This week, I’ll be posting a series of installments concerning Chinese contemporary art, its recent history, and why collectors find Chinese contemporary art not only attractive but worth spending immoderate amounts of money on. Many disillusioned types criticize this new obsession, which is both Western and Eastern, as simply a glorified “rush for riches” fueled by the allure of exoticism. Its origins however, prove that the new Chinese art movement and its following are more complex and unusual than anything we’ve seen before.
Chinese contemporary art has been edging its way into our Western consciences—especially in the past 10 or so years. The inundation of Chinese contemporary art into museums, galleries and personal collections, recognizable from its bright colors and prolific Mao imagery, floods our markets and attentions due to the Chinese government loosening cultural policies. Although China keeps a close eye on the art being produced within its borders, its artists have recently reemerged as respectable commentators on contemporary happenings—a major advance from the Cultural Revolution, when they were punished along with many intellectuals by being sent to work in the countryside. Little has been published in the way of edifying Chinese art criticism for English-speaking audiences until very recently, but Artspeakchina, an English-language wiki site, now contains well over 300 articles and a “multi-media timeline of historical and arts events since 1949,” according to ArtDaily, and is growing quickly. Its predecessor, Chinese-art.com, founded by Robert Bernell, also showcases innovative art from China. Like Artspeakchina, Chinese-art has an open-forum wiki setup where Chinese art experts can edit articles, but its medium is that of an online magazine. Chinese-art.com can only be viewed outside of China, as the Chinese government considers it too controversial.
It was in reading about Artspeakchina that I became interested in writing a more in-depth article examining why Chinese art befuddles anthropologists, economists and historians as much as art critics. This topic may seem somewhat esoteric and not necessarily GMOA-pertinent, but it has affected the entire world art market and perplexed, intrigued and piqued museums, galleries, scholars and individuals. This intense global discussion began when China overtook France in art sales, ending that country’s century-long art-market reign. An article in The Economist pointed out that, “When the global art market shrunk by more than a third to €31.3 billion ($43.5 billion), compared with €48.1 billion at its peak two years earlier, the Chinese art market bucked the trend”. But the economic surprise resulting from the Chinese art boom isn’t nearly as interesting as the movement’s genesis.
Tomorrow I’ll post a short history of the movement and its immediate political and artistic predecessor.Stay tuned!