Recently the Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University suggested that I put together an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art, to originate there and travel to a few other venues. I wanted to organize an exhibition that would be more challenging than most, both intellectually and in terms of content. Stanford is the perfect place to do that, for two reasons: first, as an academic community, it is very involved with China. Second, Stanford is located in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has long historical ties to China.
Until now, most exhibitions of contemporary Chinese art in the West have either presented Chinese art as a homogeneous monolithic entity, or have concentrated on art with clear ties to China's great traditions of painting and calligraphy. Although these are valid approaches that have produced some dynamite exhibitions, I aim to produce an exhibition that will NOT validate Western preconceptions. "On the Edge: Chinese Art in the Era of Globalization" will be one of the most confrontational exhibitions of contemporary Chinese art to be held in the West, taking as its focus the theme of two cultures colliding, with the artist as nexus. Works presented in "On the Edge" range from razor-sharp sardonic commentary on the artists' bumpy road to international stardom, to political pieces that have provoked minor diplomatic incidents, to thoughtful invitations to explore a common ground between East and West.
Here is a brief description excerpted from the exhibition proposal:
Art and politics are inseparable. Chinese artists in their forties absorbed this notion during their adolescence, when Mao's theories on art shaped the visual landscape. A younger generation of artists has become obsessed with a particular blend of art and politics-of cultural politics-focusing on the positioning of Chinese art within the global art scene.
China's conceptual artists are doubly marginal: they are marginalized in their own country, and China's art is considered marginal by the international art community focused in the West. Extended relegation to the margins has lent many artists a heightened appreciation of the nuances of their tenuous acceptance. The result is the creation of a large body of bold experimental works dissecting the artist's position in the art world, and China's position in the world: art and politics are inseparable. Many of the most notable or provocative works in this vein are included in "On the Edge."
Part 1: The West through a Political Lens
Whether observing interactions between China and the West from within China or without, the artists represented in "The West through a Political Lens" are enthralled by current events gripping the popular consciousness. The international relations event to most galvanize the Chinese public in years was the forced landing of the American reconnaissance airplane in southern China. Both Zhou Tiehai and Huang Yong Ping reacted to the resulting swell of Chinese nationalism by creating depoliticized representations of the airplane.
Part 2: Cultural Mélange
What do people see when they look from China to the West? Qiu Zhijie's interactive CD-ROM allows exhibition visitors to explore Chinese ideas of the West, ranging from ridiculous or shocking popular misconceptions, to historical views. The artist Xu Bing uses language to explore the intersection of East and West, and to create a middle ground where the two can meet-in a classroom set up in the museum. A second work by Qiu Zhijie suggests that in the end, Chinese people and Westerners are not so different.
Part 3: Joining the Game: The Chinese Artist Meets the World
As the artist Zhou Tiehai has famously stated, "The relations in the art world are the same as the relations between states in the post Cold War era" (Press Conference, 1997). Mirroring the way in which the wealthy nations have controlled post Cold War international trade mechanisms to promote their own interests, Western curators and critics have controlled the standards for what is deemed "world class" art. Some of China's best artists have reacted to this by producing bitingly humorous pieces commenting on the situation. On the Edge includes the most important of these works.
Possible Additions to the Exhibition
Site specific installation works make up a crucial segment of Chinese contemporary art production. Several of China's artists most important for creating cultural commentary in this mode, Cai Guo-Qiang, Huang Yong Ping, Wang Du, Yan Lei, Yang Jiechang, and Yin Xiuzhen, have expressed interest in creating new works for On the Edge.
- Sun, 1 Jun 2003