What to expect from contemporary Chinese art? China is one of the most culturally problematic country in the world, it is at once a uniquely contemporary and deeply traditional society. Chinese social and political life is based largely on events of the last forty years, since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 forced a hard reset. The institution of the one-child policy in 1979, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, the exponential economic growth in the ’90s, the country’s admission into the World Trade Organization in 2001, the recent period of rapid Westernization, and the rise to global power have shaped every aspect of Chinese life.
An art in between: China and the West
The relationship between China and the West in the last years made an important contribution to the fields of art, comparative aesthetics and philosophy. Centuries-old artistic traditions, such as ink-wash painting and ceramics, remain dear and deeply ingrained in the culture.
Deng Xiaoping’s modernizing policies of the late 1970s offered artists more opportunities to learn about art from around the world, as well as the ability to work independently of state commission. Ranging in age from those in their 20s to those in their 50s, the most famous Chinese contemporary artists are affected and influenced both by the country’s recent events and ancient artifacts. From the ultra famous to the super fresh, they deal with the constantly shifting current of Chinese society, politics, and economy, while maintaining a connection to the country’s deep cultural roots
’85 New Wave
Conceptual and provocative artwork series created in China between 1985 and 1989 that reacted to the Russian Socialist Realism (highly propagandistic art style), which had dominated Chinese art since the 1950s. ‘85 New Wave inspired various other groups in China, such as the Xiamen Dada group and the Northern Artists Group from Harbin. The movement reached its peak with the 1989 “China Avant-Garde Exhibition” at the National Art Gallery in Beijing.
Main artists: Fei Dawei, Wang Chuan, Xu Bing, Wang Guang Yi
Xiaogang – Fam n.2
A style of art practiced in Beijing in the late 80s and early 90s by such figures as Yue Minjun, Fang Lijun, and Liu Wei, who sought to evoke the psychological implications of China’s rapid development, urbanization, and opening to the West. These artists are among the most successful contemporary painters in the whole of China, and some of their works rank alongside the most expensive paintings in today’s international art market.
Although lacking a unifying aesthetic, Cynical Realist works share an ironic, humorous, and satirical tone. For this reason, the Cynical Realist movement is closely related to “Political Pop”, which questioned Chinese politics in the wake of the Cultural Revolution.
Main artists: Fang Lijun, Liu Wei,
and Yue Minjun
Fang Lijun – Exam
A term coined by art critic Li Xianting in 1992 to describe art created by a group of 1990s Chinese artists, whose works, executed in the style of 1960s American Pop, juxtaposed Cultural Revolution propaganda imagery, such as a portrait of Mao Zedong, with symbols of globalization like Gucci or Coca-Cola logos. In their work Political Pop artists—including most notably Wang Guangyi, Yu Youhan, and Li Shan—expressed ironic, wry—and at times humorous—criticism of Chinese society’s growing fascination with wealth and luxury following the austerity of the recent past.
Main artists: Wang Guangyi, Yu Youhan, Li Shan
Yu Youhan – Mao and His Friends From the Third War