Report about the China Christian Art Exhibition in Vienna



by Fan Pu

The Contemporary Chinese Christian Art Exhibition was held at the Palais Harrach in Vienna September 17- October 30, 2000. It was organized by the Austrian Museum of Fine Arts with the support of the Austrian Chinese Friendship Society. The Museum of Fine Arts is the largest and most important Museum in Austria and ranks among the most prestigious museums in the world. The exhibition was well received by the public, the press and Austrian television.

On September 17th, 2000, in the morning, The Contemporary Chinese Christian Art Exhibition opened with Dr. Wilfried Sepel, director of the Museum, presiding at the opening ceremony. Famous Chinese songs such as The High Mountains and Flowing Water were played on a traditional Chinese musical instrument called Zhen. Among the distinguished guests for the ceremony were friends who came from across Austria and others. Ms. Megumi Yoshida, a Japanese theologian and former General Secretary of the Asian Christian Art Association, came especially from Germany. Ding Fang and I were the representatives from China. We were in Vienna from September 15th to October 10th.

All the works exhibited were selected by Dr. Sepel himself when he was in China. Some of the pieces were from the Chinese Catholic Church. Works exhibited ranged from traditional Chinese paintings, Chinese calligraphy, and paper-cuts, to wood-carvings and decorative paintings. Every piece of work was in the Chinese style. Some of the pieces were oil paintings which represented the high level of modern Chinese art. In order to give a more Chinese artistic atmosphere, it was arranged for another Chinese artist, Wang Zhi-ming, and me to do on-site improvised paper cutting and painting, respectively, on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons. We were able to introduce the traditional art of paper-cuts and Chinese paintings to the audience. This was to help Austrians have a direct perceptual knowledge of Chinese culture and Chinese churches. In individual exchanges, people often raised the question, "Are Chinese Christian Churches open to the public?" I think this exhibition was a good way to help people better understand our Chinese culture and Chinese churches.

In order to promote the Austrians' understanding of China, the Austrian Museum of Fine Arts and the Austrian Chinese Friendship Society worked hard at publicity. Large numbers of posters were placed on the streets of Vienna. The Friendship Society sent numerous letters to churches which have no contacts with the churches in China and invited them to the exhibition.

The Austrian Chinese Friendship Society had a good response from the promotion. As a result, the Kloster-Schloss Wermberg-Pension and Evangelische Pfarrgemeinde Christuskirche invited me to visit them and introduce my Christian art on September 26th and 29th, so people could learn about China and Chinese churches through Christian art.

On September 26th, I went by train alone to Villach. A sister and the translator met me at the station. This was my first time to travel by train outside of China, and was the first time to meet a protestant sister dressed like a Catholic nun. The Kloster-Schloss Wermberg-Pension is an old monastery with a long history. There are many African and Asian Christian art works on the walls, in the corridors and in every room. They had never seen Chinese Christian art works. The sisters showed me their beautiful embroidery art. In the evening, I introduced my art works to the people who came. I gave explanations on each art piece. From their eyes, I know they were interested in my work. On the morning of the 27th, a sister told me that she was sorry to miss my art show, but she was on duty the night before. Another guest told me that she was very moved by my art works and the explanations had empowered her.

On September 28th, the Protestant Association for World Mission in Austria invited us to Salzburg. Mr. Gottfried Mernyi, who worked in EAWM, served as our guide. Mr. and Mrs. Osinga, Mag. Irmgard Joo, who helped us as a translator, and I visited Salzburg. I was glad to share with the local church people that evening and explain my art works to them. I could tell from their eyes that they were discovering many new things. They had never had the opportunity to learn about the Chinese Church or meet with Chinese Christian artists.

The Friendship Society also hosted on September 18th to 19th an International Chinese Culture Seminar entitled The Role of the Individual vis-a-vis The Family, Society and State in Asia and Europe. Ding Fang and Megume Yoshida and I were invited to attend the conference. The Mag. Dr. Gerd Kaminski and Dr. Barbara Kreissi from the Friendship Society gave a brief introduction of the Contemporary Chinese Christian Art Exhibition which had just opened to the public. I was invited to talk about the Amity Art Center as well as indigenous Chinese Christian Art, which raised the interests of the audience. They had been under the impression that China is still a backward and closed society. During the conversation, the president of the Sino-Dutch Friendship Council expressed the hope to set up an exhibition in Holland, so that people could learn about China through Christian art.

Ms. Megumi Yoshida is a Japanese who came for the opening ceremony and the conference. Since 1992 when the first Asian Women Christian Artists Consultation was held in Hong Kong, she has taken a deep interest in the development of Chinese Christian art. In 1998 she came to China to do her research. While she was in China, she visited the Amity Christian Art Center in Nanjing and she visited Ding Fang in Beijing. She is a true supporter of Chinese Christian art.

