A History of Contemporary Chinese Art: 1949 to Present [1st ed.] 9789811511400, 9789811511417

Chinese art has experienced its most profound metamorphosis since the early 1950s, transforming from humble realism to s

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A History of Contemporary Chinese Art: 1949 to Present [1st ed.]
 9789811511400, 9789811511417

Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-xix
Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966) (Zhou Yan)....Pages 1-42
Anti-Culture: Art of Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) (Zhou Yan)....Pages 43-84
Truth, Virtue and Beauty: Art in the Post-Cultural Revolution (1977–1984) (Zhou Yan)....Pages 85-116
An Art Hurricane: The Avant-Garde Movement (1985–1989) (Zhou Yan)....Pages 117-265
Art Under Impact of Globalization (1989–1999) (Zhou Yan)....Pages 267-333
Institutionalization and Identity of Contemporary Art (2000-Present) (Zhou Yan)....Pages 335-458
Back Matter ....Pages 459-518

Citation preview

Chinese Contemporary Art Series

Yan Zhou

A History of Contemporary Chinese Art 1949 to Present

Chinese Contemporary Art Series Editor-In-Chief Dr. Chunchen WANG

Professor, Central Academy of Fine Arts No. 8 Huajiadi Nanjie Street, Wangjing, Chaoyang District Beijing, P.R. China [email protected]; [email protected]

Deputy Editors-In-Chief Paul Gladston, Professor, The University of New South Wales ([email protected]) Wenny Teo, Lecturer, Courtauld Academy of Art ([email protected])

Advisor Board Alexandra Munroe, Curator of Asian Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Britta Erickson, Ph.D., independent curator, Palo Alto Duan Jun, Lecturer in Contemporary Chinses Art, Beijing Institute of Technology, Beijing Eugene Wang, Professor of Asian Art, Harvard University, Boston He Guiyan, Associate Professor, Sichuan Institute of Fine Arts, Chongqing John Rajchman, Professor, Art History, Columbia University, New York James Elkins, Professor, Art History, Theory, and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago Katie Hill, Dr., Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London Mian Bu, independent curator, Beijing Melissa Chiu, Director of Hirshhorn Art Museum, Washington DC Michael Rush, Director of Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, East Lansing Paul Gladston, Associate Professor, Director of the Centre for Contemporary East-Asian Cultural Studies, The University of Nottingham Sheng Wei, Dr., Deputy Editor of Art Magazine, Beijing Thomas J. Berghuis, Dr., Curator of Chinese Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Voon Pow Bartlent, Dr. Project Manager, Tate Research Centre: Asia-Pacific, London Wenny Teo, Dr., Lecture in Modern and Contemporary Asian Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London Yi Ying, Professor, Art Historian, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing Yin Shuangxi, Professor in Contemporary Art, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing Yu Yang, Associate Professor in Modern Chinese Art, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing Zheng Shengtian, Editor-in-Chief of Yi Shu magazine, Vancouver

This series focuses on what is happening to Chinese art in the course of recent decades. Since China has changed greatly, it is now a curiosity and a research task: What is that? Why is that? How can it be that? Culturally, why does Chinese art have its own special image narrative? How to evaluate and criticize Chinese art made today? Is it a continuation of its history and heritage? Is anything new that could be reconsidered further? Is Chinese art an artistic issue or a political one? This series of books will concentrate on such questions and issues and will invite international writers and scholars to contribute their thoughts on the explanation and elaboration of Chinese art today. More information about this series at http://www.springer.com/series/13527

Yan Zhou

A History of Contemporary Chinese Art 1949 to Present

Yan Zhou Kenyon College Gambier, OH, USA

ISSN 2199-9058 ISSN 2199-9066 (electronic) Chinese Contemporary Art Series ISBN 978-981-15-1140-0 ISBN 978-981-15-1141-7 (eBook) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-1141-7 # Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are reserved by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors, and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. This Springer imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. The registered company address is: 152 Beach Road, #21-01/04 Gateway East, Singapore 189721, Singapore

To my parents Zhou Qiming (周启明 1921–1985) Wen Hui (文辉 1926–2014)

Abbreviation of Institutions and Pinyin Titles of Periodicals

中华全国美术工作者协会 All-China Art Workers Association, the precursor of CAA. Beijing Qingnianbao 北京青年报 Beijing Youth Daily, founded by Beijing Communist Youth League Committee in 1949 and resumed in 1981 after two stops of publication. CAA 中国美术家协会 China Artists Association, official organization of artists, affiliated to CFLAC. CAA 中国美术学院 China Academy of Art, new name of ZAFA, Hangzhou, Zhejiang. CAAC 中央工艺美术学院 Central Academy of Arts and Crafts, merged to Tsinghua University in 1999, changed name to Academy of Arts and Design (AAD). CAD 中央戏剧学院 Central Academy of Drama, Beijing. CAFA 中央美术学院 Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing. CFLAC 中国文学艺术界联合会 China Federation of Literary and Art Circles. CNAA 中国艺术研究院 Chinese National Academy of Arts, Beijing. CWA 中国作家协会 China Writers Association, equivalent to CAA, official organization of writers, and affiliated to CFLAC. Dangdai Yishu yu Touzi 当代艺术与投资 Contemporary Art & Investment, published during 2007–2012. Dushu 读书 Reading, monthly, founded in 1979, published by SDX Joint Publishing Company. GAFA 广州美术学院 Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. HAFA 湖北美术学院 Hubei Academy of Fine Arts, Wuhan, Hubei. Huajia 画家 Painters, published in 1985–1987 by Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, total 5 issues. ACAWA

vii

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Jiangsu Huakan

Jianzhu

Jianzhu Xuebao

LAFA Meishu Meishu Sichao

Meishu Yanjiu Meishu Yicong

Meishujia Tongxun NAMOC NHAC NMC NPAC Renmin Meishu

Renmin Ribao RIFA SFAI Shijie Meishu

Abbreviation of Institutions and Pinyin Titles of Periodicals

江苏画刊 Jiangsu Pictorial, bimonthly, founded in 1974, changed to monthly in 1985, run by Jiangsu Fine Arts Publisher. 建筑 Construction and Architecture, monthly, founded in 1954, affiliated with the Ministry of Construction. 建筑学报 Architectural Journal, quarterly, founded in 1954, then changed to bimonthly, monthly back and forth, stopped publication in 1965, 1967–1972, resumed as monthly from 1988 to present, run by China Association for Science and Technology. 鲁迅美术学院 Luxun Academy of Fine Arts, Shenyang, Liaoning. 美术 Fine Arts, official journal of CAA, monthly, published from 1954 (also see Renmin Meishu). 美术思潮 The Trend of Art Thought, bimonthly, run by Hubei Federation of Literary and Art Circles in 1985–1987, total 22 issues. 美术研究 Art Research, quarterly, college journal of CAFA, began publication in 1957. 美术译丛 Journal of Translated Art Scholarship, quarterly, changed name from Guowai Meishu Ziliao (Art Resources from Foreign Publications) in 1980, run by ZAFA. 美术家通讯 Artists’ News, monthly, CAA internal periodical. 中国美术馆 National Art Museum of China, Beijing. 国立杭州艺术专科学校 National Hangzhou Art College, Hangzhou, Zhejiang. 中国国家博物馆 National Museum of China, Beijing. 国立北平艺术专科学校 National Peking Art College 人民美术 People’s Fine Arts, bimonthly, the precursor of Meishu, published in 1950 (also see Meishu). 人民日报 People’s Daily, the official newspaper of CCP Central Committee, published from 1948. 美术研究所 Research Institute of Fine Arts, affiliated to CNAA. 四川美术学院 Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Chongqing. 世界美术 World Art, quarterly, run by CAFA, published from 1979.

