Press release: Exhibition mixes Eastern and Western art traditions, woodblocks and 3D technology

By | January 22, 2018

“Portrait of Sun Xun”, Photography: Peng Peng. Courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly, New York

ST. LOUIS, Jan. 22, 2018The Saint Louis Art Museum next month will present “Time Spy,” an animated 3D film that draws from Eastern and Western traditions of art, history, myth, and imagination. To create the work, Chinese artist Sun Xun merged a 1,000-year-old printmaking technique—the woodblock print—with modern film-making technologies.

“Sun Xun: Time Spy” includes the 2016 film and a selection of the more than 10,000 carved woodblocks the artist used to create the animation. The free exhibition will be on view in Galleries 234 and 235 from Feb. 16 through Aug. 12.

(To download web-sized images from the exhibition, right click on the images below.)

Although trained as a woodcut artist, Sun never fully embraced that technique despite being an unusually proficient cutter of blocks. He began making animations in art school, and opened π Animation Studio in 2006, the year after he graduated. He works closely with a team of animators to produce a steady stream of films that have been screened at film festivals and exhibited in museums around the world.

Woodcuts emerged in China centuries before Europeans discovered the printmaking technique. Sun subverts the technique by doing away with the printed sheet of paper and digitally scanning his woodblocks to produce the animated film.

“Time Spy,” which was commissioned by Swiss watchmaking company Audemars Piguet, premiered in 2016 on Miami Beach in a bamboo pavilion. Last summer, he reconfigured the film for the screens of New York’s Times Square. In St. Louis, his installation incorporates a gallery full of the woodblocks that were used in the making of “Time Spy.”

The artist has also chosen to include four prints by Albrecht Dürer from the museum’s collection as part of his installation. Dürer, the prodigious innovator of the woodcut medium in late 15th-century Europe, is one of Sun’s artistic heroes and—along with an expansive list of other artists, East and West—a rich source of inspiration.

“Sun Xun: Time Spy” is sponsored in St. Louis by Audemars Piguet.

The exhibition is curated by Elizabeth Wyckoff, curator of prints, drawings, and photographs; Gretchen Wagner, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in prints, drawings, and photographs; Hannah Klemm, assistant curator of modern and contemporary art; and Philip Hu, curator of Asian art.

CONTACT: Matthew Hathaway, 314.655.5493,