Artist Adrian Wong’s Orange Peel, Harbor Seal, Hyperreal May 12-July 21 in SF

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SAN FRANCISCO – This spring, the Chinese Culture Center (CCC) of San Francisco continues its annual Xian Rui (‘fresh’ and ‘sharp’) exhibition series with Orange Peel, Harbor Seal, Hyperreal, the first solo exhibition in the Bay Area of the work of critically-acclaimed American artist Adrian Wong. The six new sculptural works, created specifically for the exhibition, excavate the similarities and parallels between the present architecture and design of San Francisco’s Chinatown and that of Hong Kong circa 1970.

Wong, also selected as one of 31 international artists to participate in the Asian Art Museum’s concurrent Phantoms of Asia contemporary art exhibition (May 18 – September 2), relies heavily on a research-based method to explore the intricacies of his relationship to his environment — experientially, historically, culturally, and through the filter of fantastical or fictionalized narratives.

Wong made three separate trips to San Francisco in preparation for the exhibition at the CCC, spending countless hours wandering the streets of Chinatown. Based part time in Hong Kong, he was struck by the closely related, but distinct sense of nostalgia that asserts itself visually in both places.

While the Cultural Revolution raged in China in the 1960s and 1970s, British-ruled Hong Kong experienced a vibrant and often idiosyncratic commingling of western psychedelic and traditional Chinese design cultures. References to Taoist cosmology in decorative motifs and staid patterns were suddenly re-presented in colorful abstractions of their original ceremonial counterparts. This now iconic heyday of design, made mythic during the Golden Age of Hong Kong cinema, was burned into the collective consciousness of not only the Chinese Diaspora but also of the world at large as representative of the “exotic East.”

Across Hong Kong, the products of this period became ubiquitous and remain distinctive to this day—though most have fallen into disrepair. Carrying the markers of decades of use, they nevertheless continue to catch the eye, making appearances in unexpected places: in alleyways, beneath layers of dust in Chinese medical dispensaries, well-worn countertops in local eateries, and in piles of detritus generated by the unending urban renewal projects initiated by the tourism board.

In San Francisco’s Chinatown, on the other hand, Wong found this aesthetic alive and well – a shiny and new version of elegance borrowed from another era. From the color palette of the mosaic tiled exteriors to the low-cost chandeliers, Chinatown looked to him like a living, but distorted simulacrum of Hong Kong in the 1970s – one that, according to him, “produced an analogous but fundamentally different kind of nostalgia for the period—sanitized, artificial, but still potent as if the simple act of simulation had become authentic despite its inaccuracies.”

The Work

Inspired by these parallel visual identities, Wong has created six new sculptural works for Orange Peel, Harbor Seal, Hyperreal whose shapes and forms all hark back to this era in Hong Kong and its replication here in San Francisco and draw from everyday observances in both places.

Two works reference a wall at the rear of the famed Chung King Mansions in Hong Kong, a crowded warren of cheap apartment blocks favored by asylum seekers. Slap dash urban renewal efforts there every 7-10 years generally result in a new layer of mosaic tile being applied over the old. The wall that caught Wong’s eye is peeling away in places, revealing various strata of decorative tile all the way back to the 1950s. Wong has collected hundreds of tiles that reference the aesthetics of various eras since then and assembled them into two wall-mounted works that echo this unique wormhole into the layered histories of Hong Kong.

Another large work that uses a similar layering process, but this time in carpet squares, was, in part, inspired by the CCC itself and its unique location on the 3rd Floor of the Hilton Hotel in Chinatown. As he made his way back and forth to the gallery over the Hilton’s carpeted floors, he was reminded of his very elderly grandmother whose shuffling gait had worn trails into the carpeting of her home. In this large 10 ft. x 3 ft. work, Wong layers pieces of carpet with a vintage Hong Kong-esque flavor and erodes them down, leaving traces of human pathways over the surface.

Two large steel works reference Wong’s experience of fleeting moments passing small parks in densely packed Chinatown. Peering in through the fencing, he would notice the fence reflected many times over in store windows, creating an impression of deep layers of barriers. In two 5 ft. x 5 ft. compositions, Wong recreates that impression in paired steel works that hang one in front of the other.

A final modular abstract sculpture again makes use of tiles. Wong has fashioned blocks out of greatly enlarged tiles and has piled them into a large 16 ft. x 4 ft. work.

Wong is also transforming the walls of the gallery, cladding them in brick and tile and then breaking those down, to give the space an aged Hong Kong ambience.

Orange Peel, Harbor Seal, Hyperreal is CCC’s fifth exhibition in the Xian Rui Fresharp Artist Excellence Series that features the work of prominent, emerging Chinese-American contemporary artists. Launched in 2008, the series is the first of its kind in the country, providing institutional support, visibility and documentation for selected artists. Past exhibitions in the series have included Lure by Austin installation artist Beili Liu (2008), Chromatic Constructions by Boston fiber artist Dora Hsiung (2009), O–Viewpoint by Palo Alto artist Stella Zhang (2010) and White Ink by ink painter Zheng Chongbin (2011).

Orange Peel, Harbor Seal, Hyperreal opens on May 12, 2012 with a free opening event from 1-4 PM and is on view after that date Tuesdays – Saturdays 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Chinese Culture Center, 750 Kearny St., 3rd Floor (inside the Hilton Hotel). Admission to the gallery is free. For more information, the public should visit www.c-c-c.org or call 415-986-1822.

The public is also invited to a ticketed dinner with the artist Adrian Wong on May 11, 2012 at 7 PM. Tickets are $100 each. Reservations required in advance and can be made online at www.c-c-c.org.

The 2012 Xian Rui Fresharp Artist Excellence Series is funded by Grants for the Arts and the San Francisco Arts Commission.

About Adrian Wong

Adrian Wong was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois in 1980. Originally trained in research psychology (receiving a Master’s degree from Stanford University in 2003), he began making and exhibiting work in San Francisco. He continued his post-graduate studies at Yale University, where he received an MFA in 2005.

He has been based in Hong Kong, S.A.R. since 2005, where he is the co-founder and director of Embassy Projects, an arts consultancy and independent production studio. In 2008, he began splitting his time between Hong Kong and Los Angeles, where he teaches sculpture and critical theory at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Wong works in a variety of media including installation, video, and sculpture. Recent exhibitions include the traveling exhibition Troglodyte See the Light, A Passion for Creation for the Louis Vuitton Fondation pour la Création, and the Hong Kong Sculpture Biennial. His videos have been screened internationally at the Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen, Bangkok Experimental Film Festival, LOOP Media Art Center, and Kunsthalle Wien.

About the Chinese Culture Center

The Chinese Culture Center, managed by the Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco, is a non-profit organization established in 1973 to preserve, promote, and influence the course of Chinese and Chinese American culture. The Center is a destination for exploring, envisioning, and connecting progressive perspectives on Chinese and Chinese American art and heritage. Since 1981, the Center has increasingly developed programs of contemporary relevance such as the Xian Rui Fresharp Artist Excellence Series and the Present Tense Biennial.

JPG images can be requested electronically. Please contact Nina Sazevich, Public Relations, at (415) 752-2483 or nina911@pacbell.net.

About the Author

David Ka Wai Pan is your typical Asian American, confused about his identity but determined to learn more about it. How? By writing and posting articles here at AsianWeek.