Abbreviation of Institutions and Pinyin Titles of Periodicals

STA TAFA Wenyibao Wenyi Yanjiu XAFA Xin Meishu Xin Qingnian Xiongshi Meishu Yishu Dangdai

Yishu Shichang Yishu • Shichang

ZAFA

Zhongguo Meishubao

Zhongguo Qingnian Zhongguo Shirongbao

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上海戏剧学院 Shanghai Theater Academy, Shanghai. 天津美术学院 Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts, Tianjin. 文艺报 Literature and Art News, once biweekly, now weekly, published from 1949. 文艺研究 Literature and Art Studies, monthly, published from 1979. 西安美术学院 Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts, Xi’an, Shaanxi. 新美术 New Arts, bimonthly, college journal of ZAFA, founded in 1980. 新青年 La Jeunesse (New Youth), monthly, published in 1911–1922. 雄狮美术 Hiung Shih Art Monthly/Lion Art, Taipei, Taiwan, published in 1971–1996. 艺术当代 Art China, monthly, started publication in 2001 by Shanghai Painting and Calligraphy Press. 艺术市场 Art Market, a semi-monthly started in 2002 by Ministry of Culture, PRC. 艺术市场 Art • Market, published in 1991–1993 by Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, total 9 issues. 浙江美术学院 Zhejiang Academy of Fines Arts, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, changed name to China Academy of Art (CAA) in 1993. 中国美术报 Fine Arts in China, weekly newspaper, published in 1985–1989, run by RIFA, CNAA, total 233 issues. 中国青年 China Youth, monthly magazine, published from 1923. 中国市容报 China Urban Environment, weekly newspaper, published from the 1980s.

Acknowledgement

A friend of mine once called me “an idle cloud and a wild crane” (or xianyun yehe in Chinese), an ideal state for a Chinese literatus, namely having a tranquil lifestyle and a transcendent state of mind. I agree and wholly enjoy it, as it is the result of decades of effort fighting for a peaceful and stable life. Thanks to the USA, and Kenyon College in particular, I have been able to live in a wonderful and joyful working environment which has allowed me to teach and conduct research on Chinese art—Chinese contemporary art in particular—my lifetime passion without undue interruption or interference from either political pressure or commercialist erosion, a status quo on another shore of the Pacific. Since I began the book project 6 years ago, I encountered difficulties and thought about giving up, when Professor Sarah Blick, my long-term colleague at Kenyon College, provided me with the encouragement I needed the most. She and I discussed the problems with which I was grappling; and she offered me her experience in research and writing. Most importantly, she promised to edit my manuscript. I could not imagine writing this book without Sarah’s kind and selfless support. My heart is full of gratitude for her help. My sincere thanks also go to Professor Melissa Dabakis, who had been my colleague for 17 years. Melissa provided me with her generous assistance in editing when Sarah was unable to complete the work because of her health. Her timely help started before her retirement in early 2019 and has continued afterwards. Her selfless help in the final phase of the book writing was incredibly moving and unforgettable. In addition, I found her handwritten editing intriguing and enlightening, and it has left me with valuable hard-copy documents. I also truly appreciate Professor Brad Hostetler, who joined the Department of Art History in 2017. A warm-hearted colleague, Brad further scrutinized the revised manuscript, reducing errors to a minimum. His detail-oriented work impressed me, from which I learned a lot. I, too, am very grateful to Chen Lufeng, a Kenyon student from Shanghai, for her contribution to the book. She compiled the supplement, “Chronicle of Events,” used in both the Zhou Yan Contemporary Chinese Art Archive (a Kenyon online archive) and this book. Her diligence and efficiency have led to an informative chronicle. My congratulations and gratitude go to Mary Zhou, my daughter, and James Yan, my son-in-law, who married in spring 2019. Their intelligence, xi

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Acknowledgement

vitality, and love have been and will continue to be the source of my courage and happiness. I am also very grateful to Mary for her proofreading of the supplements. This book is dedicated to my parents, Zhou Qiming and Wen Hui, who expected me to achieve great things (wangzi chenglong), and this book is my gift to them in Heaven. July 9, 2019

Yan Zhou

Introduction

The term “Chinese contemporary art” is different from “contemporary Chinese art” because the former refers to a specific portion of Chinese art in terms of concept, strategy, and spiritual orientation, while the latter is a more comprehensive concept that covers a variety of Chinese art within the contemporary period. For this book, “the contemporary” is defined as the period from 1949 to present. The reason for writing the part of contemporary art starting from the late 1970s is because it represents or epitomizes the direction of Chinese culture and art. This is based not only on my personal experience, but more importantly on my judgment of its value. Even though I am an art historian, I am first and foremost a critic and an activist who was involved in China’s avantgarde during its initial period and continued to observe and write criticism on its development ever since. I have never attempted to deny my status as an insider while writing about the history of contemporary Chinese art, my objectivity may be compromised. However, my background also provides me with advantages since I personally know many artists of whom I write about. I have also participated in many critical events in this history. For instance, through my experience as one of the organizers of the historical exhibition China/Avant-Garde, I have accumulated primary textual and visual documents, along with first-hand experience, which I believe is crucial for writing an authentic, living history. I am confident that the history I write here exemplifies the ideals, values, and dreams of a new generation of Chinese artists during one of China’s most prosperous and productive periods. To me, Chinese contemporary art is an endeavor to which I, as an activist and critic, have devoted my life, as those fellow artists of my generation have done. Thus, recording its history truthfully becomes an integral part of this endeavor. While I was born for it, I live with this history. Today, I write on it, and it becomes extension of my spiritual life. Nevertheless, this is a book of history, not a memoir, and so it requires conception, perspective, framework, and methodology to create the historian’s objectivity. The term “contemporary art” is defined not only in terms of temporal dimension, it points to the art that reacts critically to the social, cultural, and artistic conditions in the contemporary period, reflecting visually the reality through which contemporary artists live. I illustrate Chinese contemporary art’s development chronologically starting in the late 1970s, when the Cultural Revolution ended, to provide readers with a general xiii

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picture of its context, genesis, and evolution in an ever-changing nation. While narrating the history, I have touched on some theoretical issues that have been raised and debated within art community or simply meditated upon by myself, all pertinent to the artistic and cultural status quo. I believe this kind of discussion will help the reader better comprehend the art, artists, and activities of different time periods. In Chap. 1, a brief milieu of art from 1949 to 1966, also known as the “seventeen years,” is introduced. This is the period when contemporary Chinese art was founded institutionally, ideologically, and visually. Chapter 2 deals with the art of the Cultural Revolution. Pushing China’s version of Socialist Realism to the extreme, Red Guards art, and art placed in ideological temples formed the mainstream in this period though alternative art persisted in this age of turmoil. Chapter 3 discusses art from post-Cultural Revolution China, a transitional period when the country moved forward to a “time of modernization,” or a “New Age,” as dubbed by the official media. During this period, Chinese art transformed from a forum dominated by revolutionary Socialist Realism to the “triplex model,” which includes the official, the traditional, and the avantgarde. “Modernity” became a universal and central issue throughout the art community though each camp provided its own visual arguments and solutions. The Avant-Garde Movement is central to the fourth chapter. The emergence of avant-garde groups and periodicals in the context of Cultural Fever, or more generally speaking, cultural enlightenment, was the most stimulating and controversial phenomenon of this time. The Rationalist Painting, Current of Life, and Anti-art are three major tendencies of avant-garde art in the second half of the 1980s. It ended with the historical exhibition China/ Avant-Garde, one of the most important cultural events during this period, which pronounced the establishment of Chinese contemporary art at home and abroad in a provocative and sensational manner. The fifth chapter investigates how Chinese art was profoundly impacted by globalization in the 1990s. During this time, China began to integrate into the global system economically and institutionally. The art market sprouted and developed in response to this change. Although many artists gained more opportunities to exhibit their art internationally, especially those who produced Political Pop and Cynical Realism, it also distorted the Chinese identity in the West. As Postcolonialism was introduced and became a sensitive issue, there was both resistance and acceptance, as well as debates regarding personal meditation vs. public life. Those who explored these notions were marginalized vanguard artists, including those who produced Apartment Art and Feminine Art, as well as ones who applied multimedia and other alternate ways of artmaking. While China continues to expand into the globalization of world economy in the twenty-first century, Chinese contemporary art has entered its Age of Institutionalization, as discussed in Chap. 6. Space for art has expanded dramatically as new museums and galleries mushroom nationwide, while contemporary art has joined art academies in the name of experimental art. The “Third Space,” beyond the official and commercial blocs, challenged the

