MoMA Chinese contemporary art book refreshing – Taipei Times review


We announced in November 2010 that the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA NY) was publishing a book of primary resources on Chinese contemporary art, called Chinese Contemporary Art: Primary Documents. Now it’s out, and Taipei Times have published a frank review of the text.

Click here to read our original story on Chinese Contemporary Art: Primary Documents.

Cover of 'Chinese Contemporary Art: Primary Documents'. Image from

Cover of 'Chinese Contemporary Art: Primary Documents'. Image from

In the article, reviewer Bradley Winterton notes that what sets Chinese Contemporary Art apart may stem from it’s objective:

Everything about China seems to divide people. … But this book is different from the products of either camp. It’s entirely disinterested, it’s concerned with artists not politicians,…. Above all, it’s almost serenely astute, clear-headed and sane.

The MoMA publication consists of 35 years worth of material and textual documentation on the development of contemporary art in China. The book is edited by American curator and acknowledged authority on Chinese contemporary art, Wu Hung.

Many, if not most, of the documents included in the book have never been been collated chronologically. In doing so, the book serves as a timeline on Chinese avant-garde art from 1976 to 2006. Moreover, these primary texts have never before been translated into English. Says Winterton on these texts:

The dominating impression from this material is overwhelmingly one of youthful optimism — what revolutions are supposed to generate, but in their political aspects so rarely do. … Needless to say, the heady aspirations of China’s artists frequently met official disapproval, censorship and even persecution.

Chinese Contemporary Art features manifestos of avant-garde artist cooperatives, analytical and retrospective essays, notes on important art exhibitions, writings from representative artists and a number of relevant official documents. Its chapters are introduced through a preface that includes historical contexts of the periods and the significance of the texts to the reader. Says Winterton,

We read of Gaudy Art, a parody of the ubiquitous Chinese kitsch and ‘a desperate comedy for the end of the century.’ Feminist art also makes a predictable appearance — ‘Modern art, without sober and self-knowledgeable feminist art, can only be a half-baked modern art’ wrote the critic Xu Hong (徐虹). Cynical Realism and Political Pop also lead to some fascinating items.

Winterton sums up his review by stating,

This book is refreshing primarily because of its subject matter, but also because it’s organised and written in a lucid and markedly open-minded manner.

Click here to read the original review on the Taipei Times website.

“Contemporary Chinese Art” is an ongoing project with additional and unabridged texts continually being included on the MoMa website. Click here to learn more.


Related Topics: Chinese artists, resources, book reviews

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