Liu Jianhua

Blank Paper


Not on display

Liu Jianhua born 1962
Unconfirmed: 1200 × 900 × 5 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Asia-Pacific Acquisitions Committee 2016


Blank Paper is one of a number of similar monochrome white porcelain objects, all with the same title, that are rectangular and flat in shape and presented on the wall in the manner of paintings. Their corners are slightly lifted, conveying an impression of lightness and flexibility such that they resemble the sheets of paper referred to in their title. Although this reference to the material of paper is immediately apparent, the works are not intended to have a ‘trompe l’oeil’ effect or to mimic paper. Rather, they resolutely declare their status as objects made of porcelain. As such they defy clear-cut categorisation according to the traditional media associated with fine art, such as painting, works on paper or sculpture. Although very similar, each of the Blank Paper works is unique and exists in two different sizes: there are sixteen larger works measuring 2010 x 1020 x 7 mm, made between 2009 and 2014, and twelve smaller versions measuring 1200 x 900 x 5 mm, made in 2012. This work and two others also owned by Tate (see Tate T14361 and T14362) are of the smaller size. The works from the Blank Paper series have been shown in a number of exhibitions, including Silent Anomalies at the Art & Public Gallery in Geneva, the Kuandu Biennale at the Kuandu Museum of Fine Art in Taipei and the Gwangju Biennial, all in 2012. Although they can be displayed separately, they are often shown in a group, emphasising both the importance of seriality in the making of these minimalist works and the subtle differences between them.

The reduced, purist language of Blank Paper, the reference to a simple object and the concentration on the material qualities of the white porcelain are all typical of Liu’s sculptural works since 2000. He learnt the techniques of working in porcelain from his uncle, a renowned kaolin artisan and porcelain factory manager in Jingdezhen. This city in Jiangxi province in north-east China has had a tradition of producing high quality pottery since the Song dynasty (960–1279 AD). After working in a porcelain sculpture studio, Liu was admitted to the Fine Arts Department of the Jingdezhen Pottery and Porcelain College in 1985. He mostly works with porcelain, ceramics and fibreglass, but has also experimented with photography and video. After a period making colourful ceramic figures, in 2001 he shifted to creating installations made of white ceramic and porcelain. In 2003 his installation Regular/Fragile, consisting of approximately one thousand white porcelain objects, was shown in the Chinese pavilion at the fiftieth Venice Biennale.

As the title suggests, Blank Paper is concerned with the idea of the unmarked surface. Paper is a medium that can be written or drawn on and that can have different content and meaning projected onto it through language or visual signs, and Liu encourages the viewer to create his or her own narratives when looking at his Blank Paper works. At the same time, a piece of paper – or a porcelain object that references a piece of paper – is more than a surface on which signs can be made. It is also an object – and an art object – in its own right. In an email to Tate curator Sook-Kyung Lee on 20 January 2015, the artist emphasised the interactive character of the Blank Paper works: ‘When facing a work like this, people may feel as if they were “writing” all their feelings in the real world on it, not with pens but with their hearts. The interactive relationship between existence and non-existence, like the slightly and delicately lifting corners of the work Blank Paper, hides all the emotions and thoughts within the work.’ Liu’s statement also points at Buddhist concepts of emptiness and non-existence (‘mu’ in Japanese and Korean; ‘wu’ in Chinese). Blank Paper uses a simple object to give visual shape to this fundamental idea of a simultaneous awareness of existence and non-existence, world and non-world.

Further reading
Liu Jianhua: Anomalous Thoughts, exhibition catalogue, Galleria Continua, Beijing 2006.
Edward Lucie-Smith and Sook-Kyung Lee, Regular/Fragile: Liu Jianhua, New York 2007.
Liu Jianhua: Dialectical Views on Social Spectacle, exhibition catalogue, Arario Gallery, Seoul 2007.

Lena Fritsch
March 2015

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Display caption

These sculptural objects made of porcelain are hung on the wall as if they were paintings. For the artist, the idea of a blank sheet of paper encourages creative or imaginative thought on the part of the viewer. ‘When facing a work like this, people may feel as if they were “writing” all their feelings in the real world on it, not with pens but with their hearts’, he has said. The contemplation of a ‘blank’ sheet also relates to Buddhist philosophy, in which concepts of space and non-space, and fullness and emptiness, are intertwined.

Gallery label, October 2016

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