Monday, May 05, 2008

Needed Direction of Contemporary Art

Contemporary art in China can roughly be labeled as art that has been created within the last twenty five years or so. At the same time that we are looking at the development of Chinese art, we have to “step back and examine the new reality of China,” as stated in the Zendai museum brochure. Even though China is still a communist country, it is starting to lean more and more towards capitalism because the country understands that in order to survive in today’s world, it has to shift into the mode of market economy.

Art, just like any other product out there, falls into the constraints of capitalism. Art has been pitted against political authority and big money and so far, it has survived. However, as art relies more and more on sponsorship and populism, it’s hard to say whether “genuine” art can be produced anymore; consumerism has officially turned into the new form of totalitarianism. Before we make all these presumptions about what is going to happen to art in the future, we must try to understand the purpose of art in history and what actually determines a piece of work, “art.”

Sometimes contemporary art doesn’t even seem like art anymore because in our minds, art traditionally has been in the form of a painting or sculpture. These kinds of art look like something and we are able to compare it to a real image that we have in our heads. Contemporary art, on the other hand, sometimes doesn’t look like anything that we can picture in our minds and sometimes we can’t even understand what the artist is trying to convey in his masterpiece. For the first two months taking this class, I still had no idea what contemporary art was. I still consider this kind of art a way for people to make money and to trick the general public into thinking that this is something unique that we have to appreciate. But recently, especially after the forum at the Zendai Museum, I realized that art only needs to have one special characteristic—the ability to entertain while questioning and poking holes at issues in our everyday lives. Artists are finding more and more ways to do this without following regular conventions; they are able to create art using mediums such as film, installations, clothing, and even just by using the movement of their bodies. Art cannot change politics or society by itself but it is able to give rise to discussion, something that can bring about change. In my opinion, the importance of art is not in the work itself but the kind of thinking and conversation that it is able to spark.

I visited an exhibition dedicated to women by women artists at the Shanghai Art Museum a couple of days ago and one of the pieces that really caught my attention was They Know Who They are, by Jiang Jie. It’s basically a pile of bloody babies and pigs made out of silica gel and cotton. Art like this is especially important in China because it questions the one child policy that’s in place to control the growth of the population. What’s the difference between a human baby and a pig when both of them are slaughtered? When someone gets an abortion, a life has already been created and then killed no matter how early it is in its creation.

In both the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Shanghai Art Museum, I noticed that at least one fourth of the people were foreigners. I heard at least three different languages that weren’t Chinese, including English, French, and Japanese. The People’s Square is already a place that’s heavily filled with foreigners, with the exception of a small area where Chinese locals are gambling. The restaurants in the square are also catered towards rich Westerners with the most basic meal on the menu coming out to a few hundred dollars. Besides the free scenery, a middle class Chinese local would have no business coming here. If artists really want to get their art out to the masses of Chinese, they have to rethink the area they put up their exhibitions. Sometimes even the thought of an art gallery or museum sounds very fancy and high class— a place where the majority of the population would not go to especially if they aren’t interested in art to begin with. Artists need to show people that art isn’t something only a certain few can appreciate, but something everyone can take part in. I feel that the job of artists is not only to create an aesthetically pleasing work but also to draw as much attention and discussion as they can; art is only a medium for the message or issue they are trying to convey. In the 21st century, the internet is going to play a vital role in the development of art. The internet is a place where everyone is on an equal playing field, where class and social status doesn’t matter anymore because no one needs to know the face behind the screen. It’s easy and convenient and anybody can post, whether it is an original work or a response to someone else’s work or comment.

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