Thursday, August 21, 2008
China Won’t Lend Artworks to Asia Society Exhibition
The New York Times
August 20, 2008
China Won't Lend Artworks to Asia Society Exhibition
By ROBIN POGREBIN
China has reversed its decision to lend Asia Society nearly 100 objects from Chinese museums for an exhibition that focuses on revolutionary Chinese art from the 1950s through the '70s, scheduled to open on Sept. 5 in Manhattan, the society's president said.
The Chinese Ministry of Culture had originally agreed to allow the society to borrow works for the show, "Art and China's Revolution," promoted as among the first comprehensive exhibitions devoted to that era and one that will examine the effects of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution on artists and art production in China.
Despite the Chinese government's decision, Asia Society has decided to proceed with the show by seeking loans from private collectors.
The approach of the Olympics seemed to have been the deal breaker. "Initially, they said, 'Any loans you want; no problem,' " said Vishakha N. Desai, the society's president. "The closer it got to the Olympics, they changed their policy."
"It has more to do with China's desire and aspiration to be seen in a new light," Ms. Desai added. "This is a time for celebration. They don't want to be reminded of a difficult past."
"To some extent, it's better," she said. "We don't want ever to be seen as being sanctioned by the government."
Asia Society was informed of the ministry's decision in January, but tried over the last several months to convince the Chinese government to reconsider. "We were working to get at least some of them," said Melissa Chiu, the society's museum director and a leading authority on Chinese contemporary art. "It's now apparent that they won't come. We had to think long and hard about whether to proceed. We made the decision to go forward."
When the ministry refused to lend the artworks, Ms. Chiu said, she appealed for help to China's consulate general in New York. "They said they would see what they could do, but we should see about postponing the show until after the Olympics," she recalled. "I said we couldn't do that."
Zhong Laizhao, China's cultural consul, said in an interview on Tuesday that he had not suggested that Asia Society delay its show, but had advised Ms. Chiu to deal with China directly. "How can I help her?" he asked. "I really don't know this case."
The legacy of Mao is complicated, Asia Society officials say, and the Cultural Revolution remains a taboo topic, along with what some refer to as the three T's: Tibet, Tiananmen Square and Taiwan.
The exhibition, which will run through Jan. 11, covers the three decades after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949. It will include large-scale oil paintings, ink paintings, sculptures, drawings, artist sketchbooks, woodblock prints, posters and objects from everyday life, many never before shown in the United States.
Ms. Chiu organized the exhibition with Zheng Shengtian, who was an artist and teacher at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now the China Academy of Art) during the period covered by the show. Critical of the Red Guards for their violence and destruction of cultural artifacts in 1966, Mr. Zheng was imprisoned in a detention center on campus, called a cowshed, where he and other established artists and teachers were forced to participate in self-criticism sessions.
"Even though this is a period many would prefer to forget, it is nevertheless one that produced a visual culture that continues to permeate contemporary Chinese art," Mr. Zheng said in a news release.
One section of the exhibition addresses artists who went against the prevailing style, including Pan Tianshou, Lin Fengmian, Zhao Yannian, Li Keran and Shi Lu, some of whom were persecuted and called "black artists."
The show also includes works by a younger generation of contemporary artists, like Xu Bing, Chen Danqing and Zhang Hongtu, who attribute many of their artistic influences to their years spent in the countryside as part of their "re-education."
Mao started the Cultural Revolution in 1966 to purge China of its bourgeoise elements and to advance class struggle. The revolution also represented Mao's effort to regain control of the Communist Party from his rivals Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping after the Great Leap Forward. The conflict eventually devolved into a decade-long period of power struggles and political instability.
During the revolution, art was often used as propaganda to deliver a political message to a mass audience. Older artists sometimes adopted revolutionary themes; many others had their works destroyed and were persecuted. At the same time, some younger artists aspired to have their paintings become "model works," mass-produced in posters and newspapers. The Asia Society exhibition seeks to capture the varied artistic ramifications of this political turmoil.
"It is a project that you couldn't stage in China," Ms. Chiu said. "It sheds light on a period of time that is now seeming to be forgotten."
Posted by cardinale at 8:45 AM