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Tuesday, July 19, 2016, 09:46

Culture express

By Lin Qi

British curator Philip Dodd brings John McLean's works to Beijing, in ongoing effort to have more Western artists shown in China, Lin Qi reports.

Culture express
Acrobat by John McLean. (Photo Provided to China Daily )

After helping stage Irish-American artist Sean Scully's second China show in April, British curator Philip Dodd is now presenting Scottish abstract painter John McLean's works in Beijing.

Like Singing and Dancing , McLean's retrospective being shown at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, has dozens of his paintings since the 1960s - rich in colorful shapes and inspired by music.

The artist once said that although abstract, his works are mostly affected by natural light.

McLean couldn't attend the opening ceremony on June 30 due to poor health. But he talked about his artistic concept in an email from London: "When a bird sings, no one asks what it means. In that sense, my paintings have the same meaning as a bird's (song)."

For Dodd, 67, Scully and McLean are Western artists he believes can connect with Chinese artists and viewers as their creations are influenced by Asian cultures. While Scully is a karate black belt, McLean's brushstrokes reflect his understanding of Korean ceramic-making techniques.

Dodd, who has been assisting Sino-European cultural exchanges since the late 1990s, sees the two artists as significant to building ties between China and the West.

"It is obvious to me that the 19th century belonged to Britain, the 20th century to America and the 21st century to China and India, where most of the world's problems will be solved or not solved," says Dodd, who was the director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, a London-based cultural center, from 1997 to 2004.

"China is more interested in the world than the world is interested in Chinese culture. There are many reasons, but I think one of the most important is the great curiosity of the Chinese."

Dodd says he is trying to get more Chinese artists to exhibit their works in the West and bring more Western artists to China.

Culture express
Philip Dodd, British curator. (Photo Provided to China Daily )

His connection with the country began in 1998 when he led an ICA team to stage exhibitions in Beijing and Shanghai, where they showed works of Damien Hirst and other famous British artists, as well as books on art and style. They also installed booths from which photos of people kissing were projected on a big screen, and that "drew a huge crowd", says Dodd.

Describing the time as the two most interesting weeks in his life, he says, "I thought then that the future belonged to China."

Dodd left the ICA to establish Made In China, a company to facilitate cultural, educational and commercial projects between China and Europe. It advised the British on their pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

Over the past 14 years, Dodd has visited China some eight times a year. He says the country has reinvented itself enormously with its interest in arts and culture, especially in recent times.

"It's very smart of China to do arts and culture, develop its own brand and to change its educational programs," he says of the country's attempt to transform itself from the world's factory to a center of art and design.

Dodd notes China's growth in museums, too. His company is an adviser on a design museum in Shenzhen in South China's Guangdong province that is being constructed based on a partnership between the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and Chinese State-owned developer China Merchants Group.

"V & A is coming to Shenzhen, and there are rumors that Pompidou will come to Shanghai. But I think it is equally important that China is taking its own culture to the world."

He says China may be closer to the US model than European when it comes to building museums.

"A lot of the energy in China comes from entrepreneurs. They are likely to be the basis for the great collections of China," Dodd says, adding that while building is the easier part, making the museums attractive to visitors and hosting exhibitions regularly are tougher.

"It will take another generation to know what to do and how to do it professionally," he says, referring to the globalized Chinese who are educated abroad and can make that transformation if they do not lose touch with their roots.

Dodd says he is working to build a cultural center in Beijing's Wangfujing area, where "China meets the world".

Culture express
BATOCHE by John McLean. (Photo Provided to China Daily)

If you go

Like Singing and Dancing

9:30am-5:30am, closed Mondays, through Aug20. CAFA art museum, 8 Huajiadi South Street, Chaoyang district, Beijing. 010-6477-1575.

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