the Masses to the Masses Press
Art works from the Cultural Revolution period of China's history are
now on display at the Springville Museum of Art, giving a unique glimpse
into the early years of Communist control in China and beyond.
In addition, the public premiere of the film "From the Masses to
the Masses: An Artist in Mao's China," which documents the lives
of the works' creators, is planned on Wednesday, Sept. 21,
at 6:30 p.m. at the museum in conjunction with the exhibit. The screening
is open to the public.
Titled "From the Masses to the Masses: Art of the Yan’an
Cave Artists Group," the exhibit includes approximately 60 pieces
created with different mediums in a style known as "revolutionary
romanticism." Yan’an, a city located in Shaanxi Province in
northwestern China, was the Chinese Communists' revolutionary
capital from 1936 to 1949.
Pieces in the collection were produced by artists
in the Yan’an
Cave Artists Group. It carried this name because of the many
homes in the area that were literally created in the mountainside.
The artists worked under the direction of artist Jin Zhilin.
The collection includes art works from the 1950s as well
as art produced during the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-1976).
Other pieces date from the post-Cultural Revolution period (late 1970s
to the early 1980s).
Dodge Billingsley, a director with the Salt Lake
City-based Combat Films and Research and owner of pieces in the collection,
said the art works all had a political purpose and were only exhibited
in public places; they were not hung in private homes. "There was no public consumption
of art during this period," Billingsley said.
Billingsley has traveled to China often with Brigham Young University
political science professor Eric Hyer. With degrees in war studies, Billingsley
said his interest in military themes first drew him to the art and he
started collecting the pieces in 1999.
As he and Hyer found more examples of the art - some rolled
up and hidden in artistsí homes for years - they became more and
more interested in the pieces and their historical significance.
"As we started collecting this art, we started to realize that
it was an interesting story," Billingsley said, one that could be
the basis for a documentary film.
Billingsley ended up directing the film "From the Masses to the
Masses" and Hyer, who teaches Chinese politics at BYU, acted as
producer. "While we were collecting art, we were interviewing artists," Hyer
While the 60-minute film is somewhat biographical of the artists, it
also weaves in the political context in which the artists worked, he
The art's purpose was basically to serve as propaganda. For example,
one work shows different panels promoting the virtues of abiding by the
country's one-child policy, while another work shows how the mechanization
of agriculture could help increase productivity and raise workers' standard
Mediums represented in the exhibit include wood cuts
and watercolors. According to an information board at the exhibit, "Yan’an
has a strong folk art tradition. Following the Maoist dictum of "learning
from the masses," Jin required his students to go to the countryside
and study local folk art with peasant artists. Jin's students
incorporated Shaanxi folk art influences, such as paper cutting, into
their wood block prints. The art in the collection reflects these elements
of local folk art and the historical significance of the region."
One particularly interesting part of the exhibit shows two large wood
cuts which, at first glance, appear to be identical depictions of a Mao
follower gazing contentedly at a picture of Mao. However, one version
of the picture was rejected by political censors, while the other was
approved. The difference: the approved version is slightly different
in color and a bright smile has appeared on the follower's face, showing
that he is not only a loyal follower of Mao, but also a happy one.
"My interest in this is the connection between politics and art," Hyer
For some years, the Springville museum has cultivated an interest in
displaying art created in Russia during the existence of the USSR. During
that time, art was used in the USSR as a propaganda tool, said Springville
Museum of Art Director Vern Swanson. The Chinese art now on display had
a similar use although the culture was different, he said.
Placed at the beginning the exhibit of Chinese art is a piece by Russian
artist Konstantin Mefodevich Maksimov. Maksimov traveled to China and
taught Chinese pupils how to paint in the Socialist realism style, Swanson
said, creating a connection between the museum's Russian art and the
Chinese art now being displayed.
Hosting the Chinese exhibit has "helped us understand Russian art
a little better," Swanson said.
This story appeared in the Springville Herald on page A1