they truly felt and believed was significant to their own people, untainted by political propaganda, commercial aspirations or longing for global recognition. They embrace moments of yearning, sadness and joy.
Left: Cheng Yuan, Remembrance of Things Past, 1981. Oil on canvas, 49.5" x 49.5". Gift of Gerry and Leslie Jones in honor of the Museum's 50th Anniversary. Center: Guan Weixing, Dan-Dan, 1989. Ink and color on paper, framed 12" x 9.5". Collection of Gerry and Leslie Jones. Right: Chen Shihe, Small Lane in Suzhou, not dated. Oil on canvas, 50" x 42". Collection of Gerry and Leslie Jones.
This exhibition is curated by Dr. Janet Baker at Phoenix Art Museum with paintings on loan and gifted by Gerry and Leslie Jones. Additional support for this exhibition and video has been provided by Desert Jade Endowment, Alan Brown, Julie and Robert Bullington, Wenchin and Bing Hu, La Casa Builders, Inc., Sandra and Gerald Levy, Frances and George Phillips, Mrs. Spelman Prentice, and Miriam and Yefim Sukhman.