Chinese Painting Exposition a First for Oklahoma City

By Gilmore, Joan | THE JOURNAL RECORD, February 20, 1986 | Go to article overview

Chinese Painting Exposition a First for Oklahoma City


Gilmore, Joan, THE JOURNAL RECORD


When 30 contemporary Chinese paintings go on public exhibition at Leadership Square March 10, the occasion will mark a first for Oklahoma City. The paintings, part of the private collection of Oklahoma City oilman Robert A. Hefner III, are by artists never before seen in this country and reflect the new freedom of expression in China.

In an interview at his GHK offices, Hefner said the exhibition would first premiere at an elaborate "Celebration of China" dinner March 6 at Leadership Square. Honored guest will be Han Xu, ambassador to the United States from China, who will come here from Washington for the dinner and for the performance the next evening by the Peking Acrobats.

The exhibition also will be shown that evening after the acrobats' program at the Civic Center Music Hall.

Tickets for the internationally famous Peking Acrobats performance are available from Ballet Oklahoma, which will benefit from the dinner and the program. Reservations, $150 per person, may be setby mailing checks to Ballet Oklahoma, 7421 N. Classen Blvd., Oklahoma City 73116.

The paintings will be on display to the public the week of March 10 at Leadership Square. No admission fee will be charged.

Hefner, a long-time supporter of Ballet Oklahoma, became acquainted with Chinese art and artists when he was in China on energy business. He makes at least three trips a year to China, staying anywhere from a week to three weeks at a time. He spent all of January and February there in 1985.

How does a man who's in a foreign country on oil and gas business get involved with artists?

"I've always been interested in art, so I sought out the first batch of artists I could find," Hefner said.

"At the time, it was in conjunction with the 35th anniversary of the People's Republic of China, a very big, very special event a year ago last October. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping was having hugeparades, televised the world over, and other special events to which he invited dignitaries from all over.

"Part of the activities was a national art exhibition. I went there thinking I couldn't buy anything but at least I could look and ask. I finally found a man - Mr. Hu - who turned out to be a member of the Chinese Artists Association. It was his responsibility back in 1979 to go to all of the provinces in China and tell the artists they could begin to paint with freedom, without worrying about government reproach.

"He told them to be creative and do what they wanted, that they were going to start a series of national exhibitions."

Hefner said the artists responded to begin the first of the national exhibitions.

"By the time they reached the sixth national exhibition," said Hefner, "the artists were limited, through a series of contests, down to 400 paintings considered the finest in China.

"I became friends with Mr. Hu. We'd sit and look at color slides of paintings all night. Then I'd meet the artists, go to their homes or studios.

"It took quite a bit of doing," he said with a wry smile. "What I found was a group of artists who are having an explosion of creativity because they've been confined so long in their artistic freedom. With these new-found freedoms, artists now are doing a lot of realism, impressionism, expressionism and even abstract.

"Actually, the Chinese are probably the most ancient of the abstract artists. We don't tend to think that, but their calligraphy goes beyond calligraphy itself into the abstract painting," Hefner explained. …

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