Huang Rui, “Earthquake,” 2008, Installation with mixed media, 320 × 230 × 230 cm. Shanghai Himalayas Museum installation view, 2017


“Earthquake” was created in the summer of 2008, inspired by the May 12 Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan Province. According to official statistics, the natural disaster took 70,000 lives. Afterwards, many artists were involved in local rescue operations. One of them was Huang Rui, who created this work for the exhibition Earthquake at the gallery Art Channel from August to September in 2008.

The work was placed at the front of the gallery through which audiences were forced to enter. Though the installation has a sculptural stillness, through its physical engagement it conveys a sense of surprise. The artwork is a warning that reiterates the coexistence between man and space ecological disasters that result from human behavior will eventually return to haunt us.

Black and white bi-color beads – weighed down by gravity – act as a spatial partition. As early as the Tang dynasty bead curtains have been mentioned in poetry and in more contemporary times have become normal fixtures in Islamic culture. The artist is concerned with the installation’s openness, transparency, and weightlessness. All of these qualities exist in opposition. “Earthquake” speaks to homes collapsed, construction materials instantly broken, defenseless bodies cut like a blade.

Huang Rui was a founding member of the Chinese avant-garde art group the Stars. Early on, Huang mostly created paintings that referenced various Western artistic styles such as Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism. The artist’s work is characterized by symmetry and simplicity of form, as well as by the use of primary colors. His works are recognized for being aesthetically pleasing; however, he is also viewed as a socially minded and thus often controversial artist.