Brundage Lane, Burger House, acrylic on canvas by Bob Dylan in 2017.

Spanning five decades of the legendary musician’s career and seven series of works, a Shanghai retrospective marks one of his most comprehensive exhibitions, Zhang Kun reports.

An ongoing exhibition at the Modern Art Museum in Shanghai has provided fans of musician Bob Dylan with a glimpse into the thoughts of the American artist.

Titled Retrospectrum, the exhibition features more than 250 oil paintings, sketches and sculptures by the singer, songwriter and poet, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2016. The showcase is running from Sept 28 to Jan 5, at the Modern Art Museum, which is located by the Huangpu River in Pudong district.

Spanning five decades of Dylan’s career and seven series of works, Retrospectrum is among the artist’s most comprehensive art exhibitions to date.

“This is the first retrospective exhibition of Bob Dylan’s visual artworks that takes place in Shanghai and China,” says Derek Yu, director of the museum.

“We are not a typical museum. Instead of focusing on the exhibits and individual art pieces, we prefer to tell the story of the art. We hope to bring audiences in so that they can be part of the exhibition.”

During the showcase, visitors can step into the tavern in Greenwich Village, New York, as if attending Dylan’s concert. They will also get to see lyrics handwritten by Dylan himself and touch some of the sculptures.

Endless Highway III, acrylic on canvas by Bob Dylan from 2015-16.

The exhibition “presents Dylan’s journey in the visual arts and is an introduction to the artist’s singular statue as a singer, songwriter, recording artist and concert performer reflected in iconic elements from his storied career,” says Yu.

Among the exhibits are oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings, ink, pastel and charcoal drawings and ironwork sculptures.

Some of his earlier drawings were first published in 1973 in Writings and Drawings, a book that illustrated and compiled Dylan’s lyrics. These drawings are shown alongside works from his recent series Mondo Scripto, in which Dylan handwrote and illustrated some of his most renowned lyrics. The exhibition also features his iconic Train Tracks paintings that first propelled Dylan’s visual creations to public acclaim.

The industrial ironworks on exhibition are the most rarely seen in public. Created from repurposed objects, these sculptures tell about Dylan’s roots in an industrial mining town in the United States.

Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Minnesota in 1941. Since his first appearance in the folk music scene at Greenwich Village in New York in the 1960s, the musician has sold more than 125 million records and amassed a body of work, including some of the greatest and most popular songs internationally. He has constantly been on tour since the 1980s, with the latest gig taking place in Europe in the summer. Dylan held his only tour to China in 2011, in Beijing and Shanghai.

Manhattan Bridge, Downtown New York, acrylic on canvas by Dylan from 2015-17. The works are being displayed at the Modern Art Museum in Shanghai.

The Swedish Academy had awarded the Nobel Prize to Dylan “for having created new poetic expression within the great American song tradition”, according to an official statement.

“Many people in China knew him only as a music and pop culture icon,” said Sun Mengjin, a Shanghai-based cultural critic, at the opening of Retrospectrum on Sept 28.

“I was a little confused myself, but then I found that the lyrics in his more recent music creations are so colorful and rich in meaning.”

Sun also said Dylan’s visual art shares a lot in common with his lyrics and literary works, showing extreme sensitivity to the changes of the world and “reflecting his complicated spiritual world”.

“Seeing many of my works years after I completed them is a fascinating experience,” Dylan says in a media statement through the museum’s publicity department.

“I don’t really associate them with any particular time or place or state of mind, but view them as part of a long art… Shanghai is a city so rich in culture and history, and I couldn’t be happier that Retrospectrum is being exhibited there.”

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