Archive for the ‘Contemporary Art in China’ Category

A fake Conversation

Monday, April 9th, 2007

The following two quotes are taken from the March 2007 edition of Art in America, to which I have responded.

Richard Vine: Before the market explosion, critics like Li Xianting and independent curators like Fei Dawei, Feng Boyi and Gu Zhenqing played vital roles in identifying – or inventing – significant movements and highlighting the work of selected artists. What has become of those functions today? Does intellectual validation still matter, or has criticism become primarily work done for hire?

Christopher Phillips: As is the case in many places where contemporary art institutions are in their infancy, art-community members in China inevitably wear many hats. Someone who is an artist may also be writing critics, organizing museum exhibitions, running a commercial gallery, advising foreign collectors on a commission basis and teaching in an art academy. There is only a grudging awareness that these overlapping roles might involve conflicts of interests. All this will probably change as the Chinese art world becomes more professionalized in the coming decades. Nevertheless, at the moment enormous temptations are presented by the flood of money that’s rushing around in the Chinese art scene, and I think that very few curators now refrain from privately buying and selling works.

Shi Li: I don’t see why an Artist cannot also be critic, curator, collector, dealer or whatever they want to be at the same time. Especially, among today’s international art practice, it does not surprise me if one plays different roles in his or her life. In terms of becoming a ‘professionalised’, it seems to me one will be more likely to restrict oneself from accessing other interacted fields. ‘Conflicts of interests’ may occur, such as a scholar may be distracted from teaching by putting too much effort of curating exhibitions – however, theory and practise are good to be preformed at the same time. This is similar to why a good course in a university should be combined with a lab. Another example could be more serious than arranging one’s schedule, which is about the evaluation of a piece of art. This concerns one’s morality towards art, as one may argue that a curator may select artworks by their prices, or artists may produce their art by the whims of the art market. However, Chinese contemporary art environment may have its own function and system depending on its own situation. Perhaps, what the Chinese contemporary art needs is not a judgement but encouragement and advice.

Worrying about the Chinese contemporary art market

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

In my previous journals, I have discussed how the foreign art collectors have become eagerly interested in collecting Chinese contemporary art. By doing so, this worldwide trend is actually creating a new ideology, which is affecting the valorisation of Chinese contemporary art. Or perhaps, we could put this another way around, there has not been a indigenous system of evaluating Chinese contemporary art, nevertheless, it will be formed by the Art Markets, to be more specific, it will be formed by Art collectors and dealers. Perhaps, one could say that this happens everywhere in the world. Why is China so special to be singled out?

There are two issues raised here for the Chinese to consider. Firstly, if an art market has no rules and no standard of evaluations, it more likely to have a shakeout whenever the rules are established; another danger is that the concept of the best Chinese contemporary art is being judged by a small group of people who are mainly from the West, and will be evaluated by the only norm available – money. The idea of the ‘artist’ may be tarnished with a bad reputation for being wishing to become rich.

Another Shock! – If you invite me, why should I bring an army?

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Another Shock!
If you invite me, why should I bring an army?

This year, when the YBA show was held in Guangzhou, with the aim of encouraging Young Chinese Artists to be more creative and groundbreaking, one may sense the new Cultural imperialism is coming in by the back door. According to the Chinese website One of the aims of this show is to help Chinese audience to improve their understanding and taste towards contemporary art. I feel it’s questionable to accept this statement. I am considering how people in china judge contemporary art. What can be considered as a great piece of art should be based on different cultures and different esthetic evaluations. People from different culture background might have different appreciations of art. it is important to be acquainted with the YBA show but it should not be seen as a standard of judging what is the best Contemporary art. Different philosophical and develop mental environment provides different creative mentalities of producing artworks. It seems that creating one aesthetic principle for the entire world – cannot be accepted. The ‘Aftershock’ provides a great opportunity in presenting a standard western viewpoint of contemporary art to Chinese people. However, its didactic function should be considered again. Any kinds of art can be based on its historical milieu, and constructed through its unique authenticity. There should not be a hierarchy established among contemporary art practice. It is true that the YBA generation had its significant role at the end of the last century, and the artists are still active among today’s art practice in the UK. Like many other conceptual artists in China (such as Ai Weiwei and Qiu Zhijie), the various thoughts and concerns within their art have been thinking through different spiritualities.

To be continued…

‘Aftershock’ shocked me!!!

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

‘Aftershock’ shocked me!!!

