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Bernice Bing’s Seek for a Unified Self

Bernice Bing’s Seek for a Unified Self

Bernice Bing’s Search for a Unified Self

SAN FRANCISCO — For greater than 20 years, I’ve been gathering data on the artist Bernice Bing (1936–1998), who, I’ve realized, had many identities. She was a portray pupil of Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn, and Frank Lobdell; a Bay Space Summary Expressionist; a Beat Technology artist; a Chinatown arts activist and trainer, who taught a category with the Filipino American summary artist Leo Valledor; an energetic member of the teams Lesbian Visible Artists and Asian American Girls’s Artist Affiliation; a training calligrapher who studied with Saburo Hasegawa in 1957 on the California School of Arts and Crafts and in 1984 with Wang Dongling on the Zhejiang Academy in Hangzhou, China; a religious Buddhist who lived alone in rural California; somebody nicknamed “Bingo,” who the Cellar Bar in San Francisco’s Geary Theatre memorialized with a drink referred to as the “Bingotini” — a martini made with 151-proof rum; an orphaned Chinese language American who was shuttled between 17 white foster houses and the abusive Ming Quong orphanage. 

After lacking the exhibition Bingo: The Life and Artwork of Bernice Bing on the Sonoma Valley Museum of Artwork (September 21, 2019–January 5, 2020), curated by Linda Keaton, I vowed to not miss her subsequent museum exhibition. For this reason, after I obtained off the airplane in San Francisco to take part within the convention/symposium IMU UR2: Artwork, Aesthetics, and Asian America (October 28-29) at Stanford College, I used to be wanting to see the exhibition Into View: Bernice Bing on the Asian Artwork Museum (September 30, 2022–Might 1, 2023), curated by Abby Chen. The present celebrates the museum’s latest acquisition of 24 of Bing’s works relationship from 1959 to 1995, making it the biggest public holding of labor by this long-overlooked artist. 

The exhibition’s speedy takeaway was that the various paths Bing took in her work mirror her lifelong want to discover a unified self. To her credit score, plainly she by no means developed a signature type. The range of her artworks and topics — from summary landscapes to lotus sutras — shares one thing with one other San Francisco-based artist, Ruth Asawa, who drew day-after-day, labored in her neighborhood, and made figurative clay sculptures and summary wire sculptures. The deep bond they share is their persistence. Bing was, as I wrote of Asawa, “a pioneer out of necessity.” Her search was not about type, being trendy, or becoming in. It was about attempting to acknowledge the a number of worlds one inhabits.

Bernice Bing, “Blue Mountain, No. 2” (1966), oil on canvas, 60 3/4 x 50 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches

Regardless that I had considered Bing’s points with identification earlier than, I used to be not ready for the impact the early portray “Self Portrait with a Masks” (1960) had on me. From time to time a piece speaks to you so deeply and personally that you’re left shaken; it’s as if what you’re looking at sees you. 

The higher torso of a lady with a black ponytail is seen in profile, turned barely towards the viewer. Bing depicts herself sporting what seems to be like a nondescript blue outfit; its colour and minimize jogged my memory of the “Shanghai blue” coats historically worn by peasants and manufacturing facility staff. She wears a white masks with pink lips. Its jaw juts ahead, suggesting that the shape doesn’t comfortably match her face. The largely featureless masks is harking back to these worn in Noh theater and their so-called “impartial” expression. In Noh, all of the roles are performed by males and the masks signify completely different characters.

As soon as all of the issues that Bing has introduced collectively on this portray begin to emerge, the depth and expanse of self-awareness that she possessed in her mid-20s turns into obvious, starting along with her depiction of a lady occupying what’s historically a person’s place whereas sporting a female-signifying masks. That is underscored by the suppression of gender distinction the blue uniform conveys. What does it imply {that a} Chinese language American girl is sporting a masks meant to signify a Japanese girl? Does the masks/portray reveal or conceal her true self? Can one ever arrive at a real self or are we at all times sporting one sort of masks or one other?

Bernice Bing, “Epilogue” (1990-95), oil on canvas, 72 x 288 inches

After “Self Portrait with a Masks,” I started to see the remainder of the present via a special lens; every path Bing took along with her work was in quest of a unity that she knew was not possible to achieve. The poet Robert Kelly wrote, “Fashion is dying. Discovering the measure is discovering/a freedom from that dying, a manner out, a motion/ahead.” I consider Bing was at all times on the lookout for what Kelly calls “the measure,” and that one facet of the search was the a part of her follow linked with Buddhism and calligraphy. Within the 4 works on paper or board within the exhibition with “lotus” within the title, I had the sense that Bing, who had proven within the Bay Space within the Sixties, was not targeted on industrial displays, and that battle between personal and public — which the self-portrait anticipates — haunted her all through her life.

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Whereas within the Bay Space, I needed to see work from two of Bing’s collection of summary landscapes, Mayacamas and Blue Mountains, as I used to be serious about how their inner syntax and colour palette differentiated them from one another. I knew that “Mayacamas IV, 4/10/63, Bismark Saddle” (1963) and “Blue Mountain, No. 2 (1966)” have been included in Into View. I had hoped to see “Mayacamas No. 6, March 12, 1963” (1963), which is within the assortment of San Francisco’s de Younger Museum however realized that it was not on show. (Perhaps museums might study to collaborate on a micro degree.) I additionally knew that I’d be capable to see “Blue Mountain No. 4” (1966) on the Cantor Arts Middle at Stanford. Seeing these work confirmed my suspicion that the previous collection was impressed by the point she spent within the Napa Valley and her familiarity with Diebenkorn’s Berkeley collection from the mid-Nineteen Fifties, whereas the latter was probably her imaginative response to the Guilin Mountains in Southern China. Whereas “Blue Mountain 2” and “Blue Mountain 4” present the inspiration of Clyfford Nonetheless’s California abstractions, the collection stands by itself in addition to anticipates Wayne Thiebaud’s late work of mountains. Ideally, I want to see an exhibition of work from these two collection together with late landscapes, similar to “Anderson Valley” (1994) and others accomplished within the Nineteen Nineties. 

Painted whereas she was affected by Lupus and different illnesses, “Epilogue” (1990-95), which measures 72 by 288 inches, is, because the title suggests, a commentary on her life. Made up of three abutting panels, every panel contains summary and figural parts and contrasting areas of sunshine and darkish; each additionally defines three clearly demarcated areas. Collectively, they archive completely different paths Bing explored, from the figural to the calligraphic. Past that, I can not say with any certainty what the portray means and I’m not certain extended wanting will make clear the portray’s enigmatic juxtaposition of lotus types and figurative define. Mounted on adjoining partitions, “Self Portrait with a Masks” and “Epilogue” recommend the trajectory of Bing’s profession, from the popularity that the self (or “I”) would possibly at all times stay each hidden and revealed to a retrospective seems to be on the routes one takes in pursuit of the self and authenticity. This exhibition makes an necessary contribution to our data and reevaluation of Bing. Hopefully, that is only the start. 

Bernice Bing, “Lotus/Lotus Sutra” (1986), blended media on rag paper, 30 x 22 inches

Into View: Bernice Bing continues on the Asian Artwork Museum (Chong-Moon Lee Middle for Asian Artwork and Tradition, 200 Larkin Road, San Francisco, California) via June 26, 2023. The exhibition was curated by Abby Chen.

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