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Sui Jianguo was born in China, within the city of Qingdao in 1956. Both Sui’s parents were factory workers and were largely absent during his early childhood due to the workload imposed on them by the Mao government. Growing up Sui got to witness the harsh realities of the Mao years. During this time Maoist socialist realism became the approved art style. This style generally portrayed Maoist ideals in a romantic positive light. These images were used to create a cult of personality for Mao. At the age of ten, schools were closed as part of the Cultural Revolution, and he began to work in the factories with his parents. In an interview he stated that he was “transfixed in the age of Mao worship, when Mao was virtually a God at home”. Painting had not been a career option for Sui until the age of eighteen when he broke his arm, which took him away from his factory work. According to Sui, during this period he had contemplated his “spiritual” life and what he wanted to do with his future. Soon after and with the permission and guidance of his father he began studying painting at night under the cover of darkness.
Upon his return to the factory Sui would paint propaganda posters of Mao in the socialist realist fashion. His studies and practice gave fruit to his first true work: a traditional Chinese landscape painting, which he completed in 1976 after the death of Mao. After the death of Mao Zedong, the Chinese government loosened its grip on the population, and educational reforms were quick to follow. Sui took advantage of the new freedoms and moved Jinan and then Shandong where he would receive his major in sculpture, a few years later he would get his master’s degree in Arts at the central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. According to Sui by the time he had enrolled in college he had decided he wanted to do sculpture, this was inspired by his previous years in the factories where people would tell him he had “skill in using his hands”. After gaining his master’s degree, Sui travelled to the Netherlands, Australia, Japan, and other places to display his art. He also worked as a guest professor or speaker at several universities outside of China. Finally, Sui returned to become chairman of the department of Sculpture at the Central Academy of Fine Arts.
Sui became internationally prominent through the use of “naturalistic sculptures” that made use of rocks, boulders, and steel. These early sculptures brought him out into the international scene. Sui’s true acclaim came in 1997 when he crafted his first Mao suit a sculpture that imitated Chairman Mao’s communist jacket. His jackets would interest famous collectors such as Uli Sigg and help gain him recognition in the international scene.
Sui got to experience Maoist China during its twilight years, and hence had a front-row seat to Maoist communism and the effects it had on the people. Sui felt firsthand the effects of the Cultural Revolution. During this time, Sui watched as symbols of authority and tradition were destroyed and as a new Mao worshiping fervor would take hold of society. Throughout this destruction of old elitist values Chairman Mao became a central almost spiritual figure for Sui and greatly influenced his early life. Sui also got to witness the change of government between the harsh Mao and the more liberal (but still harsh) Deng Xiaoping. During this time Sui experienced movements like the June 4th Movement; this contact led him to make increasingly “radical” and “violent” artwork. This period of economic liberalization ushered in a new identity for both China and her people. After the turbulent times Sui turned away from harsh political propaganda and focused on something more “quiet;” it was in this new contemporary scene that he began working with rocks. Currently, Sui works within the limits of censorship and tends to make works that do not offend the government. This being said his works draw heavily upon the identity and self-perception of the Chinese people as a whole; this is exemplified in his Mao jackets or in his “Made in China” series. Sui’s jackets and his “Made in China” exhibit have not been censored in China, probably due to the pro Chinese stance these works take on. On the other hand he openly voices his opinions about restrictive Chinese policies through his works as evidenced by “Limited Motion”. This also may explain why several of Sui’s works are currently exhibited outside of China, or in countries that are less restrictive.
What could be considered the catalyst in this series of changes is the death of Mao Zedong. China under Mao Zedong underwent an enormous change in social, political and economical thought. Older ideas that were once revered such as Confucianism, Buddhism, and education were severely limited or banned all together. Government programs such as the Great Leap Forward (1958–1961), or the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) would have effects that still echo today in the work of Sui Jianguo. During this time period Mao became the sole figure of the People’s Communist Party, he was he most important figure for the Chinese people that existed at the time. It is then no surprise that after his death changes ensued rapidly, leaving the political and social realm ready for change . When Sui was twenty-six Deng Xiaoping became China’s new figurehead, bringing changes that would affect the economic, social and political scene.
Sui has been a very active artist on the stage of modern and contemporary art in China. He had numerous solo and joint exhibitions in Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, India, Taiwan, and most recently in the United States, in addition to his active schedules in China, and several high-profile exhibitions worldwide. He likes to work with hard and heavy materials such as granite and metals. His techniques of sealing, binding, tying and hammering created a relationship of association and confrontation between his materials, which resonate with his perception of life and his internal conflicts. Among his known works in the early 1990s are ‘Land Depression’ in which Sui entwines huge boulders in nets made from steel ropes, and ‘Sealed Memory’, a closely welded cabinet of thick steel sheets, which gives an oppressive sense of weight and blockage. His work ‘Memory’ is a wall made out of old railroad ties. The ties have been ground down just as humans ground down by life, and they become part of a dividing wall, a boundary.
