For thousands of years Chinese art has only evolved within its own country and ideas, not much changed over time until the late 1970’s. Mao Zedong the leader of China died in 1976 which brought an end to the Cultural Revolution and shortly after, thus an opening to the western world was born. Chinese artists studied the art from the west and saw how their traditions had begun to weaken in their aesthetics and a whole revival of art happened. Not long after, artist’s started to battle with what their socialist government wanted and the pure form of self-expression and creativity they craved to show. For some the more they started to immerse themselves in western culture the more they started to value their own traditions and how important their heritage is to them.
Contemporary Chinese art tends to focus in on tradition, social issues, political views, and personal connections. Not that all Chinese artists pull from all these themes, but you can find some similarities between artists and what their inspiration was. Now that a broader influence from American and European art has shaped the many changes in Chinese art there are less landscape work and more installations, sculptures, and performance art. Getting that taste of western culture especially has led many Chinese artist to pursue topics their government does on approve of. In China there is a long history of censorship from burning books to now banning social media outlets. This has caused some artists to create in secret and to flee out of the country to make what they want to. Three big movements from earlier contemporary art are cynical realism, political pop, and apartment art. Artwork made from their sense of oppression, homelessness, and other political injustices are some of the most beautiful pieces and are worth being mentioned more.
Lu Peng is a critic and an art historian who has written a few books on Chinese art history. He provides an excellent view on growing up during the Cultural Revolution and how has art changed throughout his life. Growing up he didn’t even know becoming an art historian was a career he could pursue until first learning about it in his early twenties. At his local library there were only two small books that talked about western art history and that shows how cut off from the rest of the world China was. During the eighties to the nineties is when Chinese contemporary art started being created and at the time he thought it was useless for artist to follow the new western idea’s people had seen. He thought because it had already been done and that these artists were just coping the someone else’s work it wasn’t worth talking about. That is until he got older then he realized how this period of time was undoubtedly important to their culture because it opened people’s minds up to world and what was going on around them. It gave people a way to think differently about what was best for them and their country.
The artist Xu Bing and other art historians argues that only art that is de-ideologicalised is real contemporary art and therefor no Chinese art is actually contemporary. That is because since the 1980’s the art scene has revolved around an official and unofficial ideology. I disagree with Xu Bing though, I think that contemporary art is all about expressing your beliefs and emotion through your work. Much of western art is like this and is still considered contemporary. Information is power and Chinese art is one of the best examples of that. Artists are the voice for the people who can’t speak their opinions freely. Art is a language we all can understand and all can draw our own interpretations from. No matter how much the Chinese government might try to control it’s people, art will always weasel its way in help keep people educated.
Cultural Revolution– Mao Zedong started the movement in 1966 to gain authority over the Chinese government and used youth from all over the country to revive their old revolutionary spirit in China. This was time of violence and many political changes.
Cynical Realism– Began in the late 1980’s and is a style of art that show the psychological affects of China’s fast development and openness to the west. Usually it is in an ironic, humorous, and almost disturbing manner.
Political Pop– Li Xianting coined this term in 1992 to describe a body of art that is influenced by 1960’s American pop art, but also used propaganda and globalization for the sources of imagery.
Apartment Art– This was from the 1970’s to the 1990’s in China. People would create small gallery like spaces in their government owned apartments. It was done in secret so they could still show their art without getting in trouble from the authorities.
De-ideologicalised– Ideological is defined as relating to a system of ideas especially concerning political or economic policy and de-means to the reverse or opposite of.
- A Bluffers Guide to Contemporary Chinese Art
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- Jiang, Jiehong. Burden or Legacy : From the Chinese Cultural Revolution to Contemporary Art. (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. 2007)
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- Kelley, Jeff. Half-Life of a Dream : Contemporary Chinese Art from the Logan Collection. (San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 2008.)
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2. Artsy. “Political Pop.” Artsy. https://www.artsy.net/gene/ political-pop.
3. History.com. “Cultural Revolution.” HISTORY. Last modified November 9, 2009. Accessed April 15, 2019. https://www.history.com/topics/china/ cultural-revolution.
