“The boundless potential of new art”

On the occasion of his presentation at the UBS Lounge at Art Basel Hong Kong, contemporary abstract artist Ding Yi talked to us about his work and the growth of the art scene in China

Globally-renowned Chinese artist Ding Yi is known for his large-scale abstract paintings that employ a repeated cross motif in a distinctively stylized and immediately recognizable artistic language. Initially influenced by the work of seminal Abstract artists including Piet Mondrian and Frank Stella, Ding Yi's patterns represent a return to pure abstraction, while simultaneously referencing the steady rhythm of urbanization in his native Shanghai. Relating his characteristic style to broader social changes, the artist explains:

“I often make use of fluorescent colors because these are chemical colors not naturally found but they possess an intensity that can express the power and dynamism of a city’s growth and development, perhaps even considered as a wildly voracious force but this type of energy lends a positive tension to art. It can represent the many faces of contemporary society including dramatic changes of the stock market, the sprouting of architecture and construction borne by urbanization including transportation infrastructure and the flow of people.”

A founding member of the '85 New Wave Movement', Ding is one among a handful of key contemporary Chinese artists to pursue abstraction at a time when many were engaged in Political Pop, figurative painting, or other expressionist styles. Looking back, he speaks of his “strong desire to become an abstract artist, and a very rational one at that,” affirming that “abstract art can express ideas, represent the spirit… and the progress and evolution witnessed over the past 30 years is particularly meaningful to me.”

Ultimately, Ding believes in “the boundless potential of new art”, with a firm pledge to represent something of the spirit of our times. This is an ambition at the very core of his work:

“My language is the ‘Appearance of Crosses’ to retain the most exciting things from this era on the canvas […] We often say artworks must represent the characteristics of the times yet this spirit is never singular. It is formed by many factors to enable only a fraction to be expressed, to reveal a slither of the truth.”

This dynamism is reflected in the vibrancy of his painting, Appearance of Crosses 2006-3 (2006), UBS Art Collection's major recent acquisition. In this work, the artist has used a tartan material as his canvas reflecting his interest in cross-cultural exchange as well as symbolizing the grid system formations in the city planning of burgeoning metropolises. His signature cross is also the most basic element in color printing technology, a homage to his time spent working in a commercial printmaking factory and allusion to the country’s rapid industrialization.

Appearance of Crosses 2006-3 was displayed in the UBS Lounge at Art Basel Hong Kong earlier this year, alongside other key works by leading international artists including Katharina Grosse, Imi Knoebel, Robert Mangold, Gerhard Richter, and Sean Scully.

This year marks five years of partnership between UBS and Art Basel in Hong Kong, which has seen the fair grow from strength to strength. The quality of the show and the platform it provides for emerging and established artists across Asia Pacific have helped to consolidate Hong Kong's status as a global hub for contemporary art.

Indeed, year after year the appetite for contemporary art has continued to grow dramatically throughout the region. Speaking of the Shanghai art scene in particular, Ding explains:  “In recent years, the development of Shanghai’s art ecosystem has been very rapid. The basis for this in fact stems from the growth and proliferation of private museums. You wish to present a great exhibition then another museum is instinctively driven to stage an even better show. This multilateral interaction gives the city a vivacity that propels the arts.”

UBS have been collecting contemporary art for more than 60 years, making UBS Art Collection one of the world's largest corporate art collections. With over 30,000 works, one of the ways UBS shares its collection with the broader public is to loan its works to museums around the world. In a further commitment to the practice of this seminal artist, UBS will support Ding Yi's forthcoming solo exhibition at the Guangdong Art Museum in Guangzhou, set to open at the end of September 2018. A publication will be launched on the occasion of the opening, featuring a new series of works alongside examples of his oeuvre spanning the last three decades.

With a career of more than thirty years behind him, Ding represented China in the Venice Biennale in 1993 and has exhibited in numerous institutions including the Long Museum, Shanghai, the Yuz Museum, Shanghai and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Yet he shows no signs of slowing down, stating: “The most critical factor for me today is to continuously create, ceaselessly unearth and experiment to find new directions.”

August 2018

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UBS has collected art for 60 years, holding one of the world's most significant corporate collections with over 30,000 pieces

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