Gaudy Art

Gaudy Art
(Yansu yishu)
Gaudy Art is a mid 1990s art movement appropriating the bright aesthetics of folk art and consumer culture. Yansu is a neologism (see neologisms) originally coined by art critic Li Xianting to translate ‘kitsch’, and later translated back as ‘gaudy’ to refer to the Chinese art phenomenon, the word being a composite of the words ‘garish’ (yan) and ‘vulgar’ (su). Gaudy art was first identified as a new trend in 1996 with the exhibitions ‘Rouge Life’ (Yanzhuang shenghuo), ‘Model for the Masses’ (Dazhong yangban), ‘Brightly Coloured Peach and Plum Blossoms Among the Ruins’ (Kuilan zhi chu, yanruo taoli) and ‘The Damage from the Flooding of China’ (Fuhuade Shanghai). Curated by Li Xianting, they featured works by Wang Jinsong, Qi Zhilong, Xu Yihui, Yang Wei, Feng Zhengjie and the Luo Brothers.
As a reaction to the 1989 movements, Gaudy Art reflected on society’s loss of ideals and the superfluity of the artist: ‘It demonstrates the powerlessness of art to impact on the pervasiveness of consumerism in today’s reality’ (Li Xianting). Not so much kitsch as a parody of it, it comments on the parasitical but meaningless reproduction of cultural signifiers and traditional motifs, turning the artist into a witty but marginalized commentator with little alternative but to knowingly become a part of the same game. A prominent example is Xu Yihui’s Art History (Yishushi, 1999) in which he uses garish ceramic flower plate calligraphy to construct an altar eulogy to contemporary art ‘shit’, a pun on and homophone of the word ‘history’ (shi). Yu Bogong’s silk sculpture of a turd with wings, Shit with a Dream (Manhuai lixiang de dabian), is another satirical excretion typical of this current.
Liao, Wen and Li, Xianting (1999). Oh La La Kitsch. Wuhan. Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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