Postcard-size paintings on show in China

BEIJING • More than 30 years ago, the United Colors of Benetton released a series of provocative advertisements about race and multiculturalism.

But in recent years, Luciano Benetton, 81, co-founder of that Italian apparel company, has sought a different medium through which to promote his feel-good, internationalist ideals: art.

Benetton has amassed, in the past eight years, more than 20,000 paintings by artists from 120 countries.

The project, Imago Mundi (Images Of The World), features works by well-known figures such as Laurie Anderson, David Byrne and Zaha Hadid, as well as by lesser-known artists from countries such as North Korea, Albania and Burundi.

A painting from the Imago Mundi collection.
A painting from the Imago Mundi collection. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/IMAGO MUNDI ART

They have one thing in common: All the paintings are the same dimensions - about the size of a postcard.

"Every artist is given the same space in which to express their thoughts," said Benetton, speaking through a translator in a recent interview in Beijing. "I see it as a way of establishing democracy in art."

He had just arrived in Beijing from Lincang, which hosted the opening this month of an exhibition of the small paintings, Under One Sky.

The display, which will travel to 13 cities in China over two years, contains 3,900 paintings from 21 countries, all drawn from the Imago Mundi collection.

Under One Sky will run concurrently with another Imago Mundi project, Contemporary China 1949-2019, in which artists representing 55 officially recognised ethnic minority groups in China will be commissioned to create mini paintings.

By 2019, the project will have collected 5,300 of these works.

Together, they will be showcased to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2016, with the headline 'Postcard-size paintings on show in China'. Print Edition | Subscribe