“Wild Geese Descending on Level Sands - The Lyricism and Power of Music,”Cleveland Museum of Art, USA
When Clarissa, curator of the Cleveland Museum of Art, first saw Peng Wei's work Wild Geese Descending on Level Sands in 2017 in Switzerland, she was impressed by the artist’s incorporation of the landscape painting with written correspondence by musicians that prompted her to bring this work to the museum’s space. As Peng Wei anticipated a new iteration of this series, the exhibition “Wild Geese Descending on Level Sands - The Lyricism and Power of Music” will finally be realized four years later, with the support of the Geng Foundation for Culture and the Arts, at the Cleveland Museum of Art in the United States.


Amid this pandemic, where does the so-called power of art come from when confronting significant life matters?
Clarissa believes that an individual’s strength and resilience lie underneath the seemingly lyrical and calm surface. And now is undoubtedly the most suitable time to show this body of works. The museum, recovering from the pandemic, looks onto the Cleveland Orchestra at a distance, whose program halted due to public health concerns. Like how it’s written in Wild Geese Descending on Level Sands, the two institutions "show each other sympathy in silence." Hence, this exhibition is also dedicated to the Cleveland Orchestra and musicians worldwide.

The curator draws clues from Peng Wei's work and presents traditional Chinese paintings, guqin, and pipa from the Cleveland Museum of Art's collection with this body of works, to stage a silent theater imbued with lyricism and power of art. This musically informed artistic pantomime will be presented at the Cleveland Museum of Art from November 19, 2021, to May 1, 2022.

Cross-disciplinary and rich exhibition content can ultimately lead to misinterpretation if one is not careful, let alone the texts and images themselves causing all kinds of misreading. At the same time, each viewer has the right to choose whether to adopt the artist's perspective or to keep their own. Although the following interpretation of Peng Wei's Wild Geese Descending on Level Sands takes the artist's perspective, as viewers stand in the exhibition, they still have the right to choose for themselves. 

Peng Wei is both an ink painter and an installation artist. This does not imply that she engages in these two mediums separately, but her works deliver wonder and astonishment when ink painting and various ready-made objects come together. Moreover, the rearrangement of artworks in different exhibition spaces often incites her playfulness. Because of the artist’s inherent playfulness, her practice is almost always open-ended, throwing out questions that are left to be solved.Wild Geese Descending on Level Sands is an extension of the series,Letters from Afar. In reading letters from Western musicians and learning the guqin, the imagery ofWild Geese Descending on Level Sands and its connection to music gave Peng Wei the idea to pay tribute to musicians with this body of works. The similarity between the open album leaf and the music sheet led her to use music stands as an installation device.

While it is commendable that the content of letters from Western musicians, ink paintings with a contemporary spin, the music stand, ancient Chinese scroll paintings, and musical instruments such as the guqin are brought together, attempting to dissolve the linear notion of time and space. However, it would be arbitrary to consider the music stand a mere connection point for the exhibition's content. Peng Wei, impressed by the twists and turns of the great artists' personalities in their correspondences and the multiple dimensions of their personalities, appropriated their writings to dive into their contexts that engendered the initial idea of "dialogues." She then translates the idea of “dialogues” by transcribing the letters through calligraphy and juxtaposing them with ink paintings. As for the choice of the music stand, in addition to the aforementioned formal resemblance between open album leaves and music stands, its posturereminds Peng Wei of "waiting." Like the way she feels the score waits for the musicians to arrive every time she attends a performance, the music stands in Wild Geese Descending on Level Sands also anticipates for the artist's arrival, perhaps who may have already been there. The standing posture announces their concealed presence.
Peng Wei's translations often end abruptly in seemingly bizarre thoughts. Instead of asking her to reveal more of her inner workings, it’d better to discover answers in her works of art. Take Wild Geese Descending on Level Sands, and she sums it up by saying, "All art ends up being about the person.” Byapproaching the true nature of the human being, she attempts to fill in many long-lost gaps using images and words, between storytelling and poetry, ancient and modern, East and West. It is interesting to note that Edward Said spoke on behalf of Beethoven in his collection of essays, Music at the Limits, "Beethoven was confident of his ability to transcend human nature and enter a world of eternity, abiding principles and forms, due to his immense egoism. Yet his egoism, his carefully constructed subjectivity, and his aesthetic paradigm all serve the ultimate goal: to transcend specificity, history, and politics."


Filling in the gap or achieving transcendence in practice requirea clear purpose for the artist, while one's approach and sensibilities can sometimes be vague. It's similar in music, which can emanate people into a state of being and reduce facts to universal principles.
If one were to make a precise division to the genealogy of history, one would obtain its genetics, and the "roles" would eventually be replaced by "characters"; if we were to generalize personality traits of great artists, their emotions must undoubtedly share many commonalities. However, with Peng Wei's "ambition," the mission to fill in the disrupted gaps and discover the emotional commonalities might not be her primary purpose. In other words, she would rather apply her “ambitious” approach to generate real feelings. Peng Wei's Wild Geese Descending on Level Sands is about the senses and approaching the truthfulness of great personalities. People may also have their way of approaching them, though in different ways, but likely in the roles they take. The question nevertheless remains: Who is the one getting closer to the artist?
Text|Zhang Min