Li-Jikai, Dolls, 2009. Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 80 cm. © the Artist.
Qi-Zhilong, Untitled, from the series Chinese Girls, 2008, 220 x 180cm., © the Artist,
Yang Shaobin, Untitled, 2007. Oil on canvas, 260 x 180cm. © the Artist.
+45 43 54 02 22
June 27, 2009-January 3, 2010
Chinamania represents a selection of Chinese contemporary painters: From established artists to the very young generation, including: Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun, Yang Shaobin, Wang Guangyi, Zhang Xiaogang, Zhou Chunya, Mao Yan, Qi Zhilong, Liu Ye, Li Jikai, and Wei Jia.
In Tokyo you can drink green tea latte, and in Israel you can buy a kosher Big Mac. International brands are merging with national customs. This happens not only on the economic market — in contemporary art too international and national perspectives are joining in new ways.
Chinamania shows how contemporary painting in China abandons and continues China’s classical art forms: ink painting, classical oil painting, woodcut and the social realism of propaganda art. At the same time the classical techniques mix with expressive brushstrokes, a sweet comics aesthetics and the realism of figure painting. In Fang Lijun’s painting 2009. no. 5 a giant fly soars across the sky with a child on its back. The painting manifests a clear parallel to classical Chinese landscape painting in which the landscape can appear dreamy and poetic. At the same time it has a touch of kitsch because of Fang’s use of a realistic painting style and very bright, strong colours.
In Yue Minjun’s painting Outside and On the Stage (2009) three hysterically laughing clones appear before a stage with a red curtain. The sky behind them — the symbol of the space of freedom — is executed as an illusionist backdrop. The three laughing clones partly mime the old saying "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." According to the saying, however, the last figure usually holds its hands over its mouth. In Yue’s painting instead the third clone holds his hands up in the air triumphantly. The work describes a situation in which the individual is able to speak but not see or hear. Yue employs the figures to take a critical stance towards the strict censorship and collective homogeneity distinguishing Chinese culture and history. At the same time, with the title Outside and On the Stage, he points out the hierarchical differentiation between Western and non-Western art that governs the international art scene. Like the three figures in the painting, China’s contemporary artists are both outside and on the stage.
In his portrait series Chinese Girls (2008) Qi Zhilong explores the duality characteristic of China’s development from an anti-capitalist Communist society to Deng Xiaoping’s market oriented socialism of today. In Qi’s portraits of women our time’s consumer culture is juxtaposed with romantic memories from the days of the revolution when the uniformed youths were celebrated for their courage and commitment. The three portraits in the exhibition depict young female red guards. At first glance we are seduced by the girls’ innocent appearance, their black almond eyes and long schoolgirl plaits. The girls look neither raw nor in fighting trim, but rather resemble innocent doe-eyed schoolgirls. Their gazes go from innocence to terror. By removing characteristic Communist marks, e.g. the red star, Qi imbues the portraits with a whole other meaning which goes against the traditional portraiture of the heroes of the revolution. When Qi decides only to portray young female models with an innocent expression, he is also referring to the consumer culture of today, where posters of young, beautiful and uniform models permeate the city space and fashion magazines.
In Li Jikai’s Mushroom (2009) a small black-haired boy is sitting in front of a giant and obviously very poisonous, yellow toadstool with black dots. The earth is desiccated, and the only natural plant growth left are the poisonous toadstools. A white hose snakes across the ground. The hose is a recurrent motif in Li’s works. With the other recurrent objects — empty boxes, an open book with blank pages and broken boards — it symbolises rests of a shattered civilisation where only a single human has been left. The painting shows a state of gloom, loss and loneliness which recurs in Li’s paintings. Li represents a young generation of artists, often known under the heading ‘the ego generation.’ In an attempt to gain greater insight into human identity and psychology, the young artists replace social issues with individual ones. China’s political past, oriented to collective communities, has been replaced with themes relating to their lives, dreams and feelings.
A key trend is the mix between national and international features: On the one hand the artists consider their own lives and emotions, dealing explicitly with Chinese culture and history. On the other, they turn their gazes towards the rest of the world. A prime example is the artist Wang Guangyi. His painting Collectivism and Art (2007) shows a Communist propaganda subject featuring a band of soldiers holding Mao’s Little Red Book. Scattered across the painting are Chinese identity numbers and serial numbers from commercial products. The style resembles Pop Art. Overall Western art history is often an obvious source of inspiration. Thus, in one of the paintings shown in the exhibition, Yang Shaobin reproduces the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh’s down-at-heel shoes from the painting A Pair of Shoes (1886).
Contemporary art puts down roots — and branches off
In recent years the contemporary art scene has seen a boom in China. This is partly due to increasing political openness in general and towards other artistic forms of expression than the propagandistic one. At the same time the economic market in China has expanded. This has increased the opportunities for sales both nationally and internationally. In the early 1990s for instance, there were only five galleries in Beijing; today there are more than a hundred.
Chinese contemporary art, however, is not merely a passive reflection of socio-political changes. Regardless of whether the artists seek towards their own intimate space or embrace the grand global perspective, it holds specific narratives of reality and testimonies of our time which cannot be boiled down to a simple — and national stereotypical — point.
Concurrently with Chinamania, Arken presents the exhibition Utopia. Utopia shows works by the Chinese contemporary artist Qiu Anxiong who works with installation and video. Chinamania and Utopia together offer a unique opportunity to see first-rate Chinese art and to get a thorough overview of the Chinese art scene just now.