This is a survey of several up and coming young artists working today in Mainland China (this book is NOT about artists who have matured and attained international fame like Xu Bing or Cai Guo Qiang).
Going into this, I was actually caught by surprise, as I didn’t really know much about the contemporary Chinese art scene. But this book fully demonstrates that the contemporary Chinese art world is very much alive and well, despite outward appearances, and it is churning out a lot of work that is provocative, critical, daring, and full of naked people. (All the criteria of Good Art, clearly.)
The book begins with a general overview of the cultural backdrop of Modern China, highlighting major themes such as change, upward mobility, urbanisation, Westernization, and the “me” generation. It gives a decent intro to those unfamiliar with contemporary Chinese culture, but it does not go very deep. For someone who has experienced Chinese culture through living it but not through academic analysis, it was a very jarring experience as I found myself constantly reevaluating my familiar experiences visiting relatives in China in the context of larger, earthshaking trends. (But that is not something unique to this book – At least for me, I think it applies to academia about modern China at large.)
Some of my favorite artists in the survey were:
Chen QiuLin – She does conceptual, beautiful works about displacement and loss in the face of urbanization and industrialization. Notable: a field arrayed with common Chinese surnames carved out of giant tofu blocks
Chi Peng – Installation and photographic works combining Chinese mythical themes and stories with modern life. Also: photos of himself, naked, fleeing the capital
Han YaJuan – I just like super-stylized semi-ironic, semi-indulgent illustrations sometimes…
Liu Ren – The Sleepwalker series combines history and culture with an inner dream world, and is also really interesting to look at. I like the Tiananman Square full of sheep one and the dinosaurs with tanks.
Qiu XiaoFei - Paintings and recreations of Chinese childhood relics such as playing blocks, old photographs, and picture books. I think just about every overseas Chinese kid who left China when they were young is going to find this work evocative and nostalgic and touching in its earnestness
Ta Men (They) (collaborative duo) - Utterly bizarre and minutely detailed paintings/photographs of a room with various surreal scenarios transpiring in it. Supposed to be allegories of the excesses and melancholy of Chinese city life. Also really interesting to look at.
Xu Zhen – Highly conceptual installation, performance, photographic, and video works. Known for a few serious, borderline disturbing works dealing with the body (human or animal) and death. (One controversial one in which he swings a dead cat for 4 min.) Also, some more lighthearted, somewhat silly works such as a bus turned into a giant washing machine, and a fictional international “gang” who collects donations so they can beat up prominent white male politicians.