Curated by Alexandra Munroe, Philip Tinari and Hou Hanru
Travelling to Europe for the first time since its success in New York, the exhibition features the controversial title piece censored in the US: Huang Yong Ping’s installation Theater of the World (1993), in which insects and reptiles fight and eat each other within a caged enclosure. It also gathers works by major artists such as Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Zheng Guogu, Shen Yuan, Chen Shaoxiong, Zhang Peili and the Big Tail Elephant group.
NO U-TURN: 1989
1989 marked the opening of the exhibition China/Avant-Garde at the National Art Gallery in Beijing, which included some 300 works by 186 artists selected by a team of critics and academics. The exhibition used a "No U-Turn" traffic sign as its logo. In May of the same year, three of the China/Avant-Garde artists -Huang Yong Ping, Gu Dexin and Yang Jiechang - traveled to Paris to present their work at Magiciens de la terre at the Centre Pompidou, which announced itself as "the first worldwide exhibition of contemporary art." Back in Beijing, in June, soldiers violently cleared demonstrators from Tiananmen Square, marking the end of a movement to which advanced art had been closely allied. 1 Alexandra Munroe and Philip Tinari
"The way Huang Yong Ping linked ancient references with contemporary situations, imagination and socio-political realities was so unique and inventive. The impact of Theater of the World is immense, and it has “naturally” become the general title of the whole project." Hou Hanru
NEW MEASUREMENT: ANALYZING THE SITUATION
The events of 1989 brought transformational changes to art in China and intensified a movement toward analytic and conceptual work. Artists, particularly those in the orbit of Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, including Wang Guangyi, Zhang Peili, Geng Jianyi and Wu Shanzguan came into contact with the ideas of philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger and Karl Popper. Yet, while these artists were connecting with international currents, they were also responding to their political surrounding. 1 AM&PT
5 HOURS: CAPITALISM, URBANISM, REALISM
Spring 1992 marked a significant turning point for contemporary China. It turned toward neoliberal globalization and fast-growing economies and new urbanism. In light of the construction boom in Guangzhou, the Big Tail Elephant Working Group, an alliance among four artists - Lin Yilin, Chen Shaoxiong, Liang Juhui and Xu Tan - commented on the extraordinary consumption of manpower, materials, and energy in the transformation of its immediate environment into a center of commerce and industrial manufacturing. 1 AM&PT
UNCERTAIN PLEASURE: ACTS OF SENSATION
The mid-1990s were a critical period in Chinese art, as they saw the rise of several new movements. On one hand, thanks to international travel and globalization, artists began to incorporate ideas, practices, and theoretical critiques from the West. At the same time, a small group of artists centered around Beijing's East Third Ring, which they dubbed the "East Village" after the neighborhood in New York, began creating performances which demanded extreme mental and physical endurance. Qiu Zhijie and Wu Meichun brought video art to China with the "Image and Phenomena" exhibition and also launched the "Post-Sense Sensibility" movement, which stressed "being there" over symbolism and conceptualism. 1 AM&PT
OTHERWHERE: TRAVELS THROUGH THE IN-BETWEEN
Running alongside the already transnational history of contemporary art inside China is a parallel history of Chinese artists living, working, and exhibiting abroad. Several of the key figures of the 1980s were immigrants, expatriates, and refugees. The exhibition "Chine demain pour hier" staged six avant-garde positions putting into focus each artist's move abroad: Cai Guo-Qiang, Chen Zhen, Wenda Gu, Huang Yong Ping, Yan Pei-Ming, and Yang Jiechang. Using the tools of contemporary conceptualism, these artists recouped the Chinese system of knowledge, spirituality, and even cosmology along with charged mediums like gunpowder and ink.1 AM&PT
WHOSE UTOPIA: ACTIVISM AND ALTERNATIVES CIRCA 2008
In 2001, Beijing won the bid to host the Olympics and won entry to the World Trade Organization. In the art field, what developed over the countdown to 2008 was social activism that saw crisis where others saw phenomenal prosperity. Several multilayer communal projects led by artists, critics, curators, and activists emerged around the country. Collectivism flourished in Shanghai where artists clustered around Xu Zhen, Davide Quadrio and their nonprofit curatorial agency BizArt, as well as Xu's online discussion forum for local arts, Art-Ba-Ba. Meanwhile, in and around the Pearl River Delta, artists and activists Cao Fei, Chen Tong, Ou Ning and Zheng Guogu affirmed their outsider conciousness by creating their own worlds. 1 AM&PT
1 Munroe, Tinari, Hou, 2017, Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, exhibition catalogue, October 6, 2017-January 7, 2018, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.