My guide to the Mongolian art world was Ms Orna Tsultem, PhD candidate at UC Berkeley, daughter of famous painter Nyam-Osoryn Tsultem (1923-2001) who founded Ulaan Bataar's Museum of Fine Art in the 1960s and the Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery in 1989. I was introduced to Orna Tsultem by Christopher Giercke, pioneer of the modern Mongolian polo game and founder of Mongolian Polo Association.
By far the greater number of artists in Mongolia are associated with the Union of Mongolian Artists (UMA), a non-profit non-governmental organisation which is run by a board whose directors get elected every three years. UMA has over 500 members. It is the longest running organisation of this nature, having started in 1942. UMA owns two studio buildings and an Exhibition Centre. We visited the UMA studio building and met half a dozen painters and sculptors. Many of the more senior painters have been trained in art academies in Russia or Eastern Europe, and Mongolia¡¦s art connection with the Eastern Bloc continued until the mid 1990s. This puts Mongolian oil painting in a lineage of western academic tradition far closer than that of China (which from 1950 through the 1980s held only one single oil painting course that is taught by a foreign expert, from 1955 to 1957, conducted by Russian oil painter Maximov under the Soviet assistance programme, training only 21 artists). The influence of East German academic training is particularly evident in the use of vibrant colour, expressionist touch and rigorous structure; fine examples are paintings by Bumandorj and Munkhjiin. The last generation of Russian academy trained artists seems to have slipped in technique and taste; the art tends toward kitsch; a representative example of this is oil painter Olzbaatar.
Apart from the social realist tradition, which in recent decades evolved into a modern oil painting tradition still influenced by Russian and Eastern European art, Mongolia has its own painting tradition called Mongol Zurag. Mongol Zurag is mainly done on cloth with a soft brush, and its style suggests influences from Mogul painting and Buddhist art. Some artists apply this brush technique to Chinese paper with success, and create works that make use of both the facility of sketching and the effect of ink on paper. A good example of the latter is Chimeddorj.
On 20th July Orna and I visited the UMA studio building. Art studios we visited (in chronological order) include those of Munkhjin, Erdenebayar and wife Munkhtsetseg, Tugs-Oyun, Bayarmagnai (Mongol Zurag painter ), Tsogzol, Olzbaatar, Chimeddorj, Bat-Erdene, Sarantsatsralt (or Tsatsa), Bumandorj, Narmandakh (Mongol Zurag painter, wife of Bumandorj), Enkhjin.
At the Mongolian University of Culture and Arts we visited the studio of the director Bumandorj. Bumandorj is the brother-in-law of Orna and he studied in Leipzig. We then visited the studio of Enkhjin, brother of Orna, at another site that belongs to UMA.
On 29th July I returned to Ulaan Bataar and visited the Blue Sun Gallery Club with Orna Tsultem and Christopher Giercke. Blue Sun Gallery Club is one of the most active non-UMA art societies in Mongolia, it is managed by Dalkh-Ochir, a persistent promoter of contemporary art since the 1980s. Dalkh-Ochir is academically trained as a sculptor but is inclined to conceptual art (he founded the Green Horse Society in 1990 and the Joseph Beuys Club in 1996), and is an indefatigable organiser of contemporary exhibitions. One of the more interesting projects of Dalkh-Ochir is the annual land-art event, for which he invites foreign visiting artists to Mongolia to create art works in the countryside.
- Fri, 1 Sep 2006