The Painting That Is Painted With Poetry Is Profoundly Beautiful

« The Painting That Is Painted With Poetry Is Profoundly Beautiful – Tang Chang » by Nora Taylor, Jul/Aug 2018, ArtAsiaPacific

Chills ran down my spine as I peered into the vitrine positioned toward the end of the late Tang Chang’s solo exhibition at the Smart Museum of Art, so beautifully and adeptly curated by Orianna Cacchione. On a faded sheet of paper was the word “gunman,” handwritten in English, and repeated in a pattern that resembles a monument. In the top right-hand corner, the word “democracy” appeared; at the bottom right was the date 1978. The Thai artist was referring to the suppression of the student protest against the return of Thanom Kittikachorn, an exiled military dictator, which had taken place two years earlier in Bangkok. That event, known as the October 1976 massacre, had led to the deaths of many at the hands of the Thai military. Yet, reading those words in the south of Chicago, I immediately thought of the recent and persistent shootings that have taken place in American schools. That a Thai artist—a self-described Buddhist, no less—would capture the mood of our violent times in such a poetic way was moving.

There were several other poems shaped like the Democracy Monument. Kill was one of them, and Democracy of Dictatorship (both 1978), written in Thai, was another. Many of the words were barely legible, appearing like scribbles, but their repetition created drawings, interwoven lines and shapes. I begin this review by mentioning these poems, even though Chang was also a painter and the exhibition included many of his paintings, because after walking through the rooms that held them, I could barely distinguish the poems from the paintings and vice versa. The title that the curator chose for the exhibition made complete sense. Poetry comes first, and is the medium for the paintings.

The exhibition at the Smart Museum is the first solo exhibition of Chang’s works outside of Thailand and the first to be held in the United States.

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