Thank you to everyone who made it out to the Isamu Noguchi/Qi Baishi: And Other Inspiring Encounters In and Beyond Modern Asian Art Symposium at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, and congratulations to curator Natsu Oyobe and the staff at the UMMA for an amazing exhibition! It was a real honor to be part of such an important event.
I had a wonderful time exploring the idea of “encounters” with the other presenters/respondents, and the symposium and exhibition raised some important issues that will stay with me long after today. Can the notion of “encounter” offer some alternative to an overdetermined East/West dichotomy that still plagues the discipline of Art History? In another sense, in engaging with “encounters,” can we avoid some of the trappings of the term “influence” or the limitations of the nation itself? I think we all left with more questions than answers, but our collaborative exploration seems to open an important line of inquiry.
Looking at Noguchi’s Peking Drawings in tandem with the work of Qi Baishi was a treat, and this exhibition reminds me how hard it is to truly appreciate the quality of ink on paper when we view them via digital reproduction. There is something about the quality of the ink that still evades digitization. When creating these paintings, it is thought by conservators that Noguchi first painted the broad ink wash, followed by his finer ink contour lines (seen here). The initial gestural ink seems to capture the motion and spirit of the human body, while the finer details overlay in an interesting two-dimensional architecture. Thinking about this process, I couldn’t help but remember an art school exercise where a series of quickly sketched abstract scribbles on paper would be transformed into some kind of drawing (sometimes representational, sometimes abstract) hinged on the curves and movement of the initial lines. Although I highly doubt that this was Noguchi’s process, it is amazing to think about how the gestural interacts with the figurative. The product of Noguchi’s “encounter” with Qi does not result in mimicry, but vibrant experimentation through medium, format, and subject.