Introduction

Introduction

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intellectual state through a rediscovery of history and tradition. The Way of Ink, a concept and practice of rethinking and reconstructing the legacy of ink art, along with Maximalism, are investigated here as a link to the idea of contemporary Chineseness or identity of Chinese contemporary art. Social or Critical Realism became an exclamatory reaction to ever-changing societal, political, and cultural conditions. There is a great need for a scholarly monograph that focuses on Chinese art since 1949 concentrating on its contemporary art portion, in both the Chinese and English-speaking worlds. This book will contribute a Chinese perspective on contemporary art history. The choice of visual and textual documentaries and the analytical framework reflects my judgment of Chinese contemporary art and culture, through a Chinese narrative and methodology. Of course, I am still in a process of probing, researching, and contemplating, and I believe that this should be a long-term goal for all scholars and historians in the field. There is a Chinese idiom paozhuan yinyu, meaning to cast away a brick in order to attract a jadestone, which reflects my hope that others may come forward with their valuable contributions spurred on by my own humble opinions. I hope that this book will initiate this kind of dialogue by combining traditional empirical description and cultural analysis. It is my dream this book will stimulate, push forward, and deepen systematic study of Chinese contemporary art in China and rest of the world, for all who are interested in and eager to learn more and better comprehend Chinese contemporary art and culture. Song Dynasty poet Zhu Dunru (1081–1159) wrote a poem that contemplates history and contemporaneity, Moon on the West River There have been spring dreams in annals of history, And there are so many geniuses in the world of mortals. No need to fuss about arrangement, Just pick up your present time.1

Zhu Dunru remarks that history runs as spring dreams, which simply happen and disappear, while heroes live in the world that we live today. One’s position in annals is not as important as historians believe, but what we really need to concern about ourselves with is what we do in present time. Writing a book of history to provide cultural logic and lessons for the art produced in our own time, in which we, critics, historians, and artists, live and create, is more meaningful than to simply assign positions for those who contributed to the history. This is my goal and my ideal. July 8, 2019

Yan Zhou

1 Original version in Chinese, 朱敦儒,“西江月”,青史几番春梦,红尘多少奇才,不须计较 与安排,领取而今现在.

Contents

1

2

3

4

Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966) . . . . 1.1 Construction of Party-Led Art System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.2 Xin Nianhua Campaign . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.3 Remolding of Guohua: Political Messages and Chiaroscuro . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.4 Oil Painting: Humble Realism, Socialist Realism and Nationalization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.5 Sculpture: Ideological Theater in Public Space . . . . . . . . . 1.6 Propaganda Posters: Visualization of Absurdity . . . . . . . . Anti-Culture: Art of Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) . . . . . 2.1 Red Guards Art: Destruction and Construction . . . . . . . . . 2.2 Art in Temples: Refinement and Institutionalization of the Art of “God-Building Campaign” . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.3 Alternative Art in a Turbulent Age . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Truth, Virtue and Beauty: Art in the Post-Cultural Revolution (1977–1984) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.1 Democracy and Modernity: Stars Society and Other Self-Organized Avant-Garde Groups . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.1.1 The Art After the Cultural Revolution: 1976–1978 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.1.2 No Name, Stars Society and Other Avant-Garde Groups . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.2 Revival of Academic Art: Social Realism and Art for Art’s Sake . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.2.1 Social Realism: Scar Painting and Rustic Realism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.2.2 Art for Art’s Sake . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . An Art Hurricane: The Avant-Garde Movement (1985–1989) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.1 Cultural Fever and General Picture of Avant-Garde Movement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.1.1 Cultural Fever as the Discursive Context of Vanguard Art . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.1.2 General Picture of the Avant-Garde Movement . . . 4.2 The Avant-Garde Movement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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1 3 5

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13

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22 34 39

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43 43

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57 66

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. 103 . 104 . 111 . 117 . 117 . 117 . 120 . 140 xvii

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Contents

4.2.1

4.3

5

6

Rationalist Painting: Metaphysical and Spiritual Approach . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.2.2 Current of Life: Physical and Subconscious Approach . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.2.3 Anti-Art: Non-easel and Conceptual Approach . . . 4.2.4 Artistic Language of China’s Avant-Garde . . . . . . China/Avant-Garde Exhibition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.3.1 Zhuhai Conference and a Miscarried Exhibition Plan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.3.2 Negotiation and Fundraising . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.3.3 Actions and Two Closures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.3.4 Works Outside of Actions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Art Under Impact of Globalization (1989–1999) . . . . . . . . . . 5.1 1989 Incident and After, Market-Oriented Economy, Urbanization and Fetishism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.2 Exhibitions Abroad and at Home . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.2.1 New Generation and China’s New Art, Post-1989: Political Pop and Cynical Realism . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.2.2 Magazine Yishu • Shichang (Art • Market) and Guangzhou Biennial: Toward Art Market? . . . . . . 5.2.3 Premiere in the Magiciens de la Terre and Participation in Venice Biennial . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.2.4 Inside Out: New Chinese Art—The First Comprehensive Demonstration in the West . . . . . . 5.3 Avant-Garde in Alternative Space and Orientation . . . . . . 5.3.1 Conceptual Art on Routine and the Current: Apartment Art and Proposal Art . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.3.2 Action Art and Project . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.3.3 Video Art . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.3.4 Feminine Art . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Institutionalization and Identity of Contemporary Art (2000-Present) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.1 Prelude Datong Dazhang: Farewell to New Millennium . 6.2 Miaotang and Jianghu: China’s Old as New Institutions . . 6.2.1 From Shelter to Hub: Artists Village and Art District . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.2.2 Boom of the Art Museum: Public, Private or Hybrid . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.2.3 In the Name of New Media or Experimental Art: Contemporary Art Entering the Art Academies . . . 6.3 Maximalism or Complicity Amassed on Simplicity . . . . . 6.4 The Urban and the Rural: Social or Critical Realism . . . . 6.4.1 Predicament or Agony of Vulnerable Groups . . . . 6.4.2 Nostalgia and Neo-Futurism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.4.3 Environment: Physical and Spiritual Trauma . . . . . 6.4.4 New Practice in Rural or Suburban Areas . . . . . . .

. 140 . . . .

167 190 214 226

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227 229 233 243

. 267 . 267 . 272 . 272 . 283 . 287 . 293 . 301 . . . .

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. 335 . 335 . 341 . 342 . 348 . . . . . . .

357 362 368 369 377 384 390

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6.5

6.6 6.7

The Way of Ink: Rethinking Art Tradition and Shaping Contemporaneity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.5.1 From Ink Art to the Way of Ink: An Aesthetic Disquisition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.5.2 Time over Space: Movement, Process and Eternity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.5.3 Text over Image: The Linear and the Planar . . . . . 6.5.4 Heaven and Earth: The Mystic and the Mundane . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Feminine Art Towards Feminist Art and Beyond? And Nudity in Photography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . An Open Ending . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. 396 . 397 . 402 . 425 . 432 . 443 . 452

Chronicle of Events . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 459 Chinese Glossary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 493 Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 497 Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 503

1

Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

After four years of civil war, the Communists troops or “Red Army” consisting of mainly peasants, led by Mao Zedong, the leader of Chinese Communist Parry, won the war and took over the nation. The American-trained and equipped Nationalist armies with over 2.5 million men, more than double the Communist forces, were defeated in less than two years of actual fighting and withdrew to Taiwan. The causes of Nationalists’ loss were manifold but two factors were cited by historians: the incompetence and corruption of the Nationalist government1 and the Japanese invasion provided the Communists with chance to grow strong and insubordinate because Generalissimo Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek), Chairman of the National Military Council of the Nationalist Government of the Republic of China (ROC) from 1928 to 1948, and his troops could not complete their military suppression of Communists while the resistance against the Japanese invaders with all forces, including Communists, became the national priority.2 “‘Incompetent and corrupt’ was the catchphrase used to describe the government’s performance in virtually every sphere from the conduct of war to school administration,” said Suzanne Pepper, in her essay “The KMT-CCP Conflict: 1945–1949,” see John K. Fairbank and Albert Feuerwerker edited, The Cambridge History of China, Volume 13, “Republic China 1912–1949, Part 2,” Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 738. 2 Mao Zedong was grateful to Japanese invasion because it led to the establishment of Communist bases nationwide that prepared its victorious war against Nationalist army in the Civil War. Mao Zedong, “The Fight of Japanese 1

