Mountain Moors: Richard Lin and a Meeting between Celan and Heidegger

Richard Lin: Waiting from White Arts¹
Chang Museum, Xiamen
25.07.20 – 25.10.20

Translated by Bridget Noetzel

At their second meeting, near the end of June 1968, Martin Heidegger took Paul Celan to the mountain moors. This was very important for Celan. On the moors, it is said he saw ‘the luminescence that arises from death and decay, a light that calls into memory what is dead yet still present. He compared this emanation to the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust…’² For Heidegger, what Celan observed and associated with those observations could be interpreted as a ‘manifestation of the unconcealedness of Being’.³ When I viewed Richard Lin’s work, I moved from far to near, then removed myself to a distance once again – and in that process I perceived the luminescence that arises from the moor and what could be interpreted as ‘the unconcealedness of Being’. Lin’s white is like the ‘unconcealedness’ that Heidegger pursued ( the forest clearing or luminescence ); it illuminates the outside world and the things hiding in one’s mind through the Eastern idea of the simplicity of the Way.

The year 1968 was a watershed for Lin’s work: he gradually moved from coloured geometric shapes on a white ground to studies of simple coloured stripes, before turning to a white, minimal world. During this time, he stepped onto the international artistic stage. The year 1964 could be considered a turning point in both his life and art. That year, he formally received British citizenship and was invited to participate in documenta III. The key works exhibited at Chang Museum’s Waiting from White Arts are from this period, including Parallel Forms and the series Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. These subjects would appear many times over the course of his artistic career. The exhibition also shows some of the artist’s early work prior to this watershed moment, as well as several of his final masterworks. Works from these different periods are divided across three galleries, each presented in a distinct way. The presentation reflects an exacting attitude towards lighting and the relationships between artworks that is characteristic of the Chang Museum galleries. Precisely because of this dual respect for temporal and creative threads, this exhibition offers a window into a deeper and more comprehensive assessment of Lin’s creative world. The works reveal the unconcealedness of Being, or the faint luminescence on the moors.

Rather than characterising this luminescence on the moors as the light emanating from the collision of Eastern and Western thought inside Lin, it might be better to consider this light as a glimpse of an Eastern realm when he was working in a very Westernised mode of expression. Just as I looked at his work from different distances and perspectives, Lin’s distance and perspective varied when he reflected on Eastern thought. He excelled at expressing the Taoist One: ‘One begets two, two begets three, and three begets ten thousand things.’ He also experimented with using the void in ink painting to express the One, but these are two decidedly different ideas. Comparing other artists to Lin may help us better understand the two kinds of inspiration that he absorbed from Eastern thought. In my view, the most appropriate artist with whom to compare Lin is Ad Reinhardt, a pioneer of Minimalism – not Mark Rothko, although the latter did inspire Lin for a time. In the almost religious pursuit of the sublime, the work of Lin and Rothko achieve the same results in different ways. Lin stressed rational pursuits, while Rothko tended towards more perceptual expression.

Reinhardt lived and worked in New York, and died in 1967. That year, Lin won the William Frew Memorial Purchase Award at the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. From an art-historical perspective, I see this coincidence of time and place as an inheritance and homage. When he visited Lin’s studio in 1966, Joan Miró said, ‘In the world of white, you are without equal.’ In a world of black, Reinhardt is without equal. The contemplation of the extremes of black and white reach a similar goal in different ways. This similar rationality was inspired by the geometric abstraction of Western architecture. When looking at Lin’s work, I thought of Reinhardt because of their analogous Minimalist pursuits. In the work of these two men, I see a similar luminescence on the moor, and I feel something spiritual that cannot be unconcealed. Light and shadow coexist with life and death, complementing one another, destroying one another, and engendering one another. These aspects of their work are worth savouring, but they are also the sublime elements of abstract art. I am confused by it, inspired by it, and excited by it. Currently, curator He Guiyan is talking about the ‘pictorial turn’ and survival strategies for images in Chinese contemporary painting. This is also a time of controversy, such as the one surrounding the National Gallery of Art in Washington formally announcing that Philip Guston Now, a major retrospective touring exhibition, will be postponed to 2022 – 4. Many cultural figures, including artists, curators and writers, have said that the institution is self-censoring or pandering to the public.

Turning our attention back to Waiting from White Arts, the exhibition is significant because it offers us three kinds of inspiration. First, amid a global pandemic, humanity is reflecting on its development models and ways of life. The contemporary meaning and value of Minimalism could be introduced and magnified in this way, and it is worth exploring whether humanity needs to rein in its excessive behaviour. Second, in the contemporary study of the differences between Eastern and Western culture, Lin is still representative of artists working in the Eastern and Western cross-cultural context. Although his works have once again become hot commodities in the art market, academic examinations of his work and ideas remain superficial. Third, the Lin case study could inspire living artists who are still creating. People may be more interested in his well-heeled background or dramatic stories of his life and work in London, but that’s not enough; we need to look beyond the white Minimalist images to reach the deeper layer of ideas and pursuits. We must try to appreciate the luminescence on the moor and, just as Celan contemplated and connected with that luminescence, we must reflect on the unconcealedness of Being.

