Young Chinese Artists The Next Generation – book review

EMERGING ARTISTS CHINA BOOK REVIEW

A new book called Young Chinese Artists: The Next Generation was recently sent to us for review by the editors. We were a little concerned that this might be another ostensibly objective production, the real purpose of which is – yes, you guessed – the promotion of gallery artists.

Li Yu Liu Bo She follows you and sleeps in your bed naked? Who is this lady? 2006 C Print and Lightbox

Li Yu Liu Bo, She follows you and sleeps in your bed naked? Who is this lady?, 2006, C Print and Lightbox

We were, however, surprised and delighted to find that it is a book to roll around in, play with and draw inspiration from. At 300 pages long it provides an introduction to thirty artists (six of whom work as duos) born in mainland China between 1975 and 1981, roughly half a decade.

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This era and time frame – unusually short for a survey – are two of the factors which make this book particularly engaging.

The p0st-’70s era was selected because it marks the end of the Cultural Revolution and artists born in this period are witness to China’s continuing frenetic social and political development: a rich source for artistic inspiration and expression.

But, perhaps just as significantly for the success of the book, these artists, born no later than the seventies, have had enough time to build a body of work large enough for in-depth assessment. At the same time many are sufficiently unknown to allow us a tantalising sense of discovery.

The short time period of 1975-1981 astutely recognises the velocity of change in China in the last thirty years: a shorter time-frame allows for a more rigorous and meaningful analysis of the themes preoccupying artists which are teased out in a series of essays by experts and writers.

The team of twenty writers and editors include influential figures such as Huang Du who was curator for the Chinese Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2003 and Philip Tinari who curated the selection of Hong Kong artists at the big-name Louis Vuitton show in Hong Kong 2009.

Xu Zhen, Fitness, 2007

Xu Zhen, Fitness, 2007

Each artist is awarded one chapter which contains an interview, eight or so images, a listing of principal exhibitions and a one-page overview of the development of the artist’s work by one of the team of writers, usually written in a somewhat academic style. This is an extract from Philip Tinari’s essay ‘The Merry Prankster’ about Xu Zhen:

“Xu Zhen’s recent work has grown more light-hearted, if predicated on the notion of elaborate fictional scenarios. In one 2007 work Fitness he rigged exercise machines with remote control technology so that the viewer can get a virtual ‘workout’ by pressing buttons.”

Perhaps the least successful sections are the promising-sounding artist interviews where responses turn out to be  perfunctory. “Do you believe in true love?” “Yes”. Perhaps the fault lies in the skills of the interviewers who use closed-ended questions without follow up. But then again the snappy style was ubiquitous across the responses and could in fact be a telling reflection of the essential culture of this generation of artists: a time-starved, light-chat-as-snack culture propagated by the internet social media.

What we liked most was the sense that the editors had tried to reflect the real art scene as they experience it on the ground, even though their take may be viewed as controversial.

“In the past several years outside of China a number of contemporary art exhibitions featuring young Chinese artists showcased artistic forms such as video, multimedia and installation which gave the impression that painting was passe… while we have observed that the employment of these ‘new media’ is widespread (quite a few artists work in more than one discipline), painting is very much a driving force in the contemporary art scene.”

Find below more facts about the how the artists have been selected and their names.

Further criteria used for selection:

  • representative of the generation – themes which reflect the mindset of the generation
  • origins in mainland China – born and raised there
  • the variety of media actually used by artists – while ” new media is widespread, painting is still a driving force in contemporary art scene”
  • local/international exposure
  • body of work showing discernable artistic development
  • independence of thought and
  • authenticity

No account was given of the market value of the works.

Artists are:

Birdhead, Cao Fei, Chen Ke, Chen Quilin, Chi Peng, Gong Jian, Han Yajuan, Li Hui, Li Jikai, Li Qing, Li Yu and Liu Bo, Liang Yue, Liu Ding, Liu Ren, Liu Weijian, Ma Yanhong, Qiu Xiaofei, Ta Men (THEY), Tang Maohong, Wang Guangle, Wei Jia, Wen Ling, Wu Junyong, Xu Zhen, Yang Yong, Zhang Ding, Zhou Jinhua.

To buy Young Chinese Artists: The Next Generation click here

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