17 June 2010
Contemporary Art History: According to the Internet in China
In an age where technology dominates most of our daily lives and
the Internet's knowledge seems to be ever bountiful, it's no wonder
that so many people never question the information found online. In
China especially, where the population's Internet users spend 70% of
their leisure time online and government censorship is still
prevalent, the information that people can find about the relatively
new contemporary art scene in China is limited. Also, the fact that
the history of contemporary art in China is still in the making,
people seeking information on the subject will settle for whatever
they can get their hands on. With China rising as an economic power,
the contemporary art market in China is suddenly booming. More and
more foreigners are turning their eyes towards Chinese contemporary
art and alongside this new trend is the trend for people to write,
academically or not, about it. What little information that there is
out there in the web is very precious, and because of that, many
people do not stop to wonder about the writer's credentials and
whether or not the information is accurate.
With the condition of few publications on the topic of
contemporary art in China and the condition of government censorship
of things deemed threatening to the government, what kind of
contemporary art history can someone in China gather using only the
internet? What kind of timeline can they build if they do not use a
virtual private network or a proxy? Their knowledge of the subject
will clearly be fragmented and the chances that they will run into
false information are also very likely.
Through Google, I searched "Chinese contemporary art history." I
looked through the results to see what the sites had to say about the
subject. The first thing I noticed was the difference in birth dates
of contemporary art in China. Surprisingly, according to
Wikipedia.org, it gave a general statement saying that the birth of
Chinese contemporary art was during the 1980s, instead of giving an
exact year as the site is usually known to do. According to both
Melissa Chiu on bigthink.com and Julia Coleman on findarticles.com,
they site the birth of Chinese contemporary art to be 1976, after the
death of Mao Zedong. According to an article on cnn.com, the
contemporary art began after Deng Xiaoping opened China to the world
in 1978. The other numbers I found all gave the general number of the
A person who has no background in the subject of contemporary
art or art in general would most likely not wonder about the
credibility of each article's author. In fact, that person might take
the first date he/she sees and accept that date as the true birth of
contemporary art in China without question. After looking into the
backgrounds of the author's of each article, I found that the most
credible people were Melissa Chiu and Julia Coleman. Melissa Chiu is
the museum director of Asia Society and Julia Coleman is an art
historian and co owner of Chinese Contemporary Gallery in London.
Although many people may assume that anything from CNN is credible
since it is a famous news station in America, those people are wrong.
The author of the CNN article is Cathryn Meurer, and according to her
work experience on linkedin.com, her expertise lies solely in the
medical field, not in the art field.
By searching "Chinese contemporary art history" in Google, the
results I got were all missing key information in the history of
contemporary Chinese art. The most obvious information missing was on
the Star Star Exhibition, or the Xingxing Exhibition. I tried looking
up "Star Star Exhibition," "Xingxing Exhibition," and other
combinations of the words with different spacing, but nothing related
came up in the search results. It was only when I was searching for
pictures of Wang Keping's works did I stumble upon an article on
zeestone.com talking about the Star Star group because Wang Keping was
part of it. Through my class on contemporary art in China, I have
direction in my search. For someone who has no background and no
direction, that person would most likely never find out about the Star
Star Exhibition that took place in 1979 and its phenomenal impact on
setting the stage for the development of contemporary art in China.
The article on zeestone.com is written by Hilary Binks, who,
according to Google search results, has edited and written many
articles on Asian art, which makes her a credible source. Her article
on the Star Star group is extremely detailed, but unfortunately, the
only way to find this article is to know of the particular topic or to
accidentally stumble upon it. Binks states that the Stars group was
denied official art space in the China Art Gallery in Beijing, so on
September 27, 1979, the Stars group hung their works on the railings
outside of the gallery. Their daring exhibition was closed by police
on the 28th and declared illegal on the 29th. On October 1st, the 30th
anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, the
Stars group marched in protest under a banner stating "We Demand
Democracy and Artistic Freedom". They were granted official gallery
space in Huafang Studio, Beijing from November 23rd to December 2nd,
1979. The group members listed are Huang Rui, Ma Desheng, Yan Li, Wang
Keping, Yang Yiping, Qu Leilei, Mao Lizi, Bo Yun, Zhong Ahcheng, Shao
Fei, Li Shuang and Ai Weiwei.
The last campaign from the Communist Party of China, known as
the "Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign", according to Wikipedia.org,
lasted from October 1983 to February 1984. It was the state
government's attempt to stop the spread of Western influences and
their liberal ideology among the Chinese populace. During that period,
artist once again felt the scare of the Cultural Revolution and either
went into hiding until the campaign was over or left the country
altogether. For the Stars group, Binks states that the group disbanded
due to political pressure in 1983 and most of the artists began to
leave the country then.
After the sad lack of results about the Star Star group and
mediocre results for the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign, the
results for the "85 New Wave Movement" are surprisingly abundant. One
result on bookrags.com, a site which claims to be an online
encyclopedia, states that the 85 New Wave Movement was a time when
over 2000 of the nations avant-garde artists organized themselves into
groups—Pond Society, Xiamen Dada, Northern Art Group, Red Humor—and
began holding their own exhibitions, holding conferences, and writing
articles about their own work. The site states that the peak of the
movement was in 1989 with the China Avant-Garde exhibition. The
movement also ended in that year. Not mentioned on the site is that
the China Avant-Garde exhibition was also known as the "No U-Turn"
exhibition stating the artists desire that contemporary art in China
progress forward with the exhibition.