1. Translator’s note: This is the English title given by the museum. An alternative translation of the Chinese might be Waiting in White or Lingering in White.
2. James K. Lyon, Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger: An Unresolved Conversation, 1951 – 1970 ( Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press ), 2006, p. 204.
3. Ibid., p. 204.



1968 年 6 月底,第二次会面的时候,海德格尔( Martin Heidegger )带策兰( Paul Celan )去参观了山间的沼泽。此事对策兰来说非常重要。据说在沼泽,他看到从死尸和腐烂的东西上发出来的微光。这种光让他想起那些已经死去但又依然出现的人。他将其比作对那些在大屠杀中遇难的人的记忆。在海德格尔看来,策兰所观察到和联想到的,可以解读为存在的去蔽的表现。当我由远及近再抽身保持距离观看林寿宇的作品时,所感知到的,正是类似那种来自沼泽的微光以及可被解读为存在的去蔽。林寿宇的白,恰如海德格尔所诉求的去蔽( 林中路/光 ),以东方的“大道至简”照亮外部世界和内在心境中隐蔽的部分。

1968 年前后,是林寿宇艺术创作的风水岭阶段( 从白色底上对几何色块的探索逐渐转向对简单的色彩线条的研究,并逐步坚定地走向白色极简世界 ),也是林寿宇在国际艺术舞台的高光时期,1964年可谓其人生与事业的双重转折点,那一年林寿宇正式加入英国国籍并获选参展德国卡塞尔“第三届文件大展”。而在厦门仧美术馆举办的《全白的等候—林寿宇》展览上展出的主要作品,即以该阶段的作品为核心,诸如《平行式》《春/夏/秋/冬》(此类主题在其创作生涯中多次出现)等画作。往前涵盖艺术家创作早期的作品,往后则呈现了艺术家生前最后的几幅杰作。不同时期的作品分别在三个展厅以各异的方式展现( 尤其对光影与作品展陈关系的讲究,是仧美术馆展厅的特点这一 )。正是这种对时间性与创作脉络的双重尊重,这个展览得以成为较全面而深入感知林寿宇创作世界的一个窗口。尽管其中以作品揭示存在的去蔽部分,仍如沼泽的微光若隐若现。

与其将这种沼泽的微光看作是东西方思想在林寿宇身上的碰撞之光,不如说是林寿宇在以非常西方化的表现方式创作时,回眸瞥见东方境界中的吉光片羽。正如我以不同距离和角度观看其作品,林寿宇在反观东方思想时的距离和角度也是多变的。他擅长表达道家“一生二、二生三、三生万物”中的“一”,也不断尝试用水墨精神中的“留白”去表达“一”,但这是两个截然不同的理念。假如用其他艺术家和林寿宇做个案比对,或许能更好地理解林寿宇于东方思想中汲取的两股养分。在我看来,适合比对的艺术家不是曾给林寿宇带来阶段性影响的马克·罗斯科(( Mark Rothko )),而是极简主义的先锋人物阿德·赖因哈特( Ad Reinhardt )。尽管在宗教式的终极追求上,林寿宇和马克·罗斯科的作品有着异曲同工之妙,但显然,林寿宇侧重于理性的诉求,而马克·罗斯科倾注于感性的表达。

阿德·赖因哈特生前活跃在美国纽约,死于 1967 年,那一年林寿宇荣获美国匹兹堡卡内基国际美术展威廉佛瑞纪念收藏奖。站在艺术史的角度,我把这种时空的巧合,看作是一种传承和致敬。胡安·米罗( Joan Miró )于 1966 年参观林寿宇工作室的时候赞赏道:“在白色的世界里,林寿宇无人能敌。”而在黑色的世界里,阿德·赖因哈特无人能敌。一黑一白两种极端的思考,殊途同归。相似的理性,同源于西方建筑的几何抽象启迪,几乎一致的极简追求,让我在观看林寿宇作品时,第一时间想到阿德·赖因哈特。我在两者的画作中,看到了相似的沼泽的微光,也感受到带着神性的不可去蔽的部分,光亮与阴影如生与死的同在,相辅相成、相克相生,耐人寻味,而这也恰是抽象艺术带给人至为玄妙的部分。我沉迷于此,启发于此,感慨于此。尤其在当下我们所处的境遇,是策展人何桂彦在谈及“图像转向”与中国当代绘画的图像生存策略的时代,也是美国国家美术馆正式宣布艺术家菲利普·加斯顿( Philip Guston )的大型个人回顾展“菲利普·加斯顿:现在”( Philip Guston: Now )将推迟到 2022 年举办而饱受争议(多位艺术家、策展人、作家等在内的文化界人士认为,这是艺术机构在 “自我审查”及“讨好公众”)的时代。


1.关于海德格尔与策兰第二次会面相关的文字,引自《策兰与海德格尔:一场悬而未决的对话( 1951-1970 )》,美国詹姆斯·K·林恩著,李春译。