While noting the problems of contemporary interpretations of Xu Bing's work, each author also grapples with an even more fundamental question when approaching text and image: where does meaning come from? Roger T. Ames, for example, expounds on distinctions between Anglo-European and Chinese concepts of creation [End Page 447] that continue to hold over to today, which in turn may account for differences in how audiences from varying cultural backgrounds apprehend Xu's work. He relates an encounter with the artist's seminal 1989...
The photographs by the painter were taken in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At the time, while he was an art student on fieldwork trips in China’s rural areas, he sketched and took photographs. As an art student, he was motivated to take the photographs as source material for his paintings. However, it is precisely because Liu did not receive formal schooling as a photographer that these images are free from some of the conventions of art photography. Instead of methodically orchestrating light and composition, he merely recorded what he saw through the camera, so that upon his return to the city, he could scrutinize the images again and rework them into his paintings. Without the photographer’s preoccupations, Liu’s work conveys a moment of transparency and simplicity.
Another example is Post-Pop artist Qi Zhilong, who painted iconic portraits of female soldiers () from the CCR period, using their green uniform as an emblem of ideology in order to make a comment on what it stood for; justice, sacrifice and righteousness. His realistic portraits are haunting and beautiful, and featured in an exhibition called ‘7 Characters; New Art from China’ that ran in 2007 at the Mayor Gallery in Cork St, London.
Art that followed as a cultural response to the aftermath of the CCR is both intelligent and bitter. Wang Guangyi went on to pioneer a Chinese Pop Art movement which is popular even to this day; an example being ‘Coca-Cola’ from his ‘Great Castigation Series’ (), which is a bitter commentary on the communist worker style of portrait popular in the CCR and the rise of globalisation, which he feels is contributing to the loss of China’s past culture.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalog featuring four essays commissioned for the exhibition and appearing in both English and Chinese translation. Essays include contributions by Philip Tinari, Dario Gamboni, Stacey Pierson, and Glenn Adamson, as well as the first English translation of an interview with Ai originally published in his White Cover Book (1995). The exhibition catalog is produced in collaboration with Office for Discourse Engineering, a Beijing-based editorial studio, distributed in the U.S. by Publications and in The Gallery at Museum of Contemporary Craft.
Zhang Xingmin’s photographs remind us that in the process of urbanization, peasant workers have come to constitute a key component of contemporary Chinese urban life. Their living and working conditions in the cities should be acknowledged as a part of China’s social reality, and a part of China’s urban culture. Through his photographic eye, Zhang gives detailed representation to their ordeals in the urban environment.
Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn includes examples of a range of Ai’s practices, including his unprecedented use of Neolithic and Han dynasty vessels as historic “readymades,” replicas appropriating Qing dynasty (18th-century) porcelain commissioned by the artist from craftsmen in the town of Jingdezhen, where porcelain has been produced for the past 1700 years, and mimicry of the traditional trompe l’oeil strategy of producing glazed teapots and vases that replicate natural forms. As a group, the selected examples show Ai working through the dynastic progression of Chinese ceramics to reconcile the formal, material logic and historical, political commentary that give his work its unique mixture of gravity and wit.
Featuring a selection of ceramic works and photographs ranging from 1993 to the present, Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn offers viewers a focused look at Ai’s iconoclastic appropriations of historic clay pots and porcelain vases. The oldest works in the show utilize 7000-year-old Neolithic urns dating to 5000 (‘Before Common Era,’ a non-religious alternative to the use of BC). This body of work is distinguished by its paradoxical investment in the Chinese ceramic vessel, a legacy whose values and significations it both questions and transcends. Ai’s focused exploration of earthenware and porcelain, begun just after the artist returned to Beijing in 1993 from a decade in New York City, is critical to understanding his radical practice that has evolved to incorporate sculpture, installation, photography, video, performance, and architecture as well as curating and activism.
He explains in the exhibition catalogue of ‘Fengzhou; Contemporary Art Exhibition’ (held in Hong Kong in 2004) that ‘the cultural nutrition and experience constituents of my generation lie not in traditional culture, but the socialist culture or the culture of the Cultural Revolution. Though the Cultural Revolution is gone, its influences can be reflected at a deeper level. Work reflects an artist like a mirror. My works have aroused my recognition about the significance of the relationship between the Cultural Revolution and contemporary Chinese culture, as well as our need to positively envisage this cultural background and its integration into the construction of the macro-culture of the future.’ On the surface not all contemporary Chinese art works are necessarily seen to be political, yet their influence can be traced straight back to the aftermath of the Chinese Cultural Revolution; even today it resonates within the conception of Chinese art.
And it is to be hoped and expected that the curators of the great Western museums, in close cooperation with Chinese museums and Chinese art academies will sort out the goodies from the hype.
Sometimes it seems like Chinese calligraphy is everywhere. From to to , calligraphy has found its way into popular culture in the West. But calligraphy isn’t just a design element to be used in decor and tattoos. And it’s not just writing. Calligraphy is China’s highest art form, and our next exhibition, Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy, will show you why.