» Archive for 24 June 2008

A Brief History of Beijing’s Avant-Garde

24 June 2008

The following texts were originally published in the 2007-08 Insider’s Guide to BeijingThey have been expanded below, and include content that is “not permitted” to be published within China.    

With such a noticeably short history, the question of from where the Chinese avant-garde emerged is gaining more interest, especially with new developments and tourist-ready accessibility of Beijing’s art zones such as 798, Caochangdi and the Liquor Factory. In a steamy arts climate, social change, economic reform and policy are intertwined with art history, and are  equally intertwined to the development of the avant-garde.  
The long, potholed road to “success” seems to have paid off for some members of the avant garde, the incredible sums they now collect at auction seem almost like compensation for previous eating of the proverbial “bitterness” and years of marginalization and exclusion from both city limits and institutional art systems. An art world that was once “underground” has been exhumed and now features newly paved roads cappuccinos to go, and a firm position in the popular media. The shape of the new artistic vanguard––like everything in modern China––is changing, and at a racecar pace. Keeping the recent 20 years in mind as a foundation, where it will lead to, we can only guess, reminding ourselves that the “art districts” of today were simply unthinkable 15 years ago.

Shaking the ReignsFather Luo Zhongli

Even after the bans on individualistic perspectives or themes had been lifted, the political themes of the Cultural Revolution had still not completely disappeared. Realism reigned on the canvas, though there was a tangible rejection and knee-jerk reaction to the practice of socialist-realist art from the extreme left. Emotionally charged, personal subjects were creeping back into the artistic and literary milieu with “Scar Art” (伤痕艺术 shanghen yishu), perhaps today best represented by the almost confrontational oil painting “Father” 父亲. Completed in 1979 by Luo Zhongli 罗中立, “Father” featured an intimate frontal view of this sweat-dripping, sun-withered peasant’s face executed in exceptional photo-realism. Abstract forms, nudity and personal themes, although not forbidden, were still taboo in the mainstream.
Representing the struggle that many Chinese artists still debate, artist Wu Guanzhong 吴关中emerged at the forefront of a continuing movement of traditionally trained painters who struggled to integrate Western expressionist aesthetics with Chinese mediums such as ink and wash. Amidst a politically relaxed, emotionally charged atmosphere the group of radicals know as the Stars 星星 (the notorious Ai Weiwei 艾未未 among them) was busy acting on their bottled-up experimental impulses that were uncorked in a backlash to years of a silenced avant garde.  (more…)

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Liang Yuanwei: BLDG 115 Rm 1904

24 June 2008

Liang Yuanwei

No.A-8 Caochangdi,(P.O.box No.71 Dashanzi),Chao Yang District|北京市朝阳区草场地村甲八号 May 31–July 13

In this exhibition, the sometimes-dense compositions and concentrated colors of Liang Yuanwei’s canvases nicely contrast with the cool, spacious gallery that houses them. On display are twelve large paintings and fourteen smaller renditions of the same patterns, all from the series “A Piece of Life” and completed in the last year and a half. Each painting is dominated by a pattern, thoughtfully chosen from among the artist’s garments or selected from the many objects surrounding her-a sofa, curtains, swatches of cloth. Repeated evenly for the full length of the canvas, the flowers, spots, and, in one work, what look like palm trees are made by precise brushstrokes in thickly layered paint; they resemble classical Chinese painting’s delicate and detailed gongbi strokes. The repetitive, meditative process required to unfurl these patterns limited Yuanwei to one to three inches of progress per day, and a single mistake or diffusion of concentration would destroy an entire canvas (and, subsequently, up to a month’s work). Each painting thus serves as testament to both her desire to work more with oils and her incredible focus. Although inspired by motifs on two-dimensional fabrics, their shadows and light also give the impression of motion.

These works can easily be mistaken for a feminist/feminine pursuit, as in her earlier, well-received photography series “Don’t Forget to Say You Love Me . . . (When You Fuck Me),” 2005. Those staged boudoir photos of women were a savvy comment on what it takes to break into the fine-art world. This most recent body of work confirms Yuanwei’s observant nature and logical approach.

Originally published on ArtForum.com

Impressive Pet photography

23 June 2008

dog in clothesCheck out the look on this dog’s face: the consternation, the polo shirt.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he has his own start up company, or tickets to the 2008 Opening Ceremony. 
Click on “read more” to see this dog’s head shot.  

Thanks to Joey Guo at the Beijinger for the photos, and his interest in cute puppies.   (more…)

Andy Warhol China 1982

21 June 2008

andy in china bookcover(Beijing, 19 May 2008) Andy Warhol abruptly left the city and the people so familiar to him, the sounds, the colors and their warmth, just over 20 years ago. The moment he was gone the world was changed. This wasn’t an arrow propelled from a bow, but the bow (and the world that held it) falling from the arrow, separated in an instant and forever. 

Everything in Andy’s life seemed pretentious, a kaleidoscope of colors and extravagance. Like a prophet who can truly see through the confines of time, long before the true arrival of the era that he prophesized, anything within his sight was magnified, duplicated over and over and thereby rendered emotionally and mentally fractured and emptied. Time and men could be equally splendid and extraordinary, and at the same time so insignificant. 

