During my recent trip to China, I had the opportunity to see a staggering diversity of art and meet quite a few artists in addition to museum colleagues. To say that its contemporary art scene is exciting is an understatement. During my two week stay, I went to openings, met galleriests and paid studio visits to artists in Shanghai and Beijing. Still, I barely skimmed the surface.
I’d like to share with you the work of a few artists—young, middle aged and elderly—as well as several takeaways on the Chinese contemporary art scene.
Both Beijing and Shanghai have growing areas of galleries, design firms, and artists’ studios. The Morganshan Road Arts District in Shanghai is one of the most vibrant.
Xu Zhen (MadeIn), a My Generation artists, presented the large installation Blissful as Gods at the H-Space Gallery.
At Aike-Dellarco Gallery, Tang Dixin entered the space dressed in full rock-climbing gear for Mr. Hungry. Over the course of an hour, he “climbed” the gallery walls, leaving a trail of destruction—and a few pieces of actual equipment—in his wake. It was performance art and athletic pursuit at the same time.
My guides for Shanghai’s contemporary art scene were Jinshan—whose work is featured in My Generation—and Maya Kramer, an American artist based in Shanghai. Jinshan’s recent sculptures of resins and plastics are a departure from his architectonic No Man City on display in Oklahoma City.
Maya’s sculpture deals with global environmental issues.
In Beijing, I had the pleasure of visiting Feng Mengbo, one of China’s most famous contemporary artists. His best-known work is Long March: Restart, a version of Super Mario Bros. reprogrammed with a Red Army soldier doing battle against multiple enemies. Feng Mengbo’s interests are wide-ranging and include music, digital technology, and Chinese history.
My studio visit coincided with his preparation for an upcoming exhibition featuring new paintings based on mid-twentieth-century Chinese propaganda images and vintage communist party public education images which he will project onto gallery walls. Completing this thought-provoking piece is a sound backdrop combining quotes from the “Little Red Book” (Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-tung) with a hip-hop track.
Finally, a visit to the Wuxi Museum yielded this surprise: a display of paper collages by a ninety-year-old artist, who just happened to be conducting a demonstration in the gallery.
What were my big takeaways of China’s art scene? First and foremost, art is big business there. For thousands of years, art has been an intrinsic part of China’s culture. Artists are respected, and many enjoy successful careers. I also observed that performance—live or in video—is an important aspect of many artists’ work.
When you visit My Generation: Young Chinese Artists at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, you are seeing an important, but tiny, slice of China’s growing and constantly evolving contemporary art scene.