In a winter not as mild as the one we are currently experiencing, "University Area with Red Van," by artist Tu Baixiong, could be any street in Missoula’s University Area, on any day.
Baixiong had an uncanny talent of capturing Missoula as we see it. He didn’t paint grand scenes and landscapes, he primarily painted alleyways and streets, the everyday scenes of Missoula. Any one of us could claim this as “our street.”
Baixiong had an interesting path to Missoula. Born in Shanghai to a family of shipping merchants, he trained at the renowned Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts and was a muralist, creating large portraits of Chairman Mao Zedong.
In the early 1980s artist James G. Todd, now professor emeritus of art and humanities at UM, was instrumental in working with the Zhejiang Academy to organize the first academic art exchanges since the Cultural Revolution.
As a result, Baixiong left China in 1987 to study at the University of Montana from which he graduated with an MA and MFA in 1992. He then began teaching art lessons and studio classes at the University of Montana, and developed a wide following before his untimely death in 1996.
Baixiong, in describing his new home, said, “emerging from the social upheaval in China, I found the peace in Missoula especially meaningful.” It’s interesting that an artist from across the globe could so perfectly capture the peace and tranquility of Missoula as we know it.
"University Area with Red Van" is part of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture’s permanent collection and can be viewed, along with 119 equally interesting pieces, at the Paxson and Meloy galleries on the University of Montana campus in the PAR/TV Center. MMAC’s exhibit “Art of the State: Celebrating 120 Years of the MMAC Permanent Collection” runs through May 23.