Just as the domain of philosophy is undergoing changes in the direction of the discipline of sociology, the metaphysical richness once embraced by art quickly diminished during the 90s of the last century. The call for a market economy, initiated in 1992, became widespread in China. Since then, artists and critics alike gradually changed their subject of interest to areas outside the metaphysical value of art, for instance, the running of exhibitions, sales in galleries, and topics such as finding a dealer, carrying out transactions and the introduction of oneself in the art scene. Up to the present, there are almost no artists, let alone critics, who discuss about cogitative thinking and myth.
Apparently, the cause for the above change is without a doubt complex. However, one immediate reason is that without official patronage and recognition, artists can only rely on their own ability, and, therefore, the physical pattern of art itself - even the corporeal body of the artist - indisputably turns into a commodity for exchange in a commercial society. It then becomes unavoidable for artists to study about the demand of the market and that of other related individuals. In the domain of the so-called avant-garde art, the subject of study is the preference of the curators of the Venice Biennale, the Sao Paolo Bienal, and the directors who work in museums. Looking at history, it is certain that the ideological preference Westerners have shown and their enthusiastic search for contemporary Chinese art had become the prerequisite for an opportunity of rejuvenation for some artists in the 1990s.
After repeated exchanges, Chinese artists seem to look at the world with this attitude: there is actually no absolute truth. The artists know very well that every curator has his/her own taste and view-point, therefore, whether one will be chosen to participate in an exhibition is not to be determined by the artist but other more complex operating factors. The artists know that no matter whether at a cocktail reception or in an exhibition gallery; no matter whether it is an occasion with the presence of politicians or an event organised purely for people in the art field, the lively and amusing appearance is founded on business deal and interest. Thus, it is not appropriate to give serious comments or academic criticism even when we are at an event which is agreed to be of academic nature, because your words might have an effect on the financial status or future economic interest of the participating artists. When we are chatting in a bar, it is easy to sense the conflict and harm that economic interest may inflict, as well as the sensitive expression and way of speaking when the issue of economic interest is being touched on.
In a word, we have lost the joy and vision of the metaphysics. In fact, there are a great number of artists, especially the established artists, who have lost their belief in things which were once accepted as representing good spirit, soul and vision. These artists seem to have seen through life. Therefore, we can see a logic: young artists, who wish to participate in important international exhibitions and who want their work to receive recognition and achieve sales so that they can buy a house, a car and be able to appear smart in special occasions, begin to loose their vigilance completely, and start to make jokes, to ridicule and to play around in a light-hearted manner, which make them look like a group of wealthy people. This phenomenon, of course, is not a new problem, but it has a dulling effect in the long run, because this logic does not answer the question: what is the difference between art and any other thing? A related question is: is art a civilised game? Is art no longer fighting, criticising and influencing society's nervous centre? Have technological and economic thinking truly seized complete control of this era? If the basis of every 'choice' is to be determined by a specific authority, then, is the destiny of a piece of art dependent merely on authority? In other words, is the editor of an art magazine, or the artistic editor of a website, or the owner of an art gallery, or the director of a museum, or an official of an embassy, seriously influencing the destiny of an artist? Have business deals constituted an alliance base in the art field, with the effect that only in a business-like environment of mutual compromise and negotiation can a piece of art receive recognition? If this is the case, then, the world has really changed!
Translated by Angela Seng
Lu Peng is an art historian and an AAA Academic Advisor
- Tue, 1 Jul 2003