A New Art for a New China
August 26–December 16, 2023
The history of modern Chinese printmaking can be divided into four broad phases. The first phase lasted from the early 1930s through the 1940s. The modern Chinese print movement was initially inspired by the ideas of author and critic Lu Xun (1881–1936), who believed that art should serve a moral purpose and be used to improve society. Most of the prints created during the first phase of the movement were protest-themed, Expressionist-style woodcuts modeled after European, Russian and Japanese examples. Because these early prints were made and used in a period of great turmoil, they were often not preserved and are consequently quite rare today.
The second phase of modern Chinese printmaking history began in 1949 when the Chinese Communist Party gained control of mainland China and lasted until the late-1970s. Party leader Mao Zedong (1893–1976) believed in using art as a tool for political and social class struggle, and thought that prints were especially well-suited for conveying party goals and ideologies to a mass audience. With Mao’s support, the modern print movement expanded significantly between the 1950s and 1970s, with new schools, styles and subjects evolving in response to changing political conditions and priorities.
The 1980s and 90s marked the third phase in the history of the modern Chinese printmaking.
As the Chinese government adopted more liberal economic, social and cultural policies,
art was freed from its subservience to politics and printmakers were able to explore
a broader range of styles and subjects. This was a time of great experimentation and
innovation in Chinese printmaking, but also a time of considerable uncertainty as
many artists struggled to find a balance between art that was politically
acceptable and also commercially viable.
The fourth phase in the history of modern Chinese printmaking began around the turn of the 21st century with the emergence of China as a global superpower and continues today. The spirit of experimentation and innovation that began in the 1980s has been renewed in recent decades, and Chinese printmaking is now more diverse and more connected than ever before to international printmaking trends and markets. Contemporary Chinese printmaking is technically sophisticated, aesthetically complex and intellectually engaging, and it reflects the confidence and maturity of the Chinese nation as a whole.
This exhibition features a selection of Chinese prints dating from the late 1930s
to the early 2020s that reflect the broader history of China and Chinese printmaking
during that period. Most of the prints in the exhibition were donated to the Kruizenga
Art Museum by Michigan-native Dr. David Ihrman. The artworks belong to a collection
of more than 1,500 modern Chinese prints that was formed by Dr. Ihrman and his late wife, Huang Dong Ihrman, between the late 1980s and early 2000s. The Ihrman collection is extraordinary in its quality and scope, and it ranks among the largest collections of modern Chinese prints to be found outside of China. The Kruizenga Art
Museum is immensely grateful to Dr. Ihrman for his generosity.
Image: One Building After Another. Li Hua (Chinese, 1907–1994). 1959. Woodcut. Hope College Collection, purchased for the Ihrman Collection of Modern Chinese Prints, 2022.81.1