In the article Memories of 1989, on artzinechina.com, Maggie Ma
wrote that the "No U-Turn" exhibition was monumental in that it
included 297 pieces from 186 artists from around the country and it
was the first exhibition to show performance art. Artists whose works
did not make it into the exhibition still showed up and performed
their performance art works. Zhang Nian performed his "floating egg"
piece on the second floor of the National Gallery and Wang Deren
performed his piece by throwing condoms into the air. The most
memorable performance art piece was Xiao Lu's using a revolver to
shoot into her installation "Dialogue." The news of the exhibition
spread to the West and an article of the exhibition came out in Time
magazine titled "Eggs, Gunshots, and Condoms".
Zhang Nian and his "floating eggs" performance piece.
Tiananmen Square June 4th movement, ppl leaving 1989
While scanning the articles from my "Chinese contemporary art"
search results, my eye often caught the phrases "cynical realism" and
"political pop." Those two were the only two movements sited in my
results to take place during the 1990s. Other movements such as the
new generation realism and experimental/apartment art are ignored.
According to the article Move over Mao: Do China's artists serve a new
master? by Meuer on cnn.com, cynical realism and political pop came
about from the "collision of capitalist and communist ideologies". The
article Cynical Realism on artrealization.com states that the West
attributes the rise of cynical realism to the "disheartenment and
post-1989 gloom among the avant-garde that resulted from a dearth of
an arts community." It stated that the closings of landmark
exhibitions such as the China Avante-Garde exhibition at the National
Gallery of 1989 and the frustrating political climate left artists
bitter. The article also gives the Chinese view on how cynical realism
came about by saying that the artists were depicting the views of
China from a Western perspective. The most well known artists in the
category of cynical realism are Fang Lijun and Yue Minjun. Both of the
artists would use their own faces in their works displaying
exaggerated laughing and smiling expressions. The faces in their
paintings all look like they're mocking what's going on in the
Execution, painting by Yue Minjun.
The political pop movement is not mentioned as much and as in
detail as the cynical realism movement, so someone would have to
specifically type "political pop" into the Google search engine in
order to get more specific information. A brief description of
political pop art on artandculture.com, the anonymous author states
that the works of famous political pop artist Wang Guangyi are both
celebrating and mocking Mao, the Red Guards, and capitalism. Wang puts
Cultural Revolution propaganda with capitalist company names such as
Coca-Cola and HP.
Wang Guangyi's painting Great Castigation Series: Coca-Cola, 1993.
Approaching the 21st Century, the art scene in China began to
change. Slowly, but steadily, galleries and exhibitions were opening.
Some were still forced to shut down, but many were staying open.
Information on important art exhibits that took place in the 21st
Century can only be found by specifically searching the names of the
exhibitions. Simply looking for "contemporary Chinese art history"
will find you nothing.
One historically significant exhibition was held in 2000 called
the Fuck Off Exhibition by Eastlink Gallery in a warehouse in
Shanghai. The literal translation of the Chinese title to English was
"Uncooperative Approach," but the organizers preferred a blunter
sentiment. The information on aapmag.com states that the exhibition
was curated by Feng Boyi and Ai Weiwei, and the purpose of the exhibit
was to counter the Shanghai Biennale. The Shanghai Biennale was
organized by the government and it wanted to show the world its
openness to the West with its display of contemporary art and the
first time official display of video. The artists that participated in
the Fuck Off Exhibition believed that the government did not push the
limits of openness far enough. A famous example from the Fuck Off
exhibit is of Ai Weiwei's series of photographs documenting his middle
finger pointing at Tiananmen or the White House. Several of the works
were deemed inappropriate by the Shanghai police. Most notorious was
Zhu Yu's "Eating People," where Zhu photographed himself eating a
cooked fetus. The work caused an international stir. The exhibition,
which opened on November 1, 2001, was shut down on November 7th.
Ai Weiwei's Study of Perspective – Tiananmen.
Another important exhibition called Post-Sense and Sensibility:
Spree was organized by Qiu Zhijie. Luckily, Qiu has his own website
and elaborates on the meaning of Post-Sense and Sensibility and what
the exhibitions were about. Qiu collaborated with many different
artists to create an interlocked performance piece where one artist's
work standing alone would be incomplete and could not be reproduced.
The exhibition was held in Beijing Film Academy in 2001 and its
purpose was to oppose the idea of exhibitions. Qiu stated that the
idea of exhibitions links back to colonialism and it results in
artists focusing on how to compete with other artists rather than
creating works for the sake of art. Instead of seeing a typical
exhibition, what the audience saw was the process of installing the
exhibition. The installation process involved the audience and it
focused more on the on-the-spot experience rather than the concept
behind each work.
The more recent trends of video and other computer technology in
contemporary art can be found documented on www.bjartlab.com/ and
www.wangjianwei.com/. The only problem is how to find these sites
through Google without knowing the author's of the sites.
The situation of the lack of available information on the
Internet already leaves contemporary art enthusiasts destitute, let
alone the people who are just curious. Adding on the layer of
censorship only worsens the situation. Yishujournal.com, an important
site with reliable sources and detailed information solely focused on
art in Greater China is blocked. Findarticles.com and even an American
news site cnn.com are all blocked. The only available article online
about the Star Star Exhibition is also blocked. The only information
about the Lost Generation of China is on knowledgerush.com, a simple
online encyclopedia, is blocked.
Without being in the art scene, taking a class, or talking to
professionals in the field, I do not think an everyday person would be
able to build a fairly solid timeline of contemporary art in China.
There would be many key events and people missing. The information
available online often only focuses on one aspect of contemporary art
in China, rather than having one cohesive Wikipedia page with every
single aspect included.