Many Sui early works reflect his personal experiences and explore, to a lesser or greater extent, his anxieties and feelings of imprisonment. He began his ‘Mao Suit’ series in 1997. This series can however be regarded as the conclusion of an important stage in his self-exploration. He draws on the powerful image of the Mao suit, not as an element of revolutionary attire but as a symbol of restriction and limitation. Sui suggests that none of the Chinese has truly taken off their Mao suits even though the revolutionary era is over. Sometimes Sui makes the Mao suits resemble Buddhas and at other times he turns them into hard shells. Recently, Sui has made fairly humorous, soft and almost transparent Mao suits. The Mao suit is perhaps coming to represent to the artist an object of fun.
In a more recent work, the red dinosaur – a symbol of imperialist China, like communist China - with the engraved door on the chest mentions ‘Made in China’; it is a glance toward plastic toys from the start of the Chinese economic flight, and a symbol of an antiquated China moving toward being contemporary. Throughout the 1960s, everything was 'Made in Japan', in the 1970s 'Made in Taiwan', and in the 1980s 'Made in China'. The fabrication of finished products based on models and imported raw materials has become the economic norm of emerging countries.
Over all, Sui's work has well represented the views and expressions of his generation, the generation that survived Mao's Cultural Revolution. More importantly, as one of the most active and most productive artists in China today, and as the head of the department in the most prestigious art institute in China, he has also brought fundamental changes to the contemporary art movement in recent China. Because of his influential works and through his educational efforts, abstract and conceptual sculpture have been well accepted by the ordinary Chinese people and by the authorities. Furthermore, he has taken the rule of bringing the contemporary art of modern China to the world. His works have been well recognized by the Western art world.
While Sui Jianguo is a prolific artist, there are certain works of his that have stood out amongst the rest. Not only have these works have allowed Sui to become a prominent contemporary Chinese artist, but they also grant us an insight into the artists mind and opinions.
Earth Force was one of Sui’s earlier works and came to his mind in 1987. The inspiration came when Sui was experimenting with conceptual and symbolic aspects of materials and mediums. The need to experiment with rocks came after Tiananmen Square; it was during this stage that Sui began working with more quiet materials. Earth force consists of twenty 100 kg boulders. Each boulder is entangled in a web of ribbed steel. The final work was presented in Beijing in 1992.
Sui Jianguo’s Mao Jackets are perhaps his most iconic work yet. Sui began thinking of the Mao Suit or Sun Yat Sen suit when he visited the birthplace of Sun Yat Sen in August 1996. A finished product finally emerged a year later when Sui was in Australia for a fellowship. A “scholarly discussion” is credited with yielding the first outlines or frame of the suit.
While there are several representations of these jackets, most of them are a hollow sculpture of a Mao suit. Sue Wang states that “utilizing various forms and sizes to simultaneously release the excitement and inhibition associated with this object, the artist used a satirical approach to express the conflict between escape and repression”.
The Mao suit itself is representative of Sui’s strong ties with China’s Maoist past. During the Cultural Revolution Sui and several other Chinese were influenced by Mao’s cult of personality. Sui goes into further detail stating “Mao was virtually a God at home”. The empty hollow suits are seen by some as “symbols of Mao’s empty promises”. Sui stresses that the suits are not much as a criticism but more of a “medium” to convey his ideas and emotions about his Maoist past. Upon completion of this project Sui felt like he had reached a certain type of resolution. Sui claimed “I’m putting him to rest. This way I can grow up”.
Sui’s Red Dinosaurs or Jurassic Age series have also become a trademark of his work. These dinosaurs focus more on China’s recent exporting nature, allowing Sui to evaluate the contemporary Chinese export culture. According to 798 ART district the “Made in China” stamped on several of the dinosaurs midsection “relates directly to some topics on economical relations”. Sui intends to get the audience to consider who is making a product, where is it going, and why so. At the same time Sui sometimes cages the dinosaurs. When asked about this Sui stated that he was suggesting that China’s economic expanse in some ways is not so good for China, for the environment and human life… I don't want him to continue getting bigger”.
The dinosaurs themselves are usually made out of fiberglass and can stand up to 310 cm tall.
Made in China
Sui’s Made in China series revolves around China’s new identity as a world producing power. The works themselves are usually banners stating Made in China.
