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Guan Wei: Nesting, or the Art of Idleness

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)


04 Jun 1999 to 09 Aug 1999

Curator: Sue Cramer

About the exhibition

Nesting, or the art of Idleness was Guan Wei’s first major survey exhibition, tracing the development of his work since 1989, the year of the Tiananmen massacre in Beijing – an event which helped prompt his decision to move to Australia in 1990. His art combines subtle humour with a sharp intelligence and an adventurous imagination. He offers a lively and often witty exploration of the ongoing interactions between his own cultural heritage and the influences of the West, engaging with many facets of the contemporary world, including scientific and environmental issues.

The exhibition began with a work from the MCA Collection, Two Finger Exercises (1989), made as a response to the student protests leading up to the massacre. This series features nude, androgynous figures making the V sign for Victory with their fingers – a sign used on the streets of Beijing to express political solidarity.

Guan Wei has a long association with the MCA. In 1992-93 he was the MCA artist-in-residence. In 1993, his work was included in the exhibition Mao Goes Pop: China Post-1989 curated by Li Xianting. In 1994, then MCA Chief Curator and Assistant Director Bernice Murphy included his work in Localities of Desire: Contemporary Art in an International World. His works Two finger Exercises (1989) and Certificate (1995) are in the MCA Collection and in 2013 he was commissioned to create a wall mural for the MCA’s Circular Quay Foyer.

Several major series of paintings made in Australia, such as Living Specimens (1992), The Great War of the Eggplant (1993), Treasure Hunt (1995) and Revisionary (1998), showed the growth of Guan Wei’s highly personal and idiosyncratic style. In paintings such as these, he delights in whimsical reflection upon the human condition. His approach is that of a storyteller, a maker of fables, a fabricator of fantastic myths woven together from fragments of disparate culture, places and times.

Featured in the exhibition was a specially commissioned installation Reforming The Desert: A Plan. In this work, the artist fantasised about using eggplants ‘as a symbol to reform the Australian desert.’ Reflecting Guan Wei’s keen sense of the absurd, this work could be seen as a kind of mock-scientific experiment.

Nesting, or the art of Idleness also included Guan Wei’s detailed preparatory drawings, his sketchbooks and the rubber stamps he used in his works.