art exhibitions

art exhibitions
experimental, 1980s
The 1980s saw a surge in exhibitions showing innovative experimental art which fell outside the accepted political and ideological conventions. This art drew on an ongoing link with a pre-1949 modernism that had subsequently been discouraged and often violently suppressed in the three decades after 1949. A wave of modernist-inspired experimentation began to re-emerge after the downfall of the Gang of Four in 1976 by means of the underground exhibitions of the Anonymous Painting Society (Wuming huahui) and other groups, the quasi-official exhibitions of the ‘Beijing Spring’ in 1979, and the Stars’ open demands for alternative exhibition space later that year. The growth of self-initiated art groups and the liberalization of cultural institutions led to a new spate of exhibitions which fell outside the system of state-initiated shows and explored new and often sensitive styles and subject matters.
Thematically, experimental-art exhibitions began by tackling forbidden areas: abstraction, self-expression and early modernist styles such as Impressionism, Cubism and Fauvism. Once stylistic diversity was available, artists turned to explore their social contexts in a variety of new ways. The Advancing Young Artists Exhibition (Qianjinzhong de zhongghuo qingnian meizhan, May 1985) was remarkable for the range of its novel approaches, of which the painting In the New Era, Revelation of Adam and Eve by Meng Luding and Zhang Qun represented a striking example. In October of 1985, the Jiangsu Youth Art Week (Jiangsu qingnian yishuzhou) exhibition drew together over three hundred works by more than a hundred artists. Statistically, the number of modern art exhibitions rose from a constant of under fifteen per year prior to 1985, to around 110 in 1986, largely due to the activity of youth groups. This nationwide phenomenon became known as the 85 New Wave [Art] Movement.
Two broad approaches defined the art of this period. One tendency was to adopt largely expressive styles and an intense, intuitive or romantic attitude to life, often expressed in relation to nature and non-Han cultures. This was typical of the Southwest Art Research Group (Xinan yishu yanjiu qunti) and in particular the vibrant works of Mao Xuhui, Zhang Xiaogang, Ye Yongqing and Zhou Chunya. The other tendency was a more conceptual and perhaps cynical approach that emphasized ‘rationality’ and employed crisp, almost sterile modernist styles of painting, such as those of the 1985 New Space Exhibition (1985 nian xinkongjian zhanlan) and of the Northern Art Group (Beifang yishu qunti).
Both currents were disposed to avoid or subvert the narrative, illustrative and didactic conventions of Socialist art, and required a greater level of personal interpretation. At times, when works were considered too controversial yet not altogether unacceptable, exhibitions were closed partially or completely to the general public and reserved for select audiences only.
The format of exhibitions during this period was also marked by the advent of performance art. The Southern Artists Salon First Experimental Art Exhibition (Nanfang yishujia shalong diyihui shiyanzhan, September, 1986) in Guangzhou combined paintings, music and performance to create a new all-encompassing artistic experience. Body-bondage, body-painting and performances became popular as a way to experience and convey an altered state of existence. They allowed for greater spontaneity and interaction with the audience, while simultaneously circumventing the restrictions regulating public art exhibitions. Events like the Concept 21 (Guannian 21) action art at Beijing University in December 1986 had the effect of ‘breaking the ice’. The artists participating in this ‘happening’ collaborated in 1988 with the director Wen Pulin on an experimental, multi-media documentary, The Great Earthquake (Da dizhen).
Li, Xianting (1993). ‘Major Trends in the Development of Contemporary Chinese Art’. In Valerie C.Doran (ed), China’s New Art, Post-1989, with a Retrospective from 1979 to 1989. Hong Kong: Hanart T Z Gallery, x-xxii.
Lü, Peng and Yi, Dan (1992). Zhongguo xiandai yishushi 1979–1989 [A History of China Modern Art]. Changsha: Hunan meishu chubanshe.
van Dijk, Hans (1991/1992). ‘Painting in China after the Cultural Revolution: Style Developments and Theoretical Debates’. China Information 6.3 (Winter): 25–43 and 7.4 (Spring): 1–18.
experimental, 1990s
The decade of the 1990s witnessed major socioeconomical transformations as a consequence of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, pushing the growth of metropolitan centres and bringing in flocks of rural migrants. If the 1989 show China Avant-Garde was a landmark of the new tide of the 1980s, it also framed the context for new experiments that would increasingly convey social and cultural critiques. The urban mobility typical of the period after 1989 also affected artistic circles, which had begun to move and cluster in major urban centres such as Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and especially Beijing, where since the very beginning of the 1990s residential communities of artists were established. These included the Yuanming Yuan—the Garden of Perfect Brightness—village (on the outskirts of the Beijing near the ruins of the Old Summer Palace, active since 1991) and Dongcun [East Village], active between 1992 and 1994.
Departing from the stylistic diversity of the 1980s and nurtured through collective experiences emerging on a local basis, artistic experimentation shifted to individualization, the development of personal artistic languages and the voicing of autonomous ideas. Performance and installation art became more popular, in part as a response to the growing exposure to the international art scene and as a form of direct confrontation with Western art practices. In the first half of the decade, shows were often held in private spaces and studios (so-called Apartment Art/Gong yu yishu) or inside foreign embassies. The receptiveness to Chinese art from abroad was also attested by a growing number of exhibitions featuring Chinese art: the first Chinese participation at the Venice Biennale (1993), the show ‘China Avant-Garde’ at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin (1993) and the 22nd Sao Paolo Biennale (1994). Yet exhibitions and public performances within China were still suffering under the restricted atmosphere that followed Tiananmen, which forced the cancellation and/or early termination of many exhibitions by the authorities and even led to the detention of performance artist Ma Liuming and the dispersion of the East Village group in 1994. At the same time, globalization and its psychological impact linked to the expanding and pervasive consumerism within China itself were questioned, along with the annihilation of the individual and the loss of ideals, all of which helps explain the emergence of Cynical Realism (Popi, Wanshi xianshi) and Gaudy Art (Yansu yishu) as signs of the ennui typical of the early 1990s.
The second half of the 1990s witnessed a deepening interest in the use of new media and paths of expression, culminating in the artistic outburst known as Sensationalism. Shock Art in 1999. Video and conceptual photography also began to be pursued by artists like Hong Lei, Zhuang Hui, Zhu Jia, and Big-Tailed Elephant, among others. In 1995 the Gallery of the National Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou hosted ‘Image and Phenomena’, the first show dedicated to video art; curated by Wu Meichun, it was accompanied by a series of lectures and conferences on the topic of art and mass culture in the information age.
With the beginning of the second half of the decade, attempts were also made to establish a national market system for contemporary art supported by the growth of a critical and academic corpus. Curators started to work with semi-official museums and institutions and formed a new generation of entrepreneurs providing financial assistance for artistic events. Such attempts began with the 1st Guangzhou Biennale in 1992 and were later revived in the Guangzhou Art Fair (1994), the 1st Shanghai Biennale (1996), the 1st Academic Exhibition of Chinese Contemporary Art in Beijing (1996), and ‘A Chinese Dream’ (1997), the first auction (see auctions (art and antiquities)) held in Beijing for contemporary Chinese art.
In fact, artists in the 1990s began to take control of their own work as professionals, outside of the art academies and institutional frameworks. On the one hand, many artists were forced to give up their jobs by their affiliated institutions because of unorthodox approaches or irregular schedules and lifestyles; on the other hand, the artists themselves became more aware of the economic potential of their work and how to realize this potential on their own, especially in view of the increasing number of foreign curators and collectors attracted by China’s artistic development.
Dreissen, Chris and van Mierlo, Heidi (1997). Another Long March—Chinese Conceptual and Installation Art in the Nineties (exhibition catalogue). Breda: Fundament Foundation.
Gao, Minglu (1996). ‘From the Local Context to the International Context: An Essay on the Critique of Art and Culture’. In The First Academic Exhibition of Contemporary Chinese Art: 1996–97. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Arts Centre, 23–9.
——(1998). ‘Toward a Transnational Modernity: An Overview of “Inside Out: New Chinese Art’”. In Gao Minglu, Inside Out: New Chinese Art (exhibition catalogue). Berkeley: University of California Press, 28–33.
Lü, Peng (2000). Zhongguo dangdai yishushi 1990–1999/90s Art China. Hunan: Hunan Meishu Chubanshe (Hunan Fine Arts Ed.).
Sang, Ye (1997). ‘Fringe-Dwellers: Down and Out in the Yuan Ming Yuan Artists’ Village’. Trans. Geremie R.Barmé. ART AsiaPacific 15 (June).
Wu, Hung (2000). Cancelled: Exhibiting Experimental Art in China, Chicago: The Smart Museum of Art.
Wu, Hung, Wang, Huangsheng and Feng, Boyi (eds) (2002). The 1st Guangzhou Triennal-Reinterpretation: A Decade of Chinese Experimental Art. Guangdong: Guangdong Museum of Art.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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