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Snite exhibit showcases work of Chinese artist

| Wednesday, February 26, 2020

A new exhibit at the Snite Museum of Art, titled “Chao Shao-an: Moments Between Worlds,” gives viewers a brief glimpse into the expansive life and work of Chinese artist Chao Shao-an.

The exhibit contains 17 paintings that “capture the essence of subtle moments in nature through vibrant brushwork and coloration,” according to an article released by the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies.

Photo courtesy of Gina Costa

Pomegranate: Seeds of an Open Pomegranate is one of the Chao Shao-an’s works on display at the Snite Museum until June 20.

Chao Shao-an lived a “truly momentous life,” curator Fletcher Coleman said in his talk to open the exhibition.

Shao-an saw the fall of China’s last imperial dynasty and the birth of Republican China. He survived two world wars, the Chinese Civil War and other adversity during his almost 80-year career.

“[Chao Shao-an] endured, thrived and developed an artistic philosophy that was deeply rooted in Chinese tradition but incorporated techniques and subject matter that synthesized the ever-changing historical landscape he experienced over nine decades,” a script of the curatorial talk said.

The exhibit features “detailed yet poetic images of the world for which the artist developed an international reputation,” a Snite Museum press release said. 

The exhibit is housed in the museum’s Work on Paper gallery, a small and intimate space.

“It’s very contemplative,” said Gina Costa, Snite marketing and public relations manager.

The director of the Snite Museum, Joseph Becherer, described the space as “very calming” with dim lights to protect the artwork from fading.

“The works measurably aren’t huge,” Becherer said. “So I think you really feel just how monumental something can seem even when it’s measurably very small.” 

Chao Shao-an’s artwork is not the only part of his legacy at Notre Dame — two generations of Shao-an’s descendants have attended the University. His grandson, KY Chiu, is an alumnus, and his great-grandson is currently a junior. This connection adds another dimension to the exhibit, Coleman believes.

“Chinese ink-painting represents one of the most important aspects of Chinese artistic heritage, and the close relationship between Notre Dame and the legacy of Chao Shao-an makes this exhibition a rare opportunity to engage with Chinese art through a direct connection to the University community,” Coleman said in an email. 

Shao-an’s family does not seem to have followed in his artistic footsteps, Becherer said. His son became an engineer, his grandson became an engineer and now his great-grandson is studying engineering. 

The exhibit will be at the Snite until June 20, and was made possible by Shao-an’s family, the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies and Coleman, who is a visiting teaching professor in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design at Notre Dame. 

“Given the ever-increasing importance of East Asia to the global world, it is important that Notre Dame continue to expand and engage with China and its cultural production,” Coleman said. 

Becherer pointed out one of Shao-an’s paintings titled, “Pomegranate: Seeds of an Open Pomegranate.” He found the fruit’s symbolism of fertility and abundance in various cultures particularly interesting, and admired another painting featuring a cicada. 

“I think that’s just such a masterstroke when an artist gives you just a teeny, teeny little bit of information that really makes the picture whole,” Becherer said about the clear wings depicted in the painting.

Costa said students should stop by the Snite between classes or to take a break from studying, even if they have no knowledge about art whatsoever.

“You don’t need knowledge,” Costa said. “You just need a set of eyes.”

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