Chinese Contemporary Art
Friday 11th September 2009 - 2:00pm - 3:00pm
Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2009
Chinese Contemporary Art
Dalian, People’s Republic of China 10-12 September
Contemporary art originated in the 1960s and 1970s to challenge and displace modernism.
What are China’s most influential contemporary art trends?
Chinese contemporary art over the past 20 years has captured the global imagination and found a home in some of the most prestigious galleries, museums and collections around the world. As the Chinese government relaxed controls over personal expression, a generation of artists took their work from the underground into the mainstream, and artists today continue to grapple with their vision of China and its place in the world.
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Chinese art was meant to serve the ideals of the state, and the period produced several masterpieces of social realism. Art’s role began to change in the mid- to late 1970s on the back of Deng Xiaoping’s sweeping societal reforms. The first show of what would now be considered “contemporary art” was held in 1979 at the first “Stars” exhibition in Beijing. Though modest by today’s standards, it would introduce the Chinese to several future icons of the art world such as Ai Wei Wei.
The next decade was a romantic and idealistic time for intellectuals in China, who found themselves more exposed than ever to Western art, literature and music. A generation of artists, known as the “85 New Wave”, began to find their voice and pushed the boundaries of expression. This period culminated in the “China/Avant Garde” exhibition in 1989, only months before the political unrest at Tiananmen Square.
In the years following the events of 1989, tightened restrictions on art made the West an increasingly important platform for the spread of Chinese art. Nonetheless, there was a rising suspicion among Chinese artists exhibiting overseas that their works had yet to command the respect given to Western counterparts. With the new millennium came an unprecedented interest in Chinese contemporary art from both Western buyers and newly-rich Chinese. No longer mere “spring rolls” at the global table, Chinese art commanded multi-million dollar prices – notably painter Zeng Fanzhi’s “Mask Series 1996 No. 6”, which sold for over US$ 9 million in 2008.
Chinese art may have found its place on the global stage, but some remain concerned about its future direction. While there may be more artists in China now than in any other time in its history, many are in fields such as animation or graphic design. It is difficult for most aspiring artists to cultivate a deep understanding of the contemporary Chinese art that came before them, as such works are excluded from textbooks. Furthermore, a lack of infrastructure for open, critical discourse on the topic of contemporary art in the academy and society prevents artists from fully engaging with their work and the works of others.
Nonetheless, Chinese contemporary art continues to expand into new areas. Previously, Chinese art was almost exclusively about China, acting in many ways as “national allegory”. That Chinese art is beginning to look beyond China and its turbulent history is an indication to some that Chinese artists are beginning to reckon in surprising and profound ways with their status as citizens of an emerging global power.
Pi Li, Founder and Owner, Boers-Li Gallery, People’s Republic of China
Philip Tinari, Curator, Writer and Art Critic, People’s Republic of China
Julia Peyton-Jones, Director and Co-Director, Exhibitions and Programmes, Serpentine Gallery, United Kingdom
This summary was prepared by John Bishop, summary writer. The views expressed are those of certain participants in the discussion and do not necessarily reflect the views of all participants or of the World Economic Forum.
Copyright 2009 World Economic Forum
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11 September 2009
Director and Co-Director, Exhibitions and Programmes, Serpentine Gallery, United Kingdom
Studies in Painting, Royal College of Art, UK. Formerly: Practicing Artist, London; Lecturer in Fine...
Director, Ullens Center For Contemporary Art, People's Republic of China
Director, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. Specialist in contemporary art in China. Foun...
Founder and Owner, Boers-Li Gallery, People's Republic of China
Currently, finishing PhD in Art History, Central Academy of Fine Arts where he is also a professor. ...