Duan Jianyu. Beautiful Dream 4. China, 2008. Ink on cardboard. 17 1/4 × 13 in. (43.8 × 33 cm). Lent by the Sigg Collection
Over the past one thousand years, landscape imagery in China has evolved beyond formal and aesthetic considerations into a complex symbolic program used to convey values and moral standards. In the eleventh century, court-sponsored mountainscapes with a central peak towering over a natural hierarchy of hills, trees, and waterways might be read as a metaphor for the emperor presiding over his well-ordered state. At times of political turmoil, images of blasted pine trees, windblown bamboo, or rustic retreats conveyed notions of survival, endurance, and withdrawal from the world. Today, as China is transformed by modernization, artists continue to mine the symbolic potential of landscape imagery to comment on the changing face of China and to explore the "mind landscape" of the individual. The paintings, photographs, videos, and animation in this section of the exhibition highlight the diverse ways in which contemporary artists have drawn inspiration from earlier compositions and themes. Some offer stark commentaries on China's rapidly expanding urban landscapes, while others explore man's dynamic relationships with changing environments, both built and natural.