Other factors also led to their loss including that the Nationalist government mostly consisted of elite individuals who were educated in the West or Japan, and could not deal with the issues of peasants and agriculture well, while twentiethcentury China was still primarily an agricultural nation. In contrast, the Communist Party was built on the solid basis of peasants and farmers which formed the majority of the population of the nation at the time. When the Nationalists lost support from the countryside, especially in the north of China, their loss became inevitable.3 On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong as party leader and chairman of the Central People’s Government proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in his brogue of People Has Far-reaching Influence,” January 24, 1961, Selection of Mao Zedong’s Texts on Foreign Affairs, Publisher of Documents of CCP Central Committee and Publisher of World Knowledge, 1994. Some western historians also believed that the invasion of Japan provided a perfect opportunity for communists in building a base of popular support, especially from countryside, see Patricia Ebrey, Cambridge Illustrated History of China, second edition, Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 288–289. 3 “The true source of the CCP’s growing power lay in its rural social and economic policies. And it was specifically land reform that was most cited as the basis of the CCP’s strength in the countryside, allowing it to ‘put down roots’ there while the government was doing nothing to meet that challenge.” Suzanne Pepper, “The KMT-CCP Conflict: 1945–1949,” see John K. Fairbank and Albert Feuerwerker edited, The Cambridge History of China, Volume 13, “Republic China 1912–1949, Part 2,” Cambridge University Press, 1986, p.751.

# Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020 Y. Zhou, A History of Contemporary Chinese Art, Chinese Contemporary Art Series, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-1141-7_1

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1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

Fig. 1.1 Hou Bo, Mao Zedong proclaims the establishment of the People’s Republic of China at the Tiananmen Rostrum, Beijing, on October 1, 1949, photography

Xiangtan, Hunan (Fig. 1.1). This was in recognition of the people’s—mainly peasants and workers—utopia, called “Liberation” by the official media. As with many proposed utopias, it turned out a catastrophe for people, which reached its nadir during the Cultural Revolution, rather than the paradise as promised. In addition to the skillful military actions by the Communists, what bolstered their power was their wish to restore the name via economy, industry, its political system, and ideological construction, especially for a nation ruined by two wars. Based on Marxist theory, they rejected any bourgeois or capitalist structure of society and politics, so the legacy of the Nationalists was abandoned. They emulated the Soviet Union from the beginning, starting in the 1920s when the CCP was founded, because it was the first communist nation in the world. In the official media, the Soviet Union was called “Big Brother,” a name that showed their proximity, respect, and reverence for their northern neighbor.

Politically, China took the people’s democratic dictatorship, a Chinese version of Soviet’s proletarian dictatorship, developed from rural soviets in Jiangxi and Shaanxi in the 1930s, in which the Communist Party was the only party in the nation that consisted mainly of workers and peasants. Economically, it gradually moved from bureaucratic capitalism to state-run planned economy by simply transplanting the Soviet model, after the reforming the infrastructure of industry and business. Culturally, the native tradition and the imported western culture were subverted and replaced by Soviet art, literature, music, film, and other cultural forms based on communist ideology. This appropriation from Soviet Union contributed to China’s homogeneity in the new nation.4 4

In The Cambridge History of China, Volume 14, The People’s Republic, Part I: The Emergence of Revolutionary China, 1949–1965, edited by Roderick MacFarquhar and John Fairbank, Cambridge University Press, 1987, the subtitle for the period of 1949–1957 is “Emulating the

1.1

1.1

Construction of Party-Led Art System

Construction of Party-Led Art System

During the Nationalist period (1928–1949), there was no national institution or organization in charge of cultural or artistic affairs. There was a Propaganda Department, but they had no record of involvement with artists, art schools, and art activities.5 From 1949 on, however, the situation changed dramatically. The Communist Party was established on Marxist-Leninist ideology and consisted of mainly peasants and workers. It was entirely different from the Nationalists in ideology, and its governmental structure and institution were new. Accordingly, the artistic and cultural systems had to be constructed to serve the new ideology-oriented China. The construction here refers to both ideology and institutions, because the ideology determines direction of the party and the nation, and the institutions were the device of implementation of this ideology. The critical role of an ideology of culture and arts in new China’s cultural life cannot be overemphasized. Its essence came from Mao Zedong’s thoughts on art, manifested mainly in his famous and highly influential “Talks on the Yan’an Art and Literature Forum” (“Yan’an Talks,” briefly), and delivered in Yan’an, Shaanxi, the Communists’ base before the founding of PRC, in 1942. These long talks (nearly 19,000 characters) consisted of introduction and conclusion, addressed on May 2 and May 23 respectively. Its principles can be Soviet Model,” showing the critical role the Soviet model played in the inaugurating period of the PRC. 5 According to Wikipedia, “Propaganda has been an important tool of the Republic of China government since its inception in 1912. The term xuanchuan (宣传) is considered neutral, much like ‘public relations’ or ‘education of the public.’” “Propaganda in Republic of China,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_in_the_Repub lic_of_China, available on May 4, 2019. The Propaganda Department was not affiliated with the government, but the KMT, namely, the Kuomintang Central Executive Committee, instead, which Mao Zedong effectively ran from October 1925 to May 1926, see Stuart Schram, “Mao Tse-tung’s Thought to 1949,” John K. Fairbank and Albert Feuerwerker edited, The Cambridge History of China, Volume 13, “Republic China 1912–1949, Part 2,” Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 818.

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summed up as two phrases, “the arts serve workers, peasants, and soldiers, and the arts serve proletarian politics.” According to Zou Yuejin, a Chinese art historian, Mao Zedong’s concept of arts for the masses established a moral supremacy, which absorbed the concern for the public that formed a major part of the European Enlightenment and which developed from the Marxist notion of class.6 In the first half of the twentieth century, with the May Fourth Movement in particular, the ideas of the Enlightenment were introduced into China, along with Marxism and other liberal ideologies. This was the probable theoretical foundation for realism in the arts during the wars of the 1930s and 1940s. Like Enlightenment thinkers who had universal humanity from their philosophic basis, the general public, especially the lower classes, should share equality in education, arts, and politics as the upper class and the aristocrats. In the wartime, Chinese artists displayed great sympathy with ordinary people who suffered from both war and poverty, and they exposed this suffering in their realistic art. Mao Zedong and the Communists adopted the idea of culture for the public from the Enlightenment but redefined the notion of who composed the public/the masses. In the “Yan’an Talks,” Mao queried, Who, then, are the masses of the people? The broadest sections of the people, constituting more than 90 per cent of our total population, are the workers, peasants, soldiers and urban petty bourgeoisie. Therefore, our literature and art are first for the workers, the class that leads the revolution. Secondly, they are for the peasants, the most numerous and most steadfast of our allies in the revolution. Thirdly, they are for the armed workers and peasants, namely, the Eighth Route and New Fourth Armies and the other armed units of the people, which are the main forces of the revolutionary war. Fourthly, they are for the laboring masses of the urban petty bourgeoisie and for the pettybourgeois intellectuals, both of whom are also our allies in the revolution and capable of long-term co-operation with us. These four kinds of people 6

Zou Yuejin, Xin Zhongguo Meishu Shi (A History of Chinese Fine Arts: 1949–2000), Changsha: Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, 2002, pp. 10–12.

