The title of this exhibition, Tender is the Night: The Art of Kang Haitao, is a phrase taken from the poem ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ by the English poet John Keats (and later borrowed as the title to one of his novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald). In Keats’ poem, there is an unbearable and irresolvable tension between daily life where ‘but to think is to be full of sorrow’ and the night-time song of ‘the immortal bird’, the nightingale, which gestures towards a life beyond suffering and beyond ‘death’.
There is a tension, too, at the heart of Kang Haitao’ s work — a yearning for a world beyond the everyday one, but, paradoxically, the lexicon used to explore this spiritual world is largely in his earlier paintings the world of everyday provincial life: old factories, old schools, walls, isolated trees. More recently, the lexicon of the paintings has shifted, and there is now a complex interplay between inner and outer, between light and shadow, substance and reflection (see ‘Memory of Light’), and the colour palette is higher.
The Inward Gaze: A Conversation with Kang Haitao
with Enrica Costamagna and Philip Dodd
Chinese, b.1976, Chongqing, graduated from Sichuan Fine Arts Academy. Lives and works in Chengdu and Mianyang. Kang has participated in several international exhibitions – Hong Kong, the USA, Korea, the Czech Republic and Italy, and his works are held by the Long Museum, Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai Start Museum, Guangdong Museum of Art, Jilin Provincal Museum, Wuhan Art Museum and Italian National Agency for Tourism as well as art institution and private collectors.
Philip Dodd, former director of London’s ICA, has curated exhibitions in Beijing, New York, London, Moscow and Singapore with artists as various as Sean Scully and Yoko Ono. Named one of the world’s 100 Top Art Innovators by the American magazine Art&Auction, he has published numerous books on art, film and literature and produced films with the artists Steve McQueen and Damien Hirst as well as with the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said. He is the chairman of Made in China (Uk) Ltd and has been hired as one of the curators for this year’s Guangzhou Art Triennial.
Enrica Costamagna has worked in galleries in Berlin and London, lived and worked in China and co-curated exhibitions in several Chinese museums. Her writings include a recently published essay in Zhuangshi, China’s most influential design magazine. She speaks fluent Mandarin and four other languages and is co-director of the cultural agency Made in China (UK) Ltd.