Monday, November 20, 2006

Modern Chinese Art: A Prism of Perspective

First thing’s first: Thursday’s class was definitely a challenge for a giddy college student like me. The extended 5 hour class stretched my patience and focus beyond its average academic capacity. However, naked Chinese male artists locked in cages grasping bottles of beer and drunkenly designating prices on a female mannequin a few feet across and oblivious chickens ravenously but rhythmically thrusting their heads towards the rice in a duel for rice can be considered some of the most entertaining art I have observed ever. But to have seen these works in class with the artist and other elite members of China’s contemporary art community, I felt honored.

Aside from the humor, cheerfulness, and cordiality exuded by each of the speakers, the concepts and concerns that they expressed have significant value and insight into Chinese contemporary art. The speakers possessed different backgrounds such as artist, critic and curator respectively, but each of them voiced concerns and beliefs on the same topic. Chinese contemporary art and contemporary art in China have reached the intersection in which artists deviate from the same origins as some pursue art as passionate expression and some as profitable marketing.

Our first speaker is renown contemporary artist Yang Zhenzhong (the very person that reflected curious irony in his work “Light and Easy”). During his lecture segment he showed video clips of his past work as a collaborator with other artists or as a solo performance artist. Through his media presentations and his speech, Yang expresses his inclination towards art as a means of communication. In his films “Art for Sale,” Yang collaborates with other artists and strangers alike to accentuate the jovial atmosphere of his performance art as well as convey to the larger community the existence and evolution of art in modern Chinese society. Even though the exhibition was shut down 3 days after opening, the impact and symbolism that it represented of modern Chinese society and contemporary Chinese art both had great influence on the broader populace. Yang believes that art is a form of expression and communication that may be broadcasted to the larger community through exhibits or purchases. Profit is not his primary motivation.

Philip Tinari solidifies Yang’s position by showing and explaining to us the artists’ Long March. Participating artists in this event travel the original route of the famous communist Long March and visit significant stops. At each stop, artists contribute works or performances to the community as a gesture of goodwill and introduction to modern Chinese art.

In her speech, Liu Ying Mei explains in detail the historic course of contemporary Chinese art from the 1970’s Stars Movements to present day contemporary Chinese art. She confirms the beliefs and impressions that Yang and Philip suggested when she remarked that in 2001 Beijing held its first public contemporary Chinese art exhibition in the Xinhua Book Store.

Even though artists such as Yang Zhenzhong, members of the Long March event, and members of the Beijing Bookstore exhibit create art as a means to bond with the larger population, many other artists produce art for the sake of profit. Attracted to returns of material wealth and fame that an auctioned painting at Sotheby’s may offer, many artists produce works driven by material rewards. However, monetary benefits may only rise to a certain amount as an inflated and speculated market loses its steam and infatuation of contemporary Chinese art. On the other hand, spiritual and cultural understanding and exhibition of contemporary Chinese art shall flourish as an increased population comes into contact with art and artists develop more insightful and ingenious works.

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