Ni Jun: Back in the Jungle

8 July - 10 August 2021

PIFO Gallery is pleased to present Ni Jun's solo exhibition Back in the Jungle. It is the second one-man show of Ni Jun at PIFO Gallery, showing the artist's paintings from the past two years. “The paintings are characterized by his long-established artistic language, especially the technique of brushstroke and saturation of the color. It is manifestly evident that he is no longer extremely cautious or remarkably restrained; instead, he experiments with a brutal aesthetics and an unscrupulous manner of making paintings.” This exhibition is curated by Lu Mingjun, curator and researcher of art philosophy at Fudan University.



A fundamentalist painter, Ni Jun believes painting is everything, and everything is a form of painting. That being said, painting is unquestionably the only universal way to perceive and observe every bit of the world.


At one point, Ni Jun was inextricably and intricately obsessed with Manet’s paintings. He spent more than ten years on intensive study of every detail of Manet’s brushstrokes, color palette, and different shades. Ni’s detailed investigation even expanded to the emotional depth created by the artist. His aim, however, was not to find out how the artist had drawn up rules; instead, he cherished the feelings of the moment when reading and re-reading Manet’s work. In other words, all of Ni’s paintings of landscape, still life, and portrait from the period served as the notes he had taken while reading Manet’s paintings. His interest in Manet’s art was more than an indication of his identification of Manet’s artistic interests. Furthermore, for Ni, the value of Manet’s paintings lies in their role as a transition point in the history of art and the tension created in the artworks. The art historians have reminded us that Manet, who had undergone rapid changes during the times, sought to balance or resist the accelerated development of the times and the unprecedented liberation of perception.


In the late 1980s, Ni Jun, who had just graduated from the Mural Painting Department of the Central Academy of Arts and Design, went to Rutgers University to study art. He continued to observe and investigate the original works in his years abroad, which allowed him to deepen his understanding step by step. Ni believes, over the past century, we haven’t grasped the internals and nuanced subtleties of Western painting and their deeply rooted cultural heritage and historical context because our understanding has been far from sophisticated and thorough. Therefore, to a great extent, his artistic creation — or work — has been made to bring to light the details hidden in the history of art and to bring them to China. Although keeping in mind that it would be a thankless task, Ni Jun had never got tired of it as he convinced himself that it was a necessary step for Western painting to enter China. After he returned to China at the beginning of the new century, Ni found that the Chinese art world had already been radically changed. His initial goal seemed completely out of tune with the times. At last, he decided to continue for his own sake.


The pirate and the cheetah that serve as the motif and the brutal image of the picture has repeatedly appeared in his new works. In doing so, they also function as the artist’s self-referentiality. I have to admit that all pirates and cheetahs seem to be sent out of a place by order of deportation. The space they live in — be it the sea, the land, the airspace — has become more and more confined and restricted. At the same time, however, it is them that has generated another force in opposition to established art. As Hal Foster reminds us in his new book Brutal Aesthetics: Dubuffet, Bataille, Jorn, Paolozzi, Oldenburg, at a moment of crisis, “barbarism” has no longer been a cliché of its own, a decoration for the middle class, or creaturely kitsch; instead, it is to activate the fractures.


The above text is an excerpt from Ni Jun: Back in the Jungle by Lu Mingjun / June 29, 2021



Ni Jun, Chinese, b.1963, Tianjin. He received his MFA degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey and settled in New York City in 1991. Currently he lives and works in Beijing.