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1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966) constitute the overwhelming majority of the Chinese nation, the broadest masses of the people.7

Now all people were divided into two camps: workers, peasants, soldiers and the urban petite bourgeoisie in one camp, and all the rest in another. While the former was the main force of the Communist revolution, the latter, became the rival or archenemy. It is noticeable that intellectuals here are also classified as petite bourgeoisie. To Mao Zedong, this group needs to be re-educated and integrated into the first three groups ideologically, even if they couldn’t become identical with them in terms of social class. This idea was critical because it became a policy after 1949 that would dominate the entire Mao period (1949–1976). A new institution was constructed to make sure that the ideology was implemented, because the change was so substantial and would have tangible effects on the lives of many individuals and the economic situation within art circles. There were two components that shaped the formation of the art community under the leadership of the Communist Party. One was the National Association of the Art and Literature Workers, and the other, the China Artists Association (CAA), both of which formed skeleton of new art institutions from top to bottom. On July 2, 1949, three months before Mao Zedong announced the establishment of People’s Republic of China in Tiananmen Square, the first National Congress of the Art and Literature Workers met in Beijing. At the same time, the first National Exhibition of Fine Arts was held. A total of 650 delegates participated the congress, including 88 art workers. On July 19, the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles (CFLAC) was founded. This was the first time that so many artists and writers from all over the country gathered under a single banner and its significance lies not only with the issues they discussed, but also how the components of the congress were made up. The delegates were selected on their Mao Zedong, “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art,” Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1965, pp. 76–77.

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ideological basis. The communist cadres of art and literature who came from Yan’an, the communist base, were the leading part of the congress. They were then followed by left-wing art and literature workers from Yan’an and the Nationalist’s territory, who might or might not be Communist Party members. The artists and writers beyond this circle didn’t enter the congress, while “conservative” and “counter-revolutionary” artists and writers were absolutely eliminated. The components of this congress set up the paradigm for the future formation of art institutions. Following the structural model of the Soviet Union, a series of art institutions that ran the production, circulation, exhibition, consumption, and propaganda of art works was established. Julia Andrews summed up the administrative part of this highly-organized institution. There were two wings in the art administration: the party system and the government system. The first portion was constructed hierarchy in the following manner: CCP Central Committee ! Propaganda Department ! China Federation of Literary and Arts Circles ! China Artists Association. Under the CAA there were four sections in charge of art magazines, exhibitions, membership, and foreign affairs respectively. The second portion was instituted as part of State Department ! Ministry of Culture, under which were the Arts Education Office, administrating art academies, and the Arts Bureau, in charge of art publication and artistic affairs.8 We may need to pay special attention to two of the institutions, CAA and the Ministry of Culture, which were directly responsible for artists and their art. The CAA, a “mass organization under the leadership of CCP,” as defined by its constitution, was the institution that managed, controlled and assigned important artists and guided, manipulated and dominated the production of art works through its national headquarters, as well as provincial and municipal branches nationwide. Membership in the CAA was a 8

Julia F. Andrews, Painters and Politics in the People’s Republic of China, 1949–1979, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1994, p. 6.

1.2

Xin Nianhua Campaign

privilege sought by nearly all fine artists in China because it not only endowed them with high social status, but it also granted them substantial materialistic advantages. It was extremely important during the Mao Period, when both cultural and materialistic resources were scarce and mostly controlled by the party-led government. The Ministry of Culture was in charge of art education, art publications—except for the Meishu journal—and other art affairs, namely administrations of art academies and art publishers. Art academies were taken over by left-wing artists from Yan’an area controlled by the Communist Party, including the National Peking Art College and National Hangzhou Art College, whose names were changed to the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) and the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (ZAFA) respectively. To subordinate art educational institutions to the government’s leadership made sure that a new generation of artists was educated in the official ideology. Furthermore, new art publishers were established, including People’s Fine Arts Publishing Houses from the capital to the provinces, in addition to the monthly magazine Meishu (Fine Arts) published under the CAA. Finally, the National Art Museum of China, built from 1958 to 1962, was affiliated with the Ministry of Culture. One of the most important functions of the CAA was to organize official art exhibitions, from the national to the provincial level. It had held five national art exhibitions in the Mao Period (1949, 1955, 1962, 1964, and 1974). The creation and selection of artwork for a national art exhibition was a sophisticated and highly organized project, operated by CAA branches from county and city, all the way up to provincial and national levels. There was a local institution called “Mass Cultural Center” (qunzhong wenhua guan) in cities and counties that trained artists, organized city or county art exhibitions, and selected artwork for provincial art exhibitions. In turn, the provincial CAA organized exhibitions prior to the national art exhibition, and selected artwork for the national art exhibition, a process that took months or even years to complete. The national art exhibition system, implemented by

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the CAA, effectively dominated fine artists, their art, career, and even their life, because gold, silver or bronze medal recipients usually received job promotions, a salary increase and/or privileged housing arrangement, in addition to the monetary award from local government or the artists’ working units. This comprehensive infrastructure became an almighty institution that covered nearly all aspects of art in China from the 1950s to around 1980s. The state-run art system was constructed in a manner similar to an army that ensured the implementation of the construction of a visual utopia. The scale and strength of control carried out by this institutional structure had been loosen in the 1980s when the nation opened its door to the rest of world, but the structure has remained. In the early twentieth century, China introduced western art into art education. Departments of western painting and guohua (national painting or Chinese painting) were established in art schools, and art exhibitions echoed the same division. After 1949, departments of sculpture and graphic arts were added into the new art institutions all under the CAA. The four-department structure continues today, although in some art academies departments were uplifted to schools, as other schools, say, schools of architecture, design, or humanities, have added. Nianhua or New Year’s prints (later expanded into New Year’s painting) was unique case. It could be classified as a graphic art since it was basically a chromatic woodcut, but also as guohua later since it was painted rather than printed and so was closer to gongbi zhongcai, an ink painting with meticulous outlining and bright coloration. In fact, a new department of nianhua and lianhuanhua (comic book art) was created in the Central Academy of Fine Arts in the 1980s.

1.2

Xin Nianhua Campaign

The art produced from 1949 to 1966 is usually called the “art of seventeen years” in official media. As the leader of new China, the party

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promised to provide a new and happy life to Chinese. Art, based on Mao’s “Yan’an Talks,” should serve the people, namely, workers, peasants and soldiers. In the first half of the 1950s, art tried to follow this idea with a combination of folk or popular art and premature realistic technique, which glorified the history of revolution, the leadership of CCP, and created images of the happy life Chinese now enjoy in new China, in a manner of Humble Realism. The media used varied, but included New Year’s prints (nianhua), painting in ink and oil, and sculpture, and more, but all remolded to some extent. New Year’s prints, nianhua, as folk art, were mainly used for house adornment in the Spring Festival. Their long tradition can be traced back to Tang Dynasty (618–907), but in the twentieth century there were four schools of New Year’s prints: Yangliuqing, Tianjin; Taohuawu, Jiangsu; Wuqiang, Hebei; and Yangjiabu, Shandong. The themes and subjects originate from folklore, classical literature, local drama, Buddhism, Daoism and folk religions. Gods are the main motif for Chinese New Year’s prints, including the Gate God (menshen), the Kitchen God (zhaowangye), the God of Wealth (caishen), the God of Longevity (shouxing), and the Goddess of Mercy (Guanyin), etc. The most common symbols used in New Year’s prints include images of chubby, healthy boys, Qilin (Chinese unicorn), pomegranate—all symbols of fertility; fish, pronouncing “yu” in Chinese, homonym of yu, which stands for surplus and savings; cranes, tortoises, pine trees, and peaches, which represent longevity; vases, pronouncing “ping” in Chinese, for peace and security; and flowers, such as peonies for wealth and prosperity and chrysanthemums, the lotus, and orchids, symbolizing purity and nobility. Started from the Yan’an period, New Year’s prints were injected new significance beyond traditional functions, as seen in Yanhan’s “New Year Gate Guardian: Army and People Cooperate” (Fig. 1.2). An armed peasant replaces the traditional Gate God to protect villagers from Japanese invasion, as well as produce crops for them. The artist integrated the style of the

1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

woodcut technique (inherited from Lu Xun-led New Woodcut Movement of the 1930s) into the decorative treatment of traditional New Year’s prints. After 1949, New Year’s prints were bestowed with new mission: conveying political and ideological messages and representing the new ideas, life, and culture under the new China. Cai Ruohong, an artist, art writer, and member of the standing committee of All-China Art Workers Association (ACAWA, the precursor of CAA), wrote about Xin Nianhua (new nianhua), in 1950, noting that It needs not only to reflect life, more importantly, it needs to guide life. . . Beautiful things and happy life are among the most popular subjects in the history of painting. In the past, they represented the hope of Chinese people; now they are real life of Chinese people; at the same time, they will be prospects of life of Chinese people. From the present they anticipate the future, and the present leads to the future.9

