The Chinese artist Gao Weigang is best known as a sculptor and installation artist. He works with metals such as stainless steel and gold, and represents everyday elements or objects that are taken out of their usual context. His sculptures range from a staircase leading nowhere, to a ladder made of forged stainless steel and gold, to a jackhammer hanging from a ceiling, to site-specific installations that engage the viewer, such as his “Maze” at Donum. His work challenges us to question what we see before us and to rethink the accuracy of our common knowledge and perception.
The artist created “Maze” out of a matrix of brass-coated stainless steel tubes that reflect the surrounding landscape. The work creates an optical illusion: from the outside, viewers have no idea what the structure is, and its elements shift with the light. From the inside, the grid forms both a pathway and a prison, as viewers look out at the world through the steel bars. The work is more playful than political though and reminds us that we see nature through a grid of our own making, whether through technology, through the window of a car, or looking at a photograph or painting of nature.
“I am not into unnecessary artificial designs,” says the artist. “For me, it is too reminiscent of the way people always give children too much guidance and explanations, which frustrates me. It is easier to understand and express simple things. Life is complicated enough.”
The general idea behind his work, says the artist, is "to explore the idea of life as a constant struggle, especially in the face of temptation and so-called victory, when it is difficult for us to see our own weakness and hypocrisy."
A decade or so ago, while in Beijing, he decided to show his work to the artist-activist Ai Weiwei. The two became friends, and in 2008, Ai gave Gao his first exhibition: at the China Art Archives and Warehouse in Caochangdi. Gao considers Ai his mentor and his favorite living artist, so it is particularly appropriate that the works of both artists meet at Donum.
Gao Weigang was born in the coal-mining city of Jixi, in China’s Heilongjiang province. As a child, he preferred to be on his own and doodle in the courtyard of the compound where he and his family lived. He learned painting from an uncle who encouraged him to attend art school. So after high school, Gao was admitted to the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts.
Later, and for many years, he taught oil painting in Tianjin, before moving into making sculpture and installation. “I became bored with painting, as I was too familiar with it,” he has said. “I can paint an object easily, but that is it. There is nothing new to it. What’s more, a painting cannot express everything clearly. So I decided to choose installation as a new vehicle to express my ideas in a different manner.”