Thursday, June 23, 2005

China Art (and No One ) Objects

Well, it certainly wasn't love at first sight, but the most populous country in the world has recently fallen head over heels it seems for the most unregulated major market in the world. And, despite being a supposedly progressive community with rigidly liberal leanings, the art world seems quite smitten with the oppressive behemoth as well. Now, everywhere you turn in the art press there are stories on China's embrace of the West's cultural institutions. From Art Newspaper:

Not so long ago Chinese authorities were in the business of closing down contemporary exhibitions. Curators and artists organised shows furtively: at the 2000 Shanghai Biennial, for example, the official State-subsidised exhibition was accompanied by a crop of impromptu “underground” shows in warehouses and basements, most of which were announced just a few days before they opened to avoid pre-emptive moves by the police. Now Chinese authorities have become enthusiastic champions of domestic contemporary art; last week they inaugurated the first Chinese pavilion at the Venice Biennale and there is talk of a permanent Chinese pavilion to be built in time for the next biennale in 2007.

So what accounts for this volte-face? To say that money is the driving factor would be simplistic. The real reason is a desire to be taken seriously on the international cultural stage. “The Chinese want to be big in Venice and Basel. Compared to a few years ago, there is a generation of no less repressive but more subtle generation of leaders in power. They realise that contemporary art does not seriously threaten their authority,” says Jonathan Napack, a Hong Kong-based advisor to Art Basel.

He cites the example of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin who was embarrassed on an official State visit to France in 2002 by his inability to discuss paintings with president Jacques Chirac; no sooner had he returned to China than he promptly organised remedial lessons in modern art with Fang Di’an, now vice president of the Central Academy of Art in Beijing and the commissioner of the Chinese Pavilion at the current Venice Biennale.
And from comes a story about the hot art community in Beijing, 798. With comparisons to early Soho, and a bevy of foreign galleries opening up satellite spaces there, it's got "history in the making" written all over it.

Even artists who left the country in response to political repression or in hopes of making a better life for themselves are now returning to the Chinese metropolis. The Dashanzi Art District -- known simply as "798" to aficionados and located in the northeastern part of the city -- is the best example to date of a site where foreign visitors can see for themselves the serious art scene that has developed in Beijing. Starting on April 30th, a four week long multi-media cultural program, the Dashanzi International Art Festival (DIAF), was held there for the second time under the motto "Language / Fable" (Yuyan / Yuyan).
Read the whole article...798 seems raw, clunky, and exhilarating in the way Williamsburg or Soho were when they first began organizing. Here's more on 798 from DIAF's website.

Myself, I'm just in love with puns for titles. I don't actually object to this budding romance. In fact, it's a very good thing for China (see images like this for a hint as to why), and stands to be a very good thing for the art market. When discussing possible new locations for young art fairs with some colleagues recently, I insisted that Beijing was the spot to get a foothold in. There's a sense among dealers that the Chinese collectors are not quite ready to buy much Western art yet, but the Western galleries opening up in 798 now will undoubtedly have a leg up on the competition when they are.


Anonymous crionna said...

Mrs. Crionna and I found these whimsical photos in LA a year ago.

6/24/2005 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

that dude's got 'tude, crionna...thanks for sharing.

6/24/2005 11:43:00 AM  

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