Some of Sui’s most recent work has been on the Limited Motion series. Limited Motion was created in order to express the feelings of “imprisonment” felt by Sui Jianguo. The series of works made its debut in 2011 and was shown in the Museum Beelden aan Zee in The Hague.
For this series Sui creates steel structures that house steel spheres. These spheres are able to move do to an internal motor. As see with previous works the works in the series vary in size as well as shape. For example one of the Limited Motions is housed in a cage, where another will be housed in a box. In the grander scope of the work however certain crucial details manifest themselves in the art project that allow the artist to fully share his feelings and intentions via the artwork. The first of these important details is the solid unrelenting structures themselves. Their harsh exterior perhaps refers to the oppressive stance the Chinese government has on censorship. The exterior shells are weathered, perhaps indicating the attempts made upon the structure to weaken it or tear it down, yet we still see it standing in place.
2011 “the Hague Under Heaven---Suijianguo Sculpture” Museum Beelden aan Zee, Hague, Holland
2010 “Made in China by Sui Jianguo” Art Issue Projects, Beigao District, Beijing, China
2009 “Motion/Tension : New Work by SuiJianguo", Today Art Museum, Beijing,China
2008 “Art Time Square-Exhibition of works by Sui Jianguo” HongKong, China
2008 “Revealing Traces”, Joyart, Beijing, China
2007 “Dian Xue - Sui Jianguo Art Works”, OCAT, Shanghai, China
2007 “Speeding up – Sui Jianguo Space Video”, Arario, Beijing, China
2005 “Sui Jianguo: The Sleep of Reason”, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, USA
1999 “Clothes Veins Study”, Passage Gallery, Beijing, China
1997 “You Meet the Shadow of Hundred Years”, Victoria College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia
1996 “Exhibition of Works by Sui Jianguo”, Hanart Gallery, Hong Kong
1995 “Deposit and Fault”, New Delhi Culture Center, India
1994 “Exhibition of Works by Sui Jianguo”, Hanart Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
1994 “Remembrance of Space”, CAFA Gallery, Beijing, China
2013 "Space Drawings" "FITUNFIT" Museum KAdE Amersfoort Holland
2011 “Leaving Realism Behind” Pace Beijing, Beijng, China
2011 “Start from the Horizon-Chinese Contemporary Sculpture Since 1978” Sishang Art Museum, Beijing, China
2011 “Ideology and Manifestation” Wenxuan Art Museum, Chengdu, China
2011 “the 4th Guangdong Trinnale” GMOA, China
2011 “Super-Orgnasm-CAFAM Biennale" Beijing, China
2011 “Collection Histry-China New Art” MOCA Chengdu, China
2011 “Martell Artists of the Year” Beijing,Shanghai, Guangzhou
2010 “Made in Pop Land” National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea
2010 “The city of forking paths” The sculpture project of the expo boulevard, world expo Shanghai 2010, Shanghai
2010 “The constructed dimension - 2010 Chinese contemporary art invitational exhibition” National Art Museum of China
2010 “Sculpture - Sui Jianguo and his students” A4 gallery, Chengdu, China
2009 “The home court” White Box Museum of Art, 798, Beijng China
2009 “Beijing—Havana The Revolution of Art” The National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana, Cuba
2009 “I Can Believe Chinese Contemporary Artist’s (Invitation) Exhibition & Star Art Museum Opening Exhibition
2009 “Embrace Suzhou - Exhibition of Chinese Contemporary Art” Suzhou Art Museum, China
2009 “09 Art Changsha” Hunan Museum, Changsha, China
2009 Conversation With Chinese Contemporary Sculpture Millennium Park, Chicago, USA
2009 State Legacy-Research in the visualisation of political history Manchester, MMU, UK
2009 "Spectacle—to each his own" Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei
2008 “Art and Chinese Revolution” Asia Society, New York
2008 “Beyond-Sotheby’s at Chatsworth” Chatsworth, UK
2008 “Conciliatory-Bozinan Biennalia” Bozinan Art Museum, Poland
2008 “Come Over” Li Space, Caochangdi, Beijing
2008 “Hanging in Sky Drifting on Surface” Linda Gallery, 798 Beijing
2008 “Reflective Asia—3rd Nanjing Triennial” Nanjing Museum, Nanjing
2008 “Hypallage — The Post - Modem Mode of Chinese Contemporary Art” The OCT Art & Design Gallery, Shenzhen, China
2008 “Half - life of a Dream — Contemporary Chinese Art” SFMOMA, USA
2008 “Ships at Sea” – Henk Visch & Sui Jianguo, C - Space, Beijing, China
2008 “New World Order”, Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands
2008 “Free Fall”, Chen Ling Hui Contemporary Space, Beijing, China
2008 “Crouching Paper Hidden Dragon” F2 Gallery, Caochangdi, Beijing
2008 “Hunting Birds”, Tang Contemporary, Beijing, China
2007 “Energy—Spirit, Body, Material, The First Today’s Documents 2007” Today’s Art Museum, Beijing
2007 “Forms of Concepts—the reform of concepts of Chinese contemporary Art 1987-2007” Hubei Art Museum, Wu Han, China
2007 “Red Hot - Asian Art Today from the Chaney Family Collection” the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, USA
2007 “Metamorphosis: The Generation of Transformation in Chinese Contemporary Art “, Tampere Art Museum, Finland
2007 “Fashion Accidentally”, Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, Taiwan
2007 “What is Monoha?”, B.T.A.P., Beijing, China
2007 “Breathe”, Jinan, China
2007 “Top 10 Chinese Contemporary Sculptors”, Asia Art Center, Beijing, China
2007 “Chinese Contemporary Socart”, The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia
2007 “We Are Your Future - Special Project for 2nd Moscow Biennale”, Russia
2006 “City in Progress / Live from Zhang Jiang”, Shanghai, China
2006 “Double - kick Cracker”, Tang Contemporary, Beijing, China
2006 “Susi - Future & Fantasy”, Metropolitan Museum of Manila, The Philippines
2006 “Absolute Images”, Arario Tian, South Korea
2006 “China Trade”, International Center for Contemporary Asian Art, Vancouver, Canada
2006 “Jianghu”, Jack Tilton Gallery, New York, USA
2006 “Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China”, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany
2006 “On the Edge”, Davis Museum and Culture Center, Wellesley College, Massachusetts, USA
2005 “Beautiful Cynicism”, Arario, Beijing, China
2005 “Ten Thousands Year”, Postmodern City, Beijing, China
2005 “To Each His Own”, Zero-Space 798, Beijing, China
2005 “Xianfeng! Chinese Avant-garde sculpture, Museum Beelden aan Zee, Scheveningen, The Netherlands
2005 “Transportation Box”, Jianwai SOHO, Beijing, China
2005 “On the Edge - Contemporary Chinese Artists Encounter the West”, Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University, California, USA
2005 “Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China”, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, USA
2004 “Now - Conceptual Estate in Shanghai”, Shanghai, China
2004 “The First Nominative Exhibition of Fine Art Literature”, Wuhan, China
2004 “Sculpture by the Sea”, Sydney, Australia
2004 “Gods Becoming Men”, Frissiras Museum, Athens, Greece
2004 “What Is Art - Two Wrongs Can Make One Right”, Xian Art Museum, Xian, China
2004 “Playing With Chi Energy”, House of Shiseido, Tokyo, Japan
2004 “L’art à la Plage”, Nice, France
2004 “Exposition des Sculptures Chinoises”, Jardin Des Tuileries, Paris, France
2004 “Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China”, International Center of Photography / Asia Society, New York, USA
2004 “Le Moine et le Démon”, Lyon Contemporary Art Museum, Lyon, France
2004 “Busan Sculpture Project”, Busan, South Korea
2004 “Light As Fuck”, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo, Norway
2004 “Beyond Boundaries”, Shanghai Gallery of Art, Shanghai, China
2003 “Open the Sky: Contemporary Art Exhibition”, Duolun Art Museum, Shanghai, China
2003 “The Sea and the Music: Modern Sculpture Exhibition”, Xiamen, China
2003 “Left Wing”, Left Bank Plaza, Beijing, China
2003 “Conceptual Estate”, Shenzhen, China
2003 “Exhibition of Modern Ceramic Art”, Fushan, China
2003 “Second Reality”, Pingod Space, Beijing, China
2003 “Red Memory - Left Hand and Right Hand”, 798 Art District, Beijing, China
2003 “Today’s Chinese Art”, Shijitan, Beijing, China
2003 “Open Time”, National Art Gallery, Beijing, China
2003 “Contemporary Sculpture - China Korea Japan”, Osaka Museum, Japan
2003 “Beaufort Triennial Contemporary Art by the Sea”, Museum of Modern Art, Oostende, Belgium
2002 “Paris – Pékin”, Palace Cardin, Paris, France
2002 “Mirage”, Suzhou Art Museum, Suzhou, China
