About Shen Wei
Hailed as “one of the great artists of our time” (The Washington Times), choreographer, painter, and director Shen Wei is internationally renowned for the breadth and scope of his artistic vision. Admiration for his talent has earned Shen Wei numerous awards, including a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship (2007), the U.S. Artists Fellow award and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Other accolades include: Australia’s Helpmann Award, the Nijinsky Emerging Choreographer Award, the Algur H. Meadows Prize. Most recently, he was honored with the Audi-China 2012 Artist of the Year Award; GQ –China 2013 Artist of the Year Award; and the 2013 Chinese Innovator Award from The Wall Street Journal-China.
When artist Shen Wei was born in 1968 in Hunan province, China was in the midst of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), and the country’s art and education institutions were largely dismantled. But after Cultural Revolution ended, China began rebuilding its schools and re-invigorating the realm of artistic achievement in traditional and modern forms. Shen Wei had begun his artistic education at home at an early age under the tutelage of his father, the director of a Chinese opera company and a practitioner of calligraphy and ink painting. At age nine, he became part of the country’s arts revitalization when he was selected to attend the elite Hunan Arts School and undergo rigorous training in the many disciplines that come together in Chinese opera: dance, acrobatics, voice, and acting. By age sixteen, in 1984, Shen had graduated and become a member of the Hunan Provincial Xiang Opera. At this time, many young artists in China who were in school or had recently graduated from these newly re-opened academies were driving a dynamic new movement that embraced and explored modern and contemporary art forms outside the bounds of official art school curricula. This flowering of artistic experimentation in modern art across the country became known as the ’85 Art New Wave.
As a member of a professional opera troupe in a country that was still rebuilding the arts and cultivating audiences, Shen had ample time to independently pursue his other artistic interests, especially painting. He experimented in a wide variety of styles, first in ink and then in oil paint, the medium of choice for many of the New Wave artists. In 1989, Shen left the opera company with the intention of pursuing painting studies in Beijing. In order to fund this dream, Shen participated in a dance competition that offered a cash prize. His choreography was inspired not by traditional Opera but by a Canadian modern dance company he had seen perform in Beijing several years earlier, and this innovative piece won him the competition. It also earned him a place in the first modern dance training program in China— the Guangdong Modern Dance Academy collaborated with American Dance Festival. Instead of Beijing, he moved to Guangzhou, where his proclivity for modern dance propelled him to catch up with his colleagues who had begun their training as the inaugural class in 1987. He graduated with them in 1990 and became a founding member of the Guangdong Modern Dance Company in 1991.
Shen grew with this avant-garde dance company as both a dancer and choreographer, and garnered international attention for both roles. In 1995, he was offered a fellowship to study at the Nikolais/Louis Dance Lab in New York, an institution dedicated to training dancers and choreographers in a basic technique that values inclusivity, creativity and improvisation as much as technical proficiency or any particular style. With this introduction to the city, Shen Wei dove in to the art and cultural life of New York, where he still lives and works today as a choreographer, dancer, and painter. In 2000, he founded Shen Wei Dance Arts. In his company’s performances, Shen goes beyond choreography to embrace total stage production including costumes, lighting, and sets, as his métier. His works, whether on stage or on canvas, are always an amalgamation of his interest in different kinds of beauty explored through distinct but interconnected subjects, art forms, and media. The diversity of his output is unified by his desire to continuously evolve, change, and push toward the new. his recent paintings in this exhibition represent some of his latest creative endeavors.
Shen Wei Dance Arts, The Company quickly entered the international touring circuit, performing at premier festivals and venues worldwide. He has received numerous commissions to support his creative works for Shen Wei Dance Arts, including multiple commissions from the American Dance Festival, Het Muziektheater, the Lincoln Center Festival and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, as well as from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Park Avenue Armory, Hong Kong’s New Vision Arts Festival and the Edinburgh International Festival.
Shen Wei, who was the lead choreographer for the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olymics, also created dances for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal and Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and choreographed the Rome Opera’s production of Rossini’s Moise et Pharaon, conducted by Ricardo Muti. In 2013, Shen Wei was commissioned to create a new work for the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam, and he choreographed, directed and designed a new production of Carmina Burana for the chorus, orchestra and ballet of Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Italy.
Recently, his work as a visual artist and choreographer has entered into a new dialogue in a series of performative installations and site-specific works which have been presented at a number of museums and galleries including: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the North Carolina Museum of Art, Collezione Maramotti in Italy, Mana Contemporary, the Forum at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Rockbund Museum of Art in Shanghai, and the MDC Museum of Art + Design. Shen Wei has also had solo painting shows in both New York and Hong Kong, and more recently at the Crow Collection of Asian Art in Dallas, Texas. This past December, Shen Wei debuted his latest series of paintings at the MDC Museum of Art + Design during Art Basel/Miami Beach.