“China 8”: Germany’s largest show of contemporary Chinese art

8 cities unite for the largest ever show of contemporary Chinese art in Germany.

Nine museums across eight cities in Germany’s North-Rhine Westphalia state have come together in an ambitious project featuring nine exhibitions of contemporary Chinese art, spanning older and newer generations of artists and including a wide variety of media. It’s being heralded by the organisers as “the largest institutional exhibition of contemporary art from China ever to be assembled anywhere in the world.” 

Hung Keung, 'Dao gives Birth to One', 2010, 8 screen and 20 chairs, 20 min (Loop). Image courtesy the artist.

Hung Keung, ‘Dao Gives Birth to One’, 2010, 8 screen and 20 chairs, 20 min (Loop). Image courtesy the artist.

“China 8 – Contemporary art from China at Rhine & Ruhr” opened on 15 May 2015 and will run in nine museums across eight German cities until 13 September. The cities taking part in the joint project are Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Essen, Gelsenkirchen, Hagen, Marl, Mülheim an der Ruhr and Recklinghausen. Established as well as younger artists from China are showing more than 500 works from the fields of painting, photography, calligraphy, ink drawing, sculpture, installation art, video and sound.

Liang Weizhou, 'Countryside Factory-East of Nanjing', archival inkjet print, 90 x 110 cm. © Liang Weizhou. Image courtesy M97 Gallery.

Liang Weizhou, ‘Countryside Factory-East of Nanjing’, archival inkjet print, 90 x 110 cm. © Liang Weizhou. Image courtesy M97 Gallery.

China 8: bringing Germany and China together

“China 8” is the most ambitious project featuring contemporary Chinese art in Germany to date, and is organised by the Stiftung für Kunst und Kultur e.V., with organisational support provided by the China Arts and Entertainment Group. The overall artistic responsibility for the exhibition lies in the hands of three major institutional professionals: Walter Smerling, spokesman for the curatorial committee and Director of the MKM Museum Küppersmühle, Ferdinand Ullrich of Kunsthalle Recklinghausen and Tobia Bezzola, Director of the Folkwang Museum. Walter Smerling told Art Radar about how the project originated:

The idea for this venture was born on a Sunday morning at the opening of an exhibition of Chinese painting from a private Dutch collection in Recklinghausen. I already knew most of the artists from my own exhibition of Chinese art in the Kunstmuseum Bonn in 1996. Inspired by this reunion, I asked myself whether it would not make sense to present the development of Chinese art 20 years along the road in a new context and on a larger scale – parallel in several museums along the Rhine and Ruhr. After numerous discussions with my colleagues in the other museums and an orientation trip in 2013, the desire arose in all of us to turn this idea into reality.

The curatorial committee elaborated the artistic concept in close collaboration with the directors of all the participating museums across the state of North-Rhine Westphalia. The Chinese consultant to the curatorial committee is Fan Di‘an, President of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing. Each individual exhibition venue is guided by the project curators of each institution.

Kum Chi Keung, 'Floating Cloud', 2012, bamboo with plastic figurines, 50 x 120 x 70 cm. © Schoeni Private Collection

Kum Chi Keung, ‘Floating Cloud’, 2012, bamboo with plastic figurines, 50 x 120 x 70 cm. © Schoeni Private Collection

The number ‘8’ in the title not only refers to the number of participating cities, but also to its significance as a lucky number in Chinese culture. The exhibition project is also of great political and cultural significance to the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, as for the first time since RUHR.2010 – when the region was nominated European Capital of Culture – nine museums in eight cities are collaborating to mount an international exhibition project and foster a cultural dialogue between Asia and Europe, China and Germany.

Smerling explained to Art Radar the significance of the project:

The structural changes in all areas of social, economic, and cultural life are taking place in China. This sense of social upheaval unites China with the Ruhr metropolis. The Ruhr metropolis, formerly known as the industrial region in Germany, is equally going through a process of becoming a cultural region. Additionally, the magnitude of the cultural landscape along the Rhein and Ruhr, with its dense network of museums and numerous high-quality institutions, is unsurpassed worldwide. So with the CHINA 8 exhibition, we aim to show simultaneously the variety of Chinese Contemporary Art and the variety of cultural opportunities in the Ruhr area.

Wang Qingsong, 'Temple', 2013, C-Print, 180 x 300 cm. © Wang Qingsong

Wang Qingsong, ‘Temple’, 2013, C-Print, 180 x 300 cm. © Wang Qingsong

China 8: an overview

“CHINA 8 Overview – Views of China” (PDF download) at NRW-Forum Düsseldorf (as an exception, this show will only run from May 15 to August 30, 2015) features the work of 35 artists from the 120 across the nine inter-city venues, and includes painting, sculpture, installation, object art, photography, video, ink painting and calligraphy.

The exhibition provides an overview of what audiences will be able to see in the individual institutions, as well as an opportunity to get acquainted with the entire spectrum of Chinese contemporary art. Work by artists such as Miao Xiaochun, Wang Qingsong, Xu Bing, Yue Minjun, Zhang Huan and Zhang Xiaogang are on display.

Yang Shaobin, 'I am My Tools – Wall Street No. 1', 2012, oil on canvas, 240 x 320 cm. Imge courtesy Long March Space.

Yang Shaobin, ‘I am My Tools – Wall Street No. 1’, 2012, oil on canvas, 240 x 320 cm. Image courtesy Long March Space.

Ink, calligraphy and painting

“CHINA 8 The Vocabulary of the Visible World – Painting” (PDF download) at MKM Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst, Duisburg, presents the work of ten established artists largely born between the late 1950s and early 1960s, who completed their studies in the 1980s and were trained in Social Realism. Among the featured painters are:

Wang Dongling, 'Silver Calligraphy 4', 2014, photograph, 70 x 50 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Wang Dongling, ‘Silver Calligraphy 4’, 2014, photograph, 70 x 50 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

“CHINA 8 Tradition on Today – Ink Painting and Calligraphy” (PDF download) at Kunstmuseum Gelsenkirchen explores the different ways in which contemporary artists are re-interpreting the traditional arts of ink painting and calligraphy through their multimedia practices. The 12 artists include among others:

Yue Minjun, 'Trivialism-4', 2013, mixes media on canvas, 200 x 400 cm. © Yue Minjun

Yue Minjun, ‘Trivialism-4’, 2013, mixes media on canvas, 200 x 400 cm. © Yue Minjun

“CHINA 8 Panorama of Painting – Emerging and Established Positions” (PDF download), Kunsthalle Recklinghausen features the work of 13 emerging and established painters, including the likes of:

Lin Tiamiao, 'Statue', 2013 (Detail), coloured silk threads, polyurethane and metal constructions, wood pedestal (13 pieces). © Lin Tiamiao

Lin Tiamiao, ‘Statue’, 2013 (Detail), coloured silk threads, polyurethane and metal constructions, wood pedestal (13 pieces). © Lin Tiamiao

Sculpture and installation

“CHINA 8 Paradigms of Art – Installation and Object Art” (PDF download) at Osthaus Museum Hagen examines the ways in which “art serves as a ‘dissident’ – not in a political, but in an aesthetic sense”, by provoking, combining images and generating new contexts where traditional norms no longer operate. There are installations and objects by 17 artists, including:

Adrian Wong, 'Telepathically Designed Bespoke Rabbit Warren No. 2', 2015, steel, glass, 1520 x 1520 x 798 cm (variable). © Adrian Wong

Adrian Wong, ‘Telepathically Designed Bespoke Rabbit Warren No. 2’, 2015, steel, glass, 1520 x 1520 x 798 cm (variable). © Adrian Wong

“CHINA 8 Models of Irritation – Installation and Sculpture” (PDF download) at Kunstmuseum Mülheim an der Ruhr presents six ‘innovators’ who endeavour to establish their own individual position and creative language, while processing the dual influences of tradition and Western constructs to interpret and express their views of life in modern China. The six artists are:

Sui Jianguo, 'Earthly Force', 1992-1994, stone, welding steel (15 pieces). © Artist. Image courtesy Pace Beijing.

Sui Jianguo, ‘Earthly Force’, 1992-1994, stone, welding steel (15 pieces). © Artist. Image courtesy Pace Beijing.

“CHINA 8 New Figuration – Narrative Sculpture” (PDF download) at Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg, displays sculptures that narrate stories from China’s past, present and future, and which in many cases explore the social function of human activity. The works critically engage with social issues through diverse forms of expression and new figurations based on traditional plastic materials. The 13 artists include among others:

Cai Dongdong, 'The Photographer', 2014, silver gelatin print, 25,5 x 30,4 x 2 cm. Image courtesy  the artist. © Cai Dongdong

Cai Dongdong, ‘The Photographer’, 2014, silver gelatin print, 25,5 x 30,4 x 2 cm. Image courtesy the artist. © Cai Dongdong

Photography, video and sound

“CHINA 8 Works in Progress – Photography” (PDF download) at Museum Folkwang, Essen, gives an overview of the vibrant experimentation and development of photography in China, through new works by 24 artists, including among others:

Zhang Ding, 'OM', 2014, sound installation, 200 x 200 x 200 cm. Image courtesy the artist and ShangART Gallery.

Zhang Ding, ‘OM’, 2014, sound installation, 200 x 200 x 200 cm. Image courtesy the artist and ShangART Gallery.

“CHINA 8 Arrested Time – Video and Sound” (PDF download) is held at Skulpturenmuseum Glaskasten Marl, which since 1984 has been dedicated to the presentation of video and sound art and holds annual awards for the two categories. The exhibition includes selected narrative and documentary works that address social phenomena, critically engaging with themes such as the rapid transformation of daily life in modern China. Among the 14 artists featured are:

“China 8” is an ambitiously rich programme that brings to Germany a wide-angle view of contemporary Chinese art. As Smerling tells Art Radar:

China 8 helps European visitors comprehend the surprising development which the Chinese art scene is currently experiencing – an art scene in the midst of elaborating its own contemporary language. It also demonstrates that the new Chinese aesthetic is on equal footing with the discourse taking place in the rest of the world.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Chinese artists, museum shows, curatorial practice, events in Germany

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