4. “Interview with Lu Peng on Chinese contemporary art in the 1980s, by Asia Art Archive.” MPEG video, 12:22. Youtube. Posted by Materials of the Future -Asia Art Archive, June 2, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=AuKJwzucuxM.
5. Lu, Ning. “How Chinese Art Became Contemporary.” Artnet News, March 11, 2013, Art World. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/ how-chinese-art-became-contemporary-50469.
6. TimeOut. “A Bluffer’s Guide to Contemporary Chinese Art.” TimeOut. Last modified September 16, 2016. Accessed July 31, 2018. http://www.timeoutbeijing.com/ features/Art/153880/A-bluffers-guide-to-contemporary-Chinese-art.html.
Huang Yuxing was born in 1975 in Bejing China. He graduated from The Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2000’s and is constantly making art. He draws a lot from his education by exposing a fallacious aesthetic. He is not like other Chinese painters because his work is very nontraditional with bright neon colors and unusual subject matter. Painting for Huang is more about the experience and expressionism than anything else. He doesn’t start with a sketch first, he lets the paint guide him in his images. A quote from him “fluorescent color is the color of our generation” which he has a lot of his paintings. His pieces are fantastical, but also show everyday scenery and objects in a surrealist manner. He likes to plays with the edge of opposites like joy and depression or reality and abstraction.
“Huang creates a visual depiction of the fear and confusion that accompany globalization, particularly pertaining to when a “proletariat” country is being forced to adopt and conform to the modern “New Order.”” Is what one critic had to say about his work. These big idea’s don’t seem apparent at a first glance, but once you dive into all the details, his pieces say so much and can mean different things to a wide array of people.
This artist created a series about bubbles and he said the idea for it was from rivers and eddies (a small whirlpool). Both express excitement and happiness for Huang Yuxing. Bubbles also represent a sense of vanishment because in real life they only exist for a short period of time and just like people. The imagery its self could also be perceived as blood, water drops, and metals on the canvas.
His piece “Software Factory” shows mostly geometric shapes that relate back to technology like. The imagery looks like it could be melting or morphing into something else with his use of spilled paint at the top of the canvas. This piece is said to represent where people spend most of their lives and how they work to develop skills so that they can pass them down to their children. It implies a fear for the fate of future generations, but they rely on the actions of their predecessors.
This relates to my theme because personal and social ideas for his work. I wanted to include Huang Yuxing because his work is so different looking and it would be hard to know he was a Chinese artist just by looking at one of his pieces, but his beliefs tie you back into how he perceives the world around him. His work is bright and beautiful to look at just like many traditional Chinese painters, his approach to it is what really makes him stand out.
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Zhou Chunya was born in 1955 in Chongqing, China and studied at the Sichuan Academy of Fine art in 1982. He received his MFA from Kassel Academy of Fine Art in Germany in 1988. In his time abroad he embraced western painting techniques and was very influenced by German expressionism. Combining his own cultural aspects into his work he also used calligraphy. He decided to attend art school to actually be fed better and was originally trained to create propaganda posters during the Cultural Revolution.
”Even though Western art dominates my painting style, I would say I am a Chinese painter anywhere I go, because I maintain a Chinese lifestyle within myself.” A quote from Zhou Chunya.
His work shows a more traditional Chinese painting aesthetic while also employing a contemporary spin with his subject matter. His work is less political and more personal, showing a strong theme of identity throughout his series. Many Chinese artists are about social issues, but also about how they themselves fit into the world around us. He really tries to connect with his cultural background while also applying what he’s learned from other countries.
One of his more famous series is about his beloved German Shepard he owned and is called the “green dog series.” These pieces are presumed self-portraits as well as him literally representing a beloved pet he once had. It is supposed to be less about the subject imagery and more about the emotion with his use of bright colors and stark contrast of the figure and background. The pieces have an anthropomorphic quality.
