art 2003/2

Jin Feng. O ką, jei aš. 2000, fotografija

Zhang Linhai. Piemuo. 2002, drobė, aliejus, 200x250

Chen Yu. Be pavadinimo 7 A–C. 2002, drobė, aliejus, 170x120

Contemporary Chinese Art:
Reflections of the Present Time and Tradition

by Raminta Jurėnaitė

While Chinese national cultural policy is becoming more liberal, the Chinese contemporary art is striking in its intensity, diversity, and overwhelming with the joy of discovery. China abounds in art academies, which operate not only in the mega-cities, but also in smaller towns. It is possible to speak of several key contemporary art centres: Beijing, Shanghai, and historical capitals, Xiajin, Nanjing and Chengdu, even though not all of these towns have an equally developed network of art museums and galleries. There are no large exhibition spaces for showcasing contemporary art in Nanjing and Xiajin, or private galleries. These both towns keep attracting visitors by their ancient architecture and the collections of ancient art. Though Xiajin Art Academy teaches 15.000 students, the town only has one small art gallery, which belongs to the academy. True, a huge building is being constructed nearby, a future contemporary art exhibition venue.
The Xiajin Art Academy, like Beijing’s Academy, provides courses in traditional Chinese art techniques and oil painting, alongside students produce new technological media art. Reverence to tradition marries with curiosity for the new.
In Beijing the situation is different. The capital sees more of Chinese contemporary art, though exhibition venues still are on short supply. Shanghai, by contrast, already has a museum of contemporary art, situated centrally, next to the museum of ancient art. Another, even larger museum will be opened shortly. Several art magazines are published in Shanghai. The town has spacious exhibition venues, like the Jingwen Art Centre, and several contemporary art galleries.
Sponsors and collectors of contemporary art in China are mostly foreigners as of yet, though some local ones have started to emerge too. The state-supported Artists’ Union s still has a key role to play, but there are also new bodies involved in organizing artistic life, and the number of independent curators is increasing.
A large number of Chinese art students go to the West to continue studies and stay there. On the other hand, with positive developments in China changing the situation, the émigré artists started coming back.
If Chinese artists are interested in what is going on in the West, the West is also interested in Chinese art. Contemporary Chinese art is extensively represented in the largest international Western events; also, huge specialised shows are being put up. Three such exhibitions, launched in Germany this past spring and summer, well captured the pace of contemporary Chinese art. A huge exhibition featuring 40 artists from all over China was put on in Duisburg, Kuepfersmuehle Museum. The artists showed painting, photography, video, sculpture and installations from the past two years, most of the products reflecting the dramatic changes in the country. Painting and calligraphy in China have kept the top position in the hierarchy of arts, the exhibition revealed. The exhibition in the Castle of Oberhausen focused on the relationship of the present time and tradition. The exhibition featured works from several collections in Europe and China spanning the period of several thousand years. Alongside, contemporary works were exhibited, though the so-called Chinese “political pop” art of the 80s was dedicated just a small part of the exhibition. One more, and even more radical aspect of contemporary Chinese art was presented at Bochum’s Museum. It hosted the exhibition of the work of Zhang Huan (b.1964) – his gigantic photographs, documenting his ritual performances capturing extreme situations of human existence. The artist is making a political and social statement in these performances, yet they also carry a much deeper symbolical and existential implications. Zhang Huan now lives in New York City and exhibits worldwide.
On the whole, contemporary Chinese art includes things from meditative tradition to extreme avant-garde, or even a mixture of this. Curiously enough, this art first conquered Western exhibition halls, and only now is starting to establish itself on the national scene.