Andy was attached to that world so filled with uncertainty, even though the same world similarly distrusted him. Till the very end they shared a hard to define mutual resentment; together temporarily, and likewise forever separated, something like a remarkably original decree blurted out but swallowed back up, all it leaves behind is astonishment. 

The absurd thing is that one day in 1982, Andy arrived by happenstance in this unfamiliar nation. The people here were still drowsy under the artifice of a communist government, every face wore the same simple shyness. At these geographical coordinates, not a single person expressed interest in the artist. No one recognized that mask-like face infamous throughout the rest of the world. And although Andy made innumerable portraits of famous figures, the most famous among them was ironically the archetypical representation of this transitional national leader in China, a portrait that he painted hundreds of times. The ubiquitous portrait caused Mao Zedong to be looked upon as a god in China. However, in Andy’s rendering, the allegorical force of Mao’s portrait was made conventional, its enormity made neutral, objectified, emptied of its moral value as well as its aesthetic intent. 


Post 70s artists unite for “School of Hope”

16 June 2008

chongjianPost 70s artists, including some of Star Gallery’s most sought-after artists, are holding an exhibition and charity sale of their works in Star Gallery. The show runs only for 5 days, all payment of works will be donated to the “Project Hope” non-profit to build a “School of Hope” in the earthquake affected regions of Sichuan. Works are on sale for more than 20% off their valued price, there are some great works available by promising artists.Exhibition lasts till June 20thStar Gallery / 798 Arts District / 8456 0591 

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Stray Alchemists

13 June 2008





Perhaps this exhibition’s title, “Stray Alchemists,” subconsciously braces audiences for an underwhelming experience, as it suggests that the assemblage of international artists vagabond minor players in comparison to Huang Yongping, whose alchemical wizardry is on view in a retrospective in this venue’s main hall. Here, tucked into a low network of halls on the perimeter of the UCCA, is a group offering of emerging artists touted as being among the vanguard of the international art world.

The exhibited works are rhetorically sewn together by common threads, among them an emphasis on process, the deliberate alteration of materials, and on examining everyday experience. Matt Bryans has erased the contents an enormous newspaper collage to create a primordial nebula of social information and display incredible feats of process. In the agitated installation Five Pointed Star, 2007, Amy Granat’s scratched and worn 16-mm films loop endlessly within a claustrophobic room, the clicking sound of five vintage projectors amplified by the space constraints and the speakers that amplify the sound of the film running through the projectors. Also of note are Takeshi Murata’s mesmerizing videos, “digital paintings” made in collaboration with Robert Beatty, who provided the sound tracks. These are installed in soundproof, utterly dark rooms that make for embryonic appreciation of his brand of digital-age psychedellica.

The conceptual practice of other works seemed simplistic and technically unimpressive, as in Li Tzay-Chuen’s 100 spiders and 1 sticker, 2007, and Sterling Ruby’s monumental junk art, which may evoke a response in Western contexts but has difficulty competing with the complex and contradictory urban construction site on display outside.

Perhaps dwarfed by this new context, or by the weighty nature of the works in the neighboring space, “Stray Alchemists” seems more trendy than relevant. Neither Day-Glo colors, nor hip-hop culture, nor vintage borrowing could redeem its sense of significance. It remains worth a visit for the inclusion of a few stimulating works, but fails as an introduction to the vanguard practice that is unfolding in the West.

originally published in Chinese on artforum.com.cn

“Socialism is Great!”

8 June 2008

socialism is great
“Socialism is Great” is a coming-of-age tale to be sure, but also a good example of memoir writing from an exceptional person living through some extraordinary times. “Socialism is Great” tells of things great and small: a girl becoming a woman and China shedding its socialist shell. It opens doors on a frugal family and its persistence in life, and the gates of the state-owned factory class as it plods to extinction. Along the way are lovable and despicable characters, all drawn to–or repelled by–our heroine Lijia as she careens through her own mind, trying as she must to keep her ambitions and lust contained behind “the strangest pair [of glasses she] could find in town.”  

“Socialism is Great” is a fast read, is passionate and hopeful. Happily, unlike many other memoirs from China it doesn’t end with an escape abroad. In this sense, it captures the spirit of the 80s, as the heroine’s forward momentum brings readers to new depths and acts of bravery, she brings to life a whole new side of China, all without wallowing in self-pity. As she matures, she comes into mature experiences that make this book inappropriate for young audiences, but which definitely left me surprised at the depth of emotion of factory workers and “simple” laborers all. 

All in all, this is a new voice to enrich the canon of memoirs from China, it marks the advancement away from the reminiscing over the cultural revolution, and represents one among China’s newest generation of international, accomplished writers.

Book Talk: “Socialism Is Great!” by Zhang LijiaWed June 18, 19:30-21:00
Venue: CCC Learning Centre, Chinese Culture Club, Anjialou, No.29, Liangmaqiao Road, Chaoyang District.
Price: RMB 20 (symbolic charge for drinks and snack) (more…)

documentary film review: BingAi

6 June 2008

bing ai
Like a Kernel of Corn… a review of director Feng Yan’s non-fictional account of a strong-willed female farmer and a close up look at policy and subsistence farming in Hubei. A million thanks to Alice Wang for her article! Alice is a literary translator and currently editor of art forum’s Chinese site. Her contribution to sinopop is much appreciated, for English readers interested in the film, read a review here on variety.com.

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