2002 “1st Guangzhou Triennial”, Guangdong Art Museum, Guangzhou, China
2002 “Beijing Afloat”, B.T.A.P., Beijing, China
2002 “Made in China”, Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg, Germany
2002 “Triennial of Chinese Art”, Guangzhou Museum, Guangzhou, China
2002 “Modernity in China - 1980-2002”, Fondacion Armando Alvares Penteado (FAAP), São Paulo, Brazil
2002 “Artists of Ideal”, Contemporary Art Center, Verona, Italy
2002 “Made By Chinese”, Gallery Enrico Navara, Paris, France
2002 “Made in China”, Ethan Cohen Fine Art, New York, USA
2001 “Transplantation In Situ”, He Xiangning Art Museum, Shenzhen, China
2001 “Dream 2001 - Contemporary Chinese Art Exhibition”, Red Mansion, London, UK
2001 “Forever”, Canadian Embassy, Beijing, China
2001 “Open 2001- Fourth International Sculpture and Installation”, Venice, Italy
2001 “Art on the Beach”, Nice, France
2001 “Between Earth and Heaven: New Classical Movements in the Art of Today”, Museum Of Modern Art, Oostende, Belgium
2000 “Shanghai Spirit - Shanghai Biennale”, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, China
2000 “Sui Jianguo and Zhan Wang”, Galerie Loft, Paris, France
2000 “Sharing Exoticisms - Contemporary Art Lyon Biennale”, Lyon, France
2000 “Chinese Contemporary Sculpture Invitational Exhibition”, Qingdao Sculpture Museum, Qingdao, China
1999 “Second Annual Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition”, He Xiangning Art Museum, Shenzhen, China
1999 “Gate of the Century”, Chengdu Art Museum, Chengdu, China
1999 “Avant-garde in China”, Galerie Loft, Paris, France
1999 “Les Champs de la Sculpture 2000”, Paris, France
1999 “The Fourteenth International Asia Art Exhibition”, Asia Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan
1999 “Volume and Form - Singapore Art Festival”, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
1999 “Four Artists”, Beijing Art Warehouse, Beijing, China
1999 “Departure From China”, Beijing Design Museum, Beijing, China
1999 “China 1999”, Limn Gallery, St Francisco, USA
1999 “Transience: Chinese Art at the End of the Twentieth Century”, David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, USA
1998 “Personal Touch - Chinese Contemporary Art”, TEDA Contemporary Art Museum, Tianjin, China
1998 “First Annual Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition”, He Xiangning Art Museum, Shenzhen, China
1998 “Im Spiegel der Eigenen Tradition - Contemporary Chinese Art”, German Embassy, Beijing, China
1998 “A Revelation of 20 Years Contemporary Chinese Art”, Forbidden City, Beijing, China
1998 “Vivre Life - Eight Artists Exhibition”, Wan Feng Gallery, Beijing, China
1997 “Dream of China - Chinese Contemporary Art”, Yan Huang Art Museum, Beijing, China
1997 “Continue - Five Sculptors’ Exhibition”, CAFA Gallery, Beijing, China
1997 “Sui Jianguo & Li Gang”, Contemporary Chinese Sculpture, Red Gate Gallery, Beijing, China
1997 “A Point of Contact – Korean, Chinese and Japanese Contemporary Art”, Taegu Culture Hall, Taegu, Korea
1996 “First Academic Exhibition of Chinese Contemporary Artists,” Hong Kong Art Center, Hong Kong
1996 “Reality, Present, and Future - Chinese Contemporary Art”, Beijing International Art Museum, Beijing, China
1996 “From the East of Asia - Installation & Painting”, Kodama Gallery, Osaka, Japan
1996 “Works Nominated by Art Critics (Sculpture and Installation) in Jiangsu Monthly Magazine”, Beijing, China
1995 “Women Site”, Beijing Contemporary Art Gallery, Beijing, China
1995 “Plan for Development”, CAFA Gallery, Beijing, China
1995 “From the Middle Kingdom - Chinese Avant-garde Art Since 1979”, Centre d'Art Santa Monica, Barcelona, Spain
1994 “Substance and Creativity: Asian Arts and Craft from Its Origin to the Present Day”, Hiroshima, Japan
1993 “Sui Jianguo and Wang Keping Sculpture Exhibition”, Chinese Modern Art Center, Osaka, Japan
1993 “China’s New Art post 1989”, Hong Kong Art Center, Hong Kong
1992 “Contemporary Young Sculptors, National Academy of Fine Arts, Hangzhou, China
1992 “Position '92”, CAFA Gallery, Beijing, China
1990 “Exhibition of Art Workshop No.1”, CAFA Gallery, Beijing, China
1986 “Exhibition of Young Artists in Shandong”, Jinan, China
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