Floral paintings he creates are more a relaxation method for Zhou Chunya. He uses thick confident brush strokes to create visually striking flower scenes. Also he considers these paintings and painting in general to be a form of exercise with how he creates his pieces. This series connects back to traditional painting where the marks support a larger compositional structure, but with the ferocity in his actions it also makes them incredible contemporary art of today. He takes his Chinese culture and shifts it violently into something new and exciting to look at.
Jonathan Goodman (a critic and fan) said “Although Zhou’s expressiveness as an artist may well be, as he asserts generally about the Chinese mind, “contradictory”; on another level, it provides him with a direct and impassioned way out of his dilemma. He knows, in the same way most strong artists have known in the twentieth century, that paintings establish contacts-between art and life, between cultures and times-which finally prove as mysterious as they are moving.” This is a good representation of Zhou Chunya’s work and I think prove the point that art is tool in bring culture together and helping people see things from a new perspective.
吕澎, 1956- author. 2010. A History of Art in 20th-Century China. Translated by Bruce G Doar. Milano: Charta. Page 1110
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- Goodman, Jonathan. “Zhou Chunya Heading Neither West Nor East.” Shanghart.
- Kun, Zhang. “The colorful world of Zhou Chunya.” China Daily (Shanghai), June 18, 2010.
Accessed June 18, 2010. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2010expo/2010-
- Yang Gallery. “Zhou Chunya.” Yang Gallery. https://www.yanggallery.com.sg/artists/zhou-
Lin Tianmiao was born in 1961 in Taiyuan, China. Her father was a master painter and calligrapher. She received her BFA from Capital Normal University in Beijing in 1985. From 1988 to 1995 she worked and lived in New York then moved back to Bejing where she still resides today. She challenges the stereotypical roles of women and now try’s to be an advocate for women her society. Lin Tianmiao is a part of the apartment art generation and is textile artist who is known for her thread winding and large scale installations.
Her piece “The Proliferation of Thread Winding” is a sculpture of a bed pierced by 20,000 needles with thread coming down from the mattress to the floor with wrapped cotton balls. The bed is filled the needles in the middle giving the illusion its cut open. Where the pillow is a t.v. playing until a layer of fabric. The piece gives off a very eerie and horror movie feeling. It’s supposed to show how hard the labor of creating textile materials is and how time consuming it can be.
Another piece of Lin Tianmiao is “Protruding Patterns.” This is an installation made from antique Chinese carpets and is designed to be walked on. Stitched together are over 2,000 phrases about women in different languages. The phrases range from obscene slang such as hamburger to nice terms like goddess. The cultural importance of the carpets blends into her idea of the history of language over time. Her use of different languages shows a sense of globalization.
“Critics have noted affinities in her art to the “women’s work” aesthetic of certain Western feminists.” A quote from Holland Cotter. Lin would not disagree with this completely, she knows that woman are treated as second class citizens and believes China has its own form of feminism that is different from the western ideology.
“I did not think of myself as a ‘woman artist’ and I did not care about that identity, but many interviewers like yourself have asked me about feminism. That prompted me to think about whether I am a feminist and about what I should say as a woman artist. My thinking was rational, not from a bodily dimension or intuition. I had a conversation with a critic, which touched me deeply. For a year after that, I felt lost. I wanted to find out how our society perceives women and how that perception has evolved. One thing I found is that the standards for women are created by men. Can we create our own criteria? Can I have my own criteria to define who I am? Once we have answered those questions, we can become free and open.” A quote from Lin Tianmiao on if she considers herself to a feminist.
- Cascone, Sarah. “This Artist Gathered 2,000 Words for Women—and Now, She Wants You to Walk
All Over Them.” Artnet News. Last modified October 16,
- Cotter, Holland. “Chinese women’s art takes on a man’s world.” New York Times, July 30, 2003.
- Tianmiao, Lin. “Lin Tianmiao.” Interview by Monica Merlin. Tate. Last modified February 21, 2018.
- “LIN TIANMIAO with Kang Kang.” Interview by Kang Kang. The Brooklin Rail. Last modified October
5, 2017. https://brooklynrail.org/ 2017/10/art/LIN-TIANMIAO-with-Kang-Kang.