A Dutch couple, Mr. And Mrs. Osinga, who are supporters of Christian artists, made a special trip to Vienna to attend the exhibition and visited me. This is the first time we have met face to face, even though we have corresponded for many years. Mr. Osinga was surprised at the quick development of Chinese Christian art. The Mission-Zendings Calendar (MZK) Dutch, has compiled a wall calendar for the last twenty years to introduce Christian art from the various countries, so Mr. Osinga has a good knowledge of Christian art from various countries. Mr. Osinga didn't realize how helpful the Mission Zendings Calendar has been to the development of indigenous Christian art in China. For myself, the calendar and Mr. Osinga himself are my Christian art teachers. Mr. Osinga hopes to visit China to see more Christian art works and meet the artists. I think he can introduce many indigenous Christian art works from different countries to the Chinese artists.

There were others who also showed interest in this Chinese Christian Art Exhibition. Ms. Wo Ye, who is from the Catholic Church in China, and studying at the Milan Museum in Italy at the time, also attended the exhibition. During the pre-war years the Roman Catholic University of Fu-Ren University in Beijing held a Christian art exhibition. In all the pictures there was the conscious determination to express the subject in Chinese terms and according to Chinese ideas. Mr. Luke Chen and his students, who were famous artists in China, had works in Italy and America. From Ms. Wo Ye and Ms. Mary's paintings we can find the shadow of history.

Rev. Dr. Joachim Wietzke, who is from NMZ Hamburg, sent an invitation letter to the Austrian Chinese Friendship Society, inviting me to introduce Chinese Christian art and show my art works there. Dr. Monika Gaenssbauer, Secretary for East Asia NMZ is our friend. She often comes to China and is always interested in Chinese Christian art. Her articles introduce Chinese Christian art and she gives much help to the Chinese Christian artists. She made all the arrangements for my visit to Hamburg. On October 2nd NMZ held a meeting to share my art works. Dr. Monika Gaenssbauer translated my explanation very well, because she is quite knowledgeable about my art. Ms. Anja Ruoss, who had just finished her exam and is working in a China Center made a special trip to Hamburg to accompany me to the Museum of Barlach. Ernst Barlach was a famous Christian artist in Germany.

The Italian Christian Art expert and theologian, Dr. Heinrich Pfeffer, was expected to attend the exhibition but because of other responsibilities he did not attend. He sent a letter of apology.

Prof. Theo Sundermeier, a German professor at the University of Heidelberg and an expert at the Christian Art Research Center, invited me to visit Heidelberg, because he could not attend the exhibition. He hopes to visit China in the near future and to introduce Chinese Christian art through various kinds of printed materials.

Isabel Hess, Prof. Theo Sundermeier's student, who once studied Chinese and did research on Chinese theology in Nanjing, came to the exhibition. We are very good friends in the Lord. Like Monika Gaenssbauer she is very interested in Chinese Christian art and introduces it on many occasions. She has helped me greatly with my art. We often discuss the difference in culture between the East and West, and how East and West cannot understand each other without art. I think the best thing she has given me is her faith and love. She is a good example for me. During my hard times God always dispatches an angel to comfort and help me. These angels are ordinary sisters and brothers who live God's love. Isabel Hess made a special trip from Munich to Vienna to attend the exhibition with her new baby. The next day we went to Munich to visit the Museum and met some friends who are interested in Chinese people and Chinese Christian art. From Munich to Heidelberg she drove us to visit Prof. Sundermeier. She did all of this with a new baby. She did a lot of hard work with love.

After so many years of communicating with each other, I met Greda Isart face to face for the first time. We were able to meet in Heidelberg. It was a hurried visit, but I could feel her kindness. I am disappointed I could not visit Ms. Rosemarie Glasle. She has been ill for a long time. We have written each other for many years, too. These friends are always concerned about Chinese Christian art and they have given me much help.

Why has Chinese Christian art developed so quickly? It is because so many friends have given so much help and support.

This was the first Chinese Christian Art Exhibition to be held in Europe and also the first time for it to be held outside of China. Because of many joint efforts, the exhibition was successful and raised the interests of the European people in various fields. In response to this exhibition, the Austrian Chinese Friendship Society will organize a group from both the Catholic and Protestant Churches of Austria to visit China at the end of this year or the early part of next year. They hope to meet more Christian artists and see their works. They also intend to hold a Chinese Christian Folk Art Exhibition in partnership with Austrian Protestant churches next fall in Salzburg, Austria. Though the curtain for The Contemporary Chinese Christian Art Exhibition at the Austrian Museum of Fine Arts successfully closed on October 30th, the exhibition itself has not finished.

© ACAA - Asian Christian Art Association