First Shock!
Tracey Emin’s underwear and condoms are missing…

I was so shocked after finding that Tracey Emin’s underwear and condoms are missing from the ‘Aftershock‘ – ‘Contemporary British Art’ Show in Guangzhou and Beijing, which has been showing since last December, and will be continuing till May. According to the article from, Pi Li, who is one of the curators of the show, explained that this is owing to the difficulties of transportation. What a wonderful excuse – it’s made the piece lose its value completely. It’s arguable the piece has lost its value without these significant elements – underwear and condoms, which Emin chose the first time she created the piece. When Charles Saatchi valued Emin’s ‘My Bed’ at 150,000£, these elements must have represented a significant part of that price. The artwork has lost a part of its original value. The ‘My Bad’ presented in China, is not Tracey Emin’s bed any more, it could be anyone else’s – you could say it has been castrated.

To be continued…

YCA era is on its way…?

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

YCA era is on its way…?

I have been wondering why there have been no visitor guides in Chinese at the Tate modern or many other major museums and galleries in London. Not because there is no one interest in Chinese contemporary art. It might be the other way around, people think – there are less Chinese interested in Art, or to be specifically, contemporary art.

Charles Saatchi, who was instrumental in the YBA phenomena, has changed history again. Before his new Gallery has opened, his website team has already translated the Saatchi Gallery website into Chinese. Both the English and Chinese accessible Website doesn’t only demonstrate the internationally well-known gallery itself; it also accurately reflects the attitude of the Western art market. Why? There are reasons as below:

What is Stuart?

Stuart is a website, which created by Saatchi Gallery. Its aim is to provide a platform, which allows artists to present artworks from all over the world. According to the New York Times, there are 23 Chinese art students who presented their work in Stuart so far. As Saatchi says, ‘There are so many artists in China who want their work to be seen’. And also, the students want to know what’s going on around the world.

Behind the prefect idea…

Stuart sounds prefect! Perhaps everyone would think this is a prefect idea that young students don’t have to deal with local galleries anymore, instead, they can easily open an account and post their work on the Saatchi Gallery website. At the same time, many international galleries and dealers can also make direct contact with artists if they are interested in their work. It is free (by which I mean their appear to be no restrictions), democratic and easy to access. It may attract more art collectors to the site, and it is also providing possibilities that many Young Chinese artists’ work might be collected at an early age. However, there are also concerns, which cannot be ignored.

The phenomenon of the YBA (Young British artists) transforms to the YCA (Young Chinese Artists)

How do you value a piece of art? The most direct evaluation may be by price. At the end of the last century, when the art world were still speculating whether Tracey Emin was a great artist, Saatchi gave the answer by adding ‘My Bed’ to his collection for 150,000£. With his foresight and wealthy background, Saatchi had enough clout in making part of Western art history. Today, in tandem with a dramatically expending Chinese economy, the Chinese art market also wields great power of drawing attention from collectors from all over the world. Unsurprisingly, Charles Saatchi is still at the top of the list.

After Saatchi has collected many Chinese contemporary artworks from the avant-gardes, such as Fang Lijun and Zhang Xiaogang. He turned his attention onto Young Chinese Artists. Is this a sign that this could be a repetition of the YBA phenomena in China? (In this sense, the term YBA should be written in YCA) One might think this is great as without the government support and limited promotion through galleries, Chinese Contemporary Art has its own way to survive by presenting internationally and being collected by foreigners (mainly American and British).

A western discourse might be created in China.

However, things always have pros and cons. A western discourse might be created in China. I have many questions in mind: What is a great piece of Art? Why art is being so easily judged by its price? Is there not a danger that Chinese Contemporary Art will be diverted into western criteria i.e. that what is the best Art is based on a western point of view? Who is making Chinese contemporary art history? Or the term Art History will no longer exist, which will be replaced by Visual Culture. Then, this is must be an international one. The Chinese have not undergone the Enlightenment, Modernity or Postmodernity. One could argue that the whole idea of ‘grand narrative’ does not exist in China, or it does but it is the different one and within the different ‘discourse’. I guess that might be one of the reasons why Chinese contemporary art is so fascinating to the westerners.

To be continued…


Wednesday, March 14th, 2007


Culture colonization the relationship between the colonizer and the colony

Having been very much inspired by Edward Said, Gandhi pointed out that ‘Postcoloniality, we might say, is just another name for the globalization of cultures and histories.’(Gandhi, 1998, p.126) As nineteenth-century colonization has faded from our memory of history, post-colonialists are well aware of a new kind of cross-cultural ‘postcoloniality’, which without hostilities, pillage and occupation but rather cultural, educational and spiritual influence implanted in contemporary society, which can be regarded as an invisible form of cultural imperialism. Regarding cultural imperialism, Ella Shohat and Robert Stam argue that,

… the third world always seems to lag behind, not only economically but culturally, condemned to a perpetual game of catch-up, in which it can only repeat on another register the history of the ‘advanced’ world. This system ignores the ‘systems theory’ that sees all the ‘worlds’ as coeval, interlinked, living the same historical moment (but under diverse modalities of subordination or domination). (Shohat and Stam, 2002, p.38)

They elaborate this point further, ‘ like the sociology of “modernisation” and the economics of “development,” the aesthetics of modernism (and postmodernism) often covertly assume a telos toward which “Third world” cultural practices are presumed to be evolving.’ (ibid.)

From Shohat and Stam’s point of view, the so-called ‘first world’ Modernisation system and its effects on other cultures should be questioned. It cannot be seen as an advanced goal, which the rest of the world (non-western countries) has to follow. The debate here will be centred on the concept that a Modernized ideal is not necessarily the same as a modern ideal. There is still a relationship of cultural colonization between the colonizer and colony.

The identity of Chinese contemporary art
I will now turn to Chinese contemporary art to show how colonization has affected its identity.

In China, there has been a dramatic increase in interest in contemporary art in the last 30 years. There is a question whether contemporary Chinese art is a replication of the western contemporary art or whether it has its own Chinese identity.

In relation to Chinese contemporary art practice, there seem to be three aspects of contemporary postcolonial thought which appear to have influenced it.

Establishing an international image and reputation
First, a growing body of Chinese contemporary art attempts to follow similar western patterns of establishing an international image and reputation. Accompanying the rapidly developed economy in the last thirty-years, there has been a realization of the influence of cultural colonization upon major cities in China such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou The thriving contemporary Chinese art scene has reflected some kinds of western art world ideologies, and many contemporary institutions such as Shanghai Art Museum have followed similar institutional traditions as Europe since the end of the 20th century. For instance, the Venice Biennale has successfully been held in Europe for more than 100-years. In recent years, the major cities in China such as Beijing, Guangzhou and Chongqing have all held art biennials, which the Chinese government has encouraged in order to attract attention from all over the world.

Who is more familiar with Chinese contemporary art
Secondly, it seems that the westerners are more familiar with Chinese contemporary art than the Chinese by looking at certain phenomena.
After searching and observing many Chinese art institutions and artists’ websites, one phenomenon is that their websites are generally translated into English. By looking at their biography in these websites, the exhibitions are held equally overseas and in China, or often they hold more international exhibitions than ones in their own country, places such as America, Japan and many countries in Europe.

Furthermore, there are foreign collectors, museums and galleries, many from the ‘first world’ especially America and Europe, who have been collecting numerous outstanding Chinese contemporary artworks in recent years. And this tendency is increasing every year, as there are more people from the art circle or even outside paying attention to Chinese contemporary art. For instance, many contemporary Chinese artworks can be found in the well-known Christies and Sotheby’s auctions today. Both of these companies established overseas offices in major cities of China. This might be because on the one hand, the Chinese art market is becoming increasingly popular; on the other hand, it has become another major resource for them. For example Sotheby’s in New York put Chinese contemporary art on the block as an individual sales category for the first time just one year ago (Richard Vine in Vine, 2007, p.50).

However, there are positives and negatives if Chinese contemporary art practice remains the same. The fact is that there are less Chinese people collecting contemporary art than westerners. The reason could be either people cannot afford these artworks (perhaps because these works are brought to the international market where western buyers are willing to pay a higher price than Chinese collectors) or even those who are wealthy have no intention of collecting contemporary art, owing to the fact they are not aware of its significance and value.

Another reason could be the absence of an aesthetical education of what is contemporary Chinese art by which I mean having a culture of aesthetic appreciation of contemporary art in general. This may be because of the lack of world-class museums in China and the major movement of Chinese artefacts to the west in the 19th century.

The well-known Chinese artist Chen Danqing reminds us that among what is preceived to be the best ten museums, such as the Berlin Museum in Germany, the Maya Museum in Mexico or the British Museum in the UK, there are none of in Asia which has the largest population in the world. (Chen, 2005, p.19) Without more local facilities, the next generation will have the same ‘destiny’ as the Chinese now.

They will also have to fly almost half the globe to visit places such as the British Museum to look at the art from their ancestors. So instead of permanently working individually, Chinese contemporary artists should encourage and help the government construct an aesthetical education system to collect contemporary art works in order to provide an artistic environment and also educate young generations. It will help change the sense of art of the nation. Chen Danqing says, art is visual culture, if we cannot perceive it originally, is just like deaf men talking about music. (Chen, 2005, p.18)