This applied not only to the Xin Nianhua, because “beautiful things and happy life” was considered good for all types of art, and in the 1950s, it became one of the main subjects done by artists in oil and ink painting, graphic arts, and sculpture.10 However, New Year’s prints were chosen for this subject because it was a type of Cai Ruohong, “Guanyu Xin Nianhua Chuangzuo de Neirong” (On the Contents of Creation of Xin Nianhua), Renmin Meishu, issue 1, 1950, pp. 20–21. 10 Although it is uncertain if there was relation between the sentiment of “happy life” after 1949 and the “new life movement” from the 1930s to 1940s, the latter had a great impact on Chinese. The movement was launched by Jiang Jieshi and Song Meiling (Soong May-ling, Jiang’s wife) in 1934 and had lasted till the end of Civil War in 1949. Jiang required Chinese following the principles of Confucianism, namely, “Four Tenets,” that is, propriety, righteousness, honesty, sense of shame (li, yi, lian, chi), and “Eight Morals,” namely, loyalty, filial piety, benevolence, love, good faith, righteousness, harmony and peace (zhong, xiao, ren, ai, xin, yi, he, ping), while Song advocated women’s right to education and lifted their position within the family structure and society. See Huashuo Minguo (Stories of Republic China), edited by Han Wenning and Liu Xiaoning, Phoenix Press, Nanjing, Jiangsu, 2008. 9

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Xin Nianhua Campaign

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Fig. 1.2 Yanhan, “New Year Gate Guardian: Army and People Cooperate,” 1939–1940, polychromatic woodcut print, 37  28.5 cm, Colgate University

art that masses “love to see and hear” (xiwen lejian), associated with “Chinese style and spirit which the common people of China love,” a major criterion of Mao Zedong’s approach to art.11

11 Mao Zedong required in 1938 that “Foreign stereotypes must be abolished, there must be less singing of empty, abstract tunes, and dogmatism must be laid to rest; they must be replaced by the fresh, lively Chinese style and spirit which the common people of China love.” Mao Zedong, “The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War,” Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1965, pp. 209–210.

Cai Ruohong was the major figure who advocated and promoted the Xin Nianhua Campaign that was launched, surprisingly, under the instruction of Mao Zedong himself. According to Cai Ruohong, Mao Zedong talked about New Year’s prints with Zhou Yang, the deputy director of Propaganda Department of CCP and vice minister of Ministry of Culture, October 1949, when the Ministry of Culture was established, The New Year’s prints are the most favorite for the populace of all China, especially those working people, thus we should pay attention to them. When the Ministry of Culture has been established,

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1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966) it should issue a directive of start-out of Xin Nianhua making.12

In turn, Zhou Yang asked Cai Ruohong to draft the “Directive of Start-out of Xin Nianhua Campaign,” but it was published under the name of Shen Yanbing, Vice-Minister of Ministry of Culture, approved by Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi, and Zhou Enlai, issued on Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily), the official newspaper of CCP Central Committee, on November 27, 1949. The directive looked back to the Yan’an period, when old New Year’s prints were remolded to “spread the ideology of people’s democracy.” Because the first Chinese New Year after the establishment of PRC was approaching, cultural and educational institutions and artists from all over China were to make the Xin Nianhua creations as one of their main propaganda tasks. The subjects included the great victory of the Liberation War (official name for the civil war from 1945 to 1949), the establishment of PRC, and the recovery and development of industry and agriculture. The directive emphasized that Xin Nianhua “should mainly represent working people’s new and happy life in brave and healthy images.”13 Renmin Meishu issue 2, 1950, was a special issue devoted to the Xin Nianhua. Besides Cai Ruohong’s article, Wang Zhaowen, Zhong Dianfei, Shilu, Ai Zhongxin, Cai Yi, Li Hua, Ye Qianyu, Feng Zhen, and Li Qi, all celebrated in fields of art theory or painting, contributed theoretical essays on the creation of Xin Nianhua in this issue. On its cover was an image, entitled “Labor is Honored,” made by Gu Yizhou, a self-taught painter and one of the recipients of the first prize 12

From Cai Ruohong, Cai Ruohong Wenxuan (Selected Writings of Cai Ruohong), Beijing: People’s Fine Arts Publishing House, 1995, p. 675. 13 Renmin Ribao, November 27, 1949. Zou Yuejin and Chen Lüsheng discussed Xin Nianhua Movement in detail in their books respectively, see Zou Yuejin, Xin Zhongguo Meishu Shi (A History of Chinese Fine Arts: 1949–2000), Changsha: Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, 2002, pp. 18–34; Chen Lüsheng, Xin Zhongguo Meishu Tushi: 1949–1966 (An Illustrated Art History of the People’s Republic of China: 1949–1966), Beijing: China Youth Press, 2000, pp. 76–107.

of Xin Nianhua of 1950 awarded by the Ministry of Culture. It was set up as a paradigm for the Xin Nianhua in its humble style (Fig. 1.3). The picture portrayed a peasant couple awarded flowers and a silk banner, that reads “Labor of the Husband and Wife.” While the setting is supposedly in front of their house, it looked more like a theatrical set because the villagers are manipulated into different postures, holding the banner, congratulating the couple, or chatting, while “props” are selected carefully and painted to serve the central action. Bright primary colors were applied in a flat manner and outlined by black wire-like lines, characteristic of traditional New Year’s prints. The technique of figure rendering is less mature, even naive, showing traces of folk art. Still, the artist attempted to assimilate elements from oil painting, including complex planning of the composition, spatial relationship between figures, and between figures and the surrounding. The humility of the work lies not only in the immaturity of its realistic technique, but the charming naivete reflected in smiling faces and reserved postures of villagers. It should be noted that instead of using traditional colored woodcut printing, artists painted Xin Nianhua on rice paper or stiff Western-style drawing paper using Chinese ink and/or waterbased pigments, including Western-style gouache and traditional Chinese colors. When the work was complete, it could be selected by a jury to be included in an exhibition or by magazine editors for reproduction. The prints, reproduced on presses in modern printing factories rather than small handicrafts workshops, were not made in small numbers such as tens of copies, but in the tens of thousands or even millions instead.14 The sheer number of printed Xin Nianhua enhanced enormously its popularity, since most Chinese families, whether from urban area or the remote 14

In less than 1 year after the directive on xin nianhua was issued, around 400 xin nianhua by about 200 artists were created, then seven million reproductions were made and distributed nationwide in 1950. In 1952, the number of reproductions soared to 40 million, see Chen Lüsheng, Xin Zhongguo Meishu Tushi: 1949–1966 (An Illustrated Art History of the People’s Republic of China: 1949–1966), Beijing: China Youth Press, 2000, pp. 79–80.

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Xin Nianhua Campaign

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Fig. 1.3 Cover of Renmin Meishu, issue 2, special issue of nianhua, 1950, with Xin Nianhua “Labor is Honored,” painted by Gu Yizhou

countryside, could spend a few coins per sheet to own this new type of art for the Chinese New Year. They were usually available in officially franchised bookstore, Xinhua Shudian (new China bookstores), the only bookstores in China from the 1950s to 1980s, nationwide. Therefore, New Year’s prints became New Year’s picture. In contrast to the amateur quality of the “Labor is Honored,” the Xin Nianhua “Zhao Guilan at the Heroes Reception” (Fig. 1.4) created by Lin

Gang, a Master’s degree recipient and faculty member of Central Academy of Fine Arts, was a professional work of art. Awarded one of two first prizes for Xin Nianhua made in 1951 and 1952 by the Ministry of Culture, this painting depicts the meeting of Zhao Guilan (a woman model worker) with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai at the Huairen Hall, Zhongnanhai, the site of central government. The painting itself became a model for Xin Nianhua because of its politically positive

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1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

Fig. 1.4 Lin Gang, “Zhao Guilan at the Heroes Reception,” 1951, Xin Nianhua

subject and mature technique in composition, color, and its description of leaders and model workers in close proximity. More than one million reproductions were made of it and the original painting was sent to various exhibitions, including shows overseas.15 Although manipulated, again, as in a stage, the painting put forward the event in a relaxed and joyful environment with a festive air. Mao Zedong, Zhao Guilan and Zhou Enlai were the focus of composition, surrounded by groups of other leaders and model workers. Lanterns hung from the ceiling, showing an interior of imperial administration with magnificent decoration and furniture, yet enhanced by the solemn, but cordial

ambience.16 The technique of traditional Boundary-Line Painting (jiehua) was applied to the screens and lanterns. The linear drawing, similar to the technique of baimiao used in traditional gongbi painting, set a paradigm for future Xin Nianhua (Fig. 1.5). In this sense, the combination of Xin Nianhua and gongbi ink figure painting was within prospect. Shilu, an artist who demonstrated an individualistic tendency in his late years, enthusiastically painted the Xin Nianhua in the early 1950s. His original name was Feng Yaheng, but chose the first character of Shitao, an eccentric artist of the late Qing dynasty and first character of Luxun (pen name of Zhou Shuren), a left-wing writer

15

Chen Lüsheng, Xin Zhongguo Meishu Tushi: 1949–1966 (An Illustrated Art History of the People’s Republic of China: 1949–1966), Beijing: China Youth Press, 2000, p. 84.

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Huairen Hall was site of administrative center for late Qing government, Cixi Dowager in particular, and president Yuan Shikai of the Republic of China.

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Xin Nianhua Campaign

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Fig. 1.5 Linear sketch for the “Zhao Guilan at the Heroes Reception,” 1951

during the period of Republican China, to create a new, more meaningful name. In 1939 Shilu went to study and work in Yan’an, showing his individuality and eccentricity there, which brought him adversity in his later years.17 As an art cadre in the early 1950s, however, he passionately promoted the creation of Xin Nianhua which emphasized in his role of head of the Art Work Committee of the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region Culture Association in late 1940s.18 The Shilu’s ink art was criticized as “wild, grotesque, chaotic and black” in a letter published on Meishu, issue 4, 1962, by Meng Lanting, the alleged penname of Hua Xia. This letter led to two-year repudiation to the artist, the removal of his well-known painting “Fighting in Northern Shaanxi” (1959) from the Museum of Chinese Revolution in 1964 and spurred his mental illness during the Cultural Revolution. 18 See Julia Andrews, Painters and Politics in the People’s Republic of China: 1949–1979, Berkeley and Los 17

work “Happy Marriage” illustrated one aspect of people’s happy lives in new China (Fig. 1.6): a newly-wedded couple with their cattle and plough walk toward the field, led by an old peasant and surrounded by similarly happy children. Behind this group are older and younger generations who stay and chat in front of the house gate and enjoy the sunshine, a symbol of the leadership of the party and Chairman Mao. The gate is the same as it was during the wedding, while the big character “Double Happiness,” the sign of wedding in China, still hangs on the gate, flanked by the couplets which read “the great harvest under mutual assistance in farming” and “happiness of the whole family is due to the autonomy of marriage” respectively. These are not the words of the couple but are propaganda slogans used in rural Angeles: University pp. 105–106.

of

California

Press,

1994,

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1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

Fig. 1.6 Shilu, “Happy Marriage,” 1952, Xin Nianhua

areas in the 1950s.19 The composition is unique to nianhua because the artist applied an overview that divided the compositional components, creating a forward procession from middle-ground to foreground. No longer a stage set as seen in other nianhua, but rather it is a processional narrative, usually seen in Western oil painting. Though

The “autonomy of marriage” was a slogan in the antifeudalism campaign led by CCP in the 1940s to 1950s, which attempted to liberate youngsters, women in particular, from the tradition of arranged marriage, which was popular in rural areas at the time. 19

somewhat gaudy, the picture is filled with festival air. The Xin Nianhua Campaign was an effort of the new art administration to transform a type of popular folk art into a means for glorification of happy life and the new leadership of the nation. It was a success in terms of art making and its reception. Although the campaign ended in around 1953, the making of Xin Nianhua continued until the 1990s. Mao Zedong and the art officials found it easy to transform this traditional work into a special type of art for the purposes of ideological propaganda. Because of

1.3

Remolding of Guohua: Political Messages and Chiaroscuro

its popularity and association with better life that people wish for every Chinese New Year, it was the perfect vehicle to remind people that the party would make this possible. It could either celebrate their current life or inspire their imagination and whet their anticipation for future wellbeing, creating a collective awareness that could become a perfect basis for utopian ideology. Xin Nianhua had another important feature that was good for propaganda purpose because it comes once a year. The government could use it as an annual stimulation for people to show their gratitude to the Party that brought them happiness. In more than four decades, Xin Nianhua has matured and become equivalent to oil and ink painting, although the basis of utopian ideology was greatly undermined in the 1980s and 1990s. It even had impact on ink painting, especially gongbi figure painting, making it difficult in many cases to differentiate a gongbi figure painting from a Xin Nianhua, especially when the subject is both festive and jubilant.

1.3

Remolding of Guohua: Political Messages and Chiaroscuro

The Xin Nianhua Campaign continued and completed the remolding of nianhua, but it could not meet all the aesthetic and ideological needs of new China because it was still folk art and considered a part of popular culture. Ink art, in contrast, retained its position of high art in Chinese culture at the beginning of the People’s Republic. While the economic infrastructure had changed, the superstructure should then change and catch up according Marxist theory. So traditional ink art needed to be remolded to serve the new China. Guohua (national painting) or zhongguo hua (Chinese painting) were terms created to designate traditional ink painting in the context that Western painting, oil painting in particular, was introduced systematically into China around the turn of twentieth century. To differentiate ink painting from oil painting, two terms were invented, zhongguo hua and xiyang hua, meaning Chinese painting and Western painting

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respectively. Later, guohua is called to accord with guoxue (national scholarship), guoyue (national music), guoju (national opera), and guoshu (national martial arts), etc. which could be seen as a proclamation of identity of Chinese culture to react to the great impact of Western culture. After 1949 guohua had been remolded in both content and form. Huaniao (flowers-and-birds) and shanshui (mountains-and-waters) surrendered their domination to renwu (figures), a subject matter that had lost its importance in literati painting in the Ming and Qing dynasties (from fourteenth century to early twentieth century).20 The reason renwu regained its dominant position lies in the new ideological requirement. To propagate political ideas, figure painting with narratives and realistic depictions is the most effective means for appealing the masses, including those who were illiterates, while huaniao and shanshui carried too much literati sentiment and were less narrative, making their recession from mainstream art understandable and inevitable. In terms of technique, the linear style of renwu in traditional art became less cogent, and artists found that chiaroscuro from European art could be used on rice paper which, in turn, opened up a new approach for ink painting. The mixture of chiaroscuro and ink renwu began in the late nineteenth century in the art of Ren Xiong, Ren Bonian and Wu Changshuo, among others. It further developed in the first half of twentieth century, in paintings by Xu Beihong and Jiang Zhaohe. However, the comprehensive integration of chiaroscuro into ink renwu was not systemized nor institutionalized until the 1950s when the way of drawing that based on the chiaroscuro became part of basic skills training for artists, even overriding the traditional skill of baimiao, linear drawing in Chinese brush. In this way it became the basis for creation of ink renwu. 20

The shanshui, huaniao and renwu, terms of subjects of ink painting, carry their unique aesthetic, artistic meaning and significance, thus are used in their form of pinyin in this book, or literally translated, as mountains-and-waters (instead of landscape), flowers-and-birds (neither birdsand-flowers since hua means flowers and niao, birds, nor still life), and figures.

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The Chistyakov Drawing Pedagogy that Maksimov, a Soviet painter (will be discussed in detail in the Sect. 1.4, “Oil Painting: Humble Realism, Socialist Realism and Nationalization”), brought into China reinforced the trend of this integration and quickly swept all traditional types of art in China, including guohua.21 In fact, before the Maksimov opened his workshop in 1955, the curriculum designed mainly by Xu Beihong, the president of CAFA in the early 1950s, already included drawing with chiaroscuro. Xu’s famous idea, “drawing is the basis for all plastic arts,” became the leading principle of the curriculum in nearly all art schools in China. The drawing here refers to the one using chiaroscuro. Therefore, Chistyakov Drawing Pedagogy implemented or enhanced this 21

Pavel Chistyakov (1832–1919) was a Russian painter and art educator. His art-pedagogical system, pedagogy of drawing in particular, follows a series of strict phases through which a student can make scientifically accurate drawings. With the principles of “three planes and five tonalities,” referring to black, white and grey planes, and tonalities of highlight, light, boundary between dark and light, dark and reflection, he believed that every object in the natural world under natural light should have these planes and tonalities. An art student should use pencil to render plaster cubes, cones, spheres to busts, then still life, and finally living models from head, half-length to fulllength formats. Every drawing takes several hours, days, weeks even months to complete, and all are basics for further representation and creation. It is a systematic and scientific method of education of the plastic arts. However, when this methodology was enthroned as the only scheme of art education, its impact on Chinese art education was not only tremendous but also disastrous. Under the guidance of the art administration, this method became the only basis of all work types in art schools, including oil painting, guohua, printmaking, sculpture, mural, and even craft arts. It eliminated any other method of drawing, including those focusing on outlining or linear form, seen especially in traditional guohua, e.g. baimiao, instead of building a three-dimensional illusion. It reinforced the pedagogy set by Xu Beihong who advocated, with his power, the principle of art education, “drawing is the basis for all plastic art,” and led it towards an even narrower approach. To enter art academies, students needed to be trained to draw under this strict method with no exception in China, which even generated a huge industry of training for preparation for the art-academy-examination because of the dominating principle of art education since the 1990s. Also see Julia Andrews, Painters and Politics in the People’s Republic of China: 1949–1979, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994, p. 136.

1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

principle. Guohua students of art academies, as with any student who studied other media, such as oil painting, graphic arts, and sculpture, needed to take strict training in drawing with chiaroscuro and linear drawing. Both methods included nude figure drawing, to ensure guohua students being able to paint renwu with anatomical accuracy and correct chiaroscuro. However, the introduction and integration of chiaroscuro, or the Chistyakov Drawing Pedagogy more specifically, was not a true artistic evolution in the context of the 1950s. Instead, it served a political goal, remolding the guohua in order to better carry official ideological messages. Guohua or ink painting had a history of more than one thousand years. Its elitist status, first for imperial administration and royal families then for scholar-bureaucrat (shidafu), had been shaken by the turn of the twentieth century, when Urban Literati painters, such as Ren Xiong, Ren Xun, Ren Bonian and Wu Changshuo, tended to combine literati art with urbanites or merchants’ taste in order to meet the need of art market. Yet, guohua had never been an aesthetic object of lower class, or peasants, workers, and soldiers, according to Mao Zedong’s definition. Therefore, the “remolding of guohua” (guohua gaizao) was meant to transform this type of work from an elitist affair into a form that is accessible to and welcomed by the majority of Chinese populace, making it appeal to the maximum number of people. Cai Ruohong, again, played a critical role in the remolding of guohua. As early as May 1949, he asserted that “many guohua painters found the imperative necessity of remolding of guohua, so that it can meet, as other arts, the need of broad masses, in order to reach the goal of serving the people.”22 In the initial issue of Renmin Meishu (1950), a series of articles on remolding of guohua by Li Keran, Li Hua, Ye Qianyu, celebrated artists, and Hong Yiran, a well-known theorist, was published. The writers analyzed traditional guohua from the 22 Cai Ruohong, “Guanyu Guohua Gaige Wenti—Kanle Xin Guohua Yuzhan Yihou” (On the Issue of Remolding of Guohua—after Visiting the Preview of New Guohua Exhibition), People’s Daily, May 22, 1949.

1.3

Remolding of Guohua: Political Messages and Chiaroscuro

perspective of class theory and argued that its decline accorded with the decline of feudal society in the Qing Dynasty, reflected in literati painting. While the reform of guohua in modern times concentrated on formalist aspects, with the importation of chiaroscuro and scientific anatomy, it didn’t touch the essential, that is, artists must get rid of literati ideology and sentiments. Then they would be ready to remold artists’ ideas and thoughts to match up with Mao Zedong’s thoughts of art. Without ideological remolding, the remolding of guohua would be incomplete, if not impossible.23 One of CCP’s inventions in cultural field in the early 1950s was to launch an all-round campaign, using its full account institutional resources, to expedite its cultural and ideological goals. A brief chronology shows intensity of this movement, 1949: A discussion on guohua on Renmin Ribao, April 1949; the Exhibition of New Guohua, featured more than eighty artists, was held in Zhongshan Park, Beijing, in April. 1950: A series of articles on remolding of guohua on Renmin Meishu, the initiative issue, 1950. 1953: Ai Qing, a poet, spoke at the Shanghai Art Workers Political Study Group on March 27 and defined “new guohua” as the one with “new contents and new forms,” and the text of the speech, “On Chinese Painting,” was published on Wenyibao, no.15, 195324; Beijing Guohua Study Society organized guohua sketch trips in suburban Beijing; The First National Guohua Exhibition, featured 245 paintings by more than 200 painters, was held in Beijing from September 16 to October 10, 1953. 1954: CAA Committee of Creation organized guohua sketch trips to Mount Huang, Anhui and Mount Fuchun, Zhejiang; a roundtable discussion on “Guohua Sketch Trip to Mount

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Huang,” organized by CAA Guohua Section, was held in Beijing on June 9; Wang Xun’s article “My Opinions on Current Creation of Guohua” on Meishu, issue 8, 1954. 1955: New guohua appeared on the Second National Art Exhibition in Beijing, in March; Cai Ruohong, vice-Chairman of CAA, gave the keynote speech on the topic of creation of guohua at the first CAA Council meeting in May, and the text of speech, “On the Development of Guohua Creation,” was published on Meishu, issue 6; Zhou Yang, the deputy director of Propaganda Department of CCP and vice minister of Ministry of Culture, gave a speech to grant an official confirmation of remolding of guohua at the meeting, and the text of speech, entitled “My Opinions on Our Work in Art,” was published on Meishu, issue 7. 1955–1956: Responses to Wang Xun’s article that led to tens of articles on the issue of guohua heritage scattered in many issues of Meishu from 1955 to 1956. 1956: The Third Exhibition of the Beijing Guohua Study Society was held, featured about 270 pieces; The Second National Guohua Exhibition with more than 900 paintings was held in Beijing; a series of articles responding to Ai Qing’s “On Chinese Painting” was published on Wenyibao, issues 11–12.25 The effect of this intensive promotion was tremendous. An entirely new appearance of guohua replaced the traditional ink painting of figures, mountains-and-waters and flowers-andbirds. Yang Zhiguang was one of the artists who explored and practiced new ink renwu in the 1950s. “The First Time in My Life” (Fig. 1.7) reflected what he studied and achieved in this approach. Yang Zhiguang graduated from CAFA and then moved back to his home province,

23

See Renmin Meishu, issue 1, 1950, pp. 35–49. Julia Andrews translated the speech, see Painters and Politics in the People’s Republic of China: 1949–1979, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994, pp. 112–118. 24

25 Excerpted from Chen Lüsheng, Xin Zhongguo Meishu Tushi: 1949–1966 (An Illustrated Art History of the People’s Republic of China: 1949–1966), Beijing: China Youth Press, 2000, pp. 108–135.

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Fig. 1.7 Yang Zhiguang, “The First Time in My Life,” 1954, ink and color on paper, 63  101 cm

Guangdong. Here an elderly countrywoman holds her “Voter’s Registration Card,” the first one in her life, with smile on her face and happiness in her heart. In the early 1950s, the Communists developed as a party holding the banner of “democracy” during the Republican period and operated elections in rural areas. The countrywoman opens her handkerchief wrap and enjoys her treasure, an election certificate, was depicted with a skilled combination of western realistic technique and Chinese traditional brushwork. With obviously strict training in figure drawing with anatomic accuracy and chiaroscuro, the protagonist was depicted with convincing facial structure and expression. Her smile, wