Uni student studying English Literature and French – loves reading, writing and exploring Sydney's diverse offerings, old and new.
Published January 13th 2013
A collection of contemporary Chinese art at its best
At the end of a small Chippendale street, past rows of unassuming Victorian terraces yet to be renovated, an old Rolls Royce showroom has been radically reinvented. Four spacious floors of high-ceilinged white walls and exposed brick create an appropriately modern look – this is the White Rabbit Gallery after all. Founded in 2009 by Kerr and Judith Neilson, White Rabbit has since become one of the largest and most significant collections of contemporary Chinese art in the world.
What's more, while the art itself remains privately owned, funds from the not-for-profit Nielson Foundation are dedicated to supporting the gallery as a space for the public, meaning both entry and guided tours are free.
On now is the Double Take show, a selection of works that blur the boundary between appearance and reality. Using illusion and imitation to play on our initial responses and assumptions, the show channels a distinctly Alice in Wonderland-like atmosphere – the works becoming "curiouser and curiouser" as you follow the White Rabbit's twists and turns. While some works are clever, if bizarre – think hovering helicopter suitcases, like those of Gao Feng's Flying, (2007) – others are both delightful and disconcerting – take a closer look at the 'chocolates' in Tu Wei-Cheng's sweet-shop installation Valentine's Day, (2011).
Not to be missed are the stainless steel wire sculptures Beijing Jeep's Shadow (2007) and Blue CJ750 (2008). Using a WWII era jeep and motorbike as models, artist Shi Jindian crocheted wire around both their exterior and interior, before extracting the solid parts to leave two delicate, three-dimensional webs. What we see is a striking contrast: sturdy, military-grade vehicles rendered into beautiful, fragile forms of wire lace.
Shi Jindian's sculptures were years in the making, and such time-consuming practice and dedication characterises much of the art on display. Another remarkable work is Li Hongbo's Paper, (2010). Drawing on the ancient Chinese craft of honeycombed paper lanterns and flowers, Li Hongbo has reworked traditional artistic form by sculpting paper stacks into life-size human figures. While one figure stands tall, the other has been stretched out to more than 30 metres, lying on the gallery floor in snaking folds that display the intricacy of the honeycombed effect.
If you manage to tear yourself away from the works, the gallery also offers patrons assorted dumplings and teas at the tea shop downstairs, as well as free Sunday afternoon film screenings and access to its library.
Nevertheless, White Rabbit is well worth visiting for the art alone.
This is the quality of contemporary art you may expect to see at a Biennale or the National Gallery, but often don't. And even if you miss the Double Take show, which ends on February 13th, the gallery is rehung twice a year – I'm sure the next exhibition will be just as fresh, quirky and captivating. And if you do see Double Take, why not visit again for another adventure down the rabbit hole?