Northern Art Group

Northern Art Group
(Beifang yishu qunti)
Artist group
The foremost exponents of the ‘rational’ (lixing) trend in the 85 New Wave [Art] Movement. Influenced by German philosophy, particularly Hegel, Kant and Nietzsche, these artists sought utopian values that transcended the sentimental humanism popular at the time. Their art was an attempt to raise new ideals following the disillusionment of the Cultural Revolution. As such, they were less concerned with the values of art itself than with problems of culture and human existence. The name Northern Art Group derived from their belief that Eastern and Western cultures were in the process of disintegrating and yielding to a new rational, sublime and healthy cultural power—that of ‘Northern civilization’ (Beifang wenming). Their ideas were elaborated in numerous articles, of which The Spirit of the “Northern Art Group”’ is considered their manifesto.
The group was established in Heilongjiang in 1984 by fifteen youths, including Wang Guangyi, Shu Qun, Ren Jian and Liu Yan. They began by publishing art works and articles, and in September 1985 held a conference in Harbin to review ‘Northern art’ and assess its prospects.
Their first exhibition, ‘Beifang yishu qunti shuangnianzhan’ (Northern Art Group Biennial), followed only in February 1987 (Changchun). Their paintings were characterized by a cold and solemn atmosphere, tinged with religious overtones, from which human beings are generally absent unless in highly abstract form. Prominent examples are the works of Wang Guangyi, Shu Qun’s series Absolute Principle (Juedui yuanze, 1985) and Ren Jian’s Primeval Chaos (Yuanhua, 1987).
Andrews, Julia F. and Gao, Minglu (1995). ‘The Avant-Garde’s Challenge to Official Art’. In Debora S.Davis (ed.), Urban Spaces in Contemporary China: The Potential for Autonomy and Community in Post-Mao China. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 221–78
Lü, Peng and Yi, Dan (1992). Zhongguo xiandai yishushi [A History of Modern Art in China]. Changsha: Hunan meishu chubanshe, 157–72.
Shu, Qun (1985). “‘Beifang yishu qunti” de jingshen’ [The Spirit of the ‘Northern Art Group’] Zhongguo meishubao 18.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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