Show by visiting sculptor offers view of China's approach to art

May 13, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

"In this country," said Hou Rong, "you have the freedom of making what you want, but you have to sell it.

"In China, there are [outdoor] sculptures commissioned by the government. There are small apartments so there is no way of doing sculpture at home, and there is no market. The Chinese don't have money to spend on art, so the only thing [to do with one's own sculpture] is to give it to friends."

A well-known sculptor in China who has worked on numerous public projects, he has been sculptor in residence at Towson State University since last July; according to TSU, he is the first contemporary sculptor from the People's Republic of China to be in residence at a United States university campus.

In his own country Mr. Hou, 44, is particularly well-known for creating replicas of the 2,000-year-old army of life-size terra cotta warriors excavated since 1974 at the tomb of Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang in Xian, and he has also been active in restoring the excavated sculptures.

He has worked on a number of major Chinese monuments including the Mao Tse-Tung mausoleum sculptures in Tiananmen Square. As a member of the Beijing Modern Sculpture Company and the East Beijing Modern Sculpture Company, he has been a consultant for major art projects.

Currently a show of the work Mr. Hou has done since he came to this country last summer is on view at the Roberts Gallery of Towson's

Asian Arts Center. And last week he gave an illustrated lecture in which he showed slides of many sculpture projects completed in China in recent decades.

Talking through an interpreter, Mr. Hou made some things clear about sculpture in China and about his own work.

The work that Mr. Hou showed in his lecture was realist in nature, and the many monuments tended toward the heroic realist mode. The sculptor said that such works were commissioned by government bodies, designed by people such himself and executed by skilled workers.

The sculptor, he said, did not decide on the theme or subject matter of these works.

But using that as a given, "the sculptor decides how the sculpture looks, and if the government doesn't like what it sees, he will redesign it. It's like a company commissioning a work in this country."

The show of Mr. Hou's work contains 27 small sculptures which he has done since coming to this country, primarily in the styles in which

he has worked in China.

"They reflect traditional and contemporary sculpture techniques," he said, but all are representational and look traditional to those used to looking at contemporary art.

They range from a small sculpture of a woman that imitates the sculpture of the Tang dynasty of 800 to 900 A.D., and a head in imitation of one of the terra cotta warriors, to three stylized figures of a mother, father and grandmother which Mr. Hou said represent Tibetans. "Their simple character and lives are represented by the style of the pieces," he said.

Pointing to three female nudes, he called them his best work. They represent the African-American woman, and in them he tried to express the inner life of his subject. "It is good if the inner part is represented on the outside," he said.

The sculptor said his residency here was organized by his brother-in-law, American businessman Henry del Valle, who, Mr. Hou said, went to China to teach English in 1985 and subsequently met and married Mr. Hou's sister.

Some Towson students have helped him with his sculpture, Mr. Hou said, and he has learned much about Western sculpture since he has been here.

"I feel American art students have great freedom to develop their own ideas. Their creative juices are high, their imagination is active, and some really work very hard. Some of their basic techniques and skills could be improved."

As for his time here, he said, "I have many new ideas from attending classes and seeing how other sculptors do their work. I hope to take these ideas back to China with me

and show them to my colleagues."

That won't be happening for a while, however. Mr. Hou's residency has been extended for another year, until 1994, and his faculty adviser here, Mark Dunhill, says he thinks Mr. Hou will experiment more in his second year.

"Some members of the faculty felt he should do a bigger exhibition of his work next year, but he more or less declined that. He said he felt the pressure to prepare another exhibition would prevent him from experimenting. He's got a lot to lose in the sense of his own self-esteem if he makes new works searching for a new language and if they are maybe a little bit inept.

"The sculptors on the faculty felt very much in favor of his not being put under that kind of pressure, but encouraged to search and develop new ideas."

ART REVIEW

What:The sculpture of Hou Rong, sculptor in residence at Towson State University

Where: Roberts Gallery, Fine Arts Center, Osler and Cross Campus Drives, Towson

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; through May 21

Call: (410) 830-2807

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