Art Shmart: Made in China

Nikki Sansone

While the threat of outsourcing is knocking at almost every door, it seems only appropriate that the world shifts perspectives to focus on the latest hot spot in contemporary art: China. When word got out that the majority of Saatchi’s new collection was going to be comprised of work from emerging Asian artists, red flags across the art community went up. Growing global and domestic interest in emerging Chinese artists has most recently spawned the construction of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. It is the first non-profit and the most comprehensive contemporary art institution in China founded by Belgian baron and baroness Guy and Myriam Ullens. Its inaugural exhibition was an exploration of Chinese contemporary artworks from 1985 to 1990 entitled, “85 New Wave: The Birth of Chinese Contemporary Art.” Pieces from this exhibit overlapped with those found currently in the Saatchi collection. Wang Guangyi is credited as being the leader of the New Art Movement that came out of China after 1989, and best known for his series of paintings titled Great Criticism. These paintings portray a hybrid representation of the images of propaganda from the China’s Cultural Revolution and contemporary Western brands. Guangyi’s work forms just part of the larger Political Pop genre that many Chinese contemporary artists are working in. Political Pop artists seek to stylistically highlight the conflict between China’s political past and its commercialized present. The exhibit also included artists of Chinese origin working internationally. Huang Yongping was one such example; a conceptual artist working currently in France, Huang is best known for starting the Xiamen Dada group. Xiamen Dada originated in the 1980’s and seeks a radical break from all convention. Huang has said that he identifies with neither Asian nor French culture, though he employs both in his work. One of Huang’s most exemplary works is “Indigestible Object” (1992). For this piece Huang spread hundreds of kilograms of rice over the floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Prato, Italy. The rice symbolized a kind of force-feeding of the art institution in an attempt to emphasize the irreconcilable differences of Eastern and Western culture. In 2002, Huang planned a massive outdoor installation entitled “Bat Project 2” which was removed partially finished two days before the opening of the Triennial at the Guangdong Museum of Art by foreign ministry officials. In another work Huang recreated the piece, titling it “House of Oracles;” it featured a full-scale model of the cockpit and left wing of an American EP-3 spy plane filled with taxodermic bats. The plane was modeled on a plane that collided with a Chinese fighter jet and killed the Chinese pilot in March of 2001. China’s particular historical relationship between the state and the arts is guilty of retarding China’s emergence onto the contemporary art scene, but at the same time is also responsible for it. Chinese artists demonstrate a unique sensitivity to the ideological forces exerted on them both domestically and internationally. These artists have suffered under thirty years of cultural seclusion; as a result they work almost from scratch to create their own tradition of art history – one that might parallel Western art history while simultaneously maintaining the dignity of Chinese culture. UCCA artistic director Fei Daiwei describes this process as a revolution from “a doctrine of strict social realism” to “mature experimental and conceptual practice” spread over just a few years. If China’s rapid cultural maturation and subsequent explosion onto the art scene is in any way indicative of their potential, then this country is definitely one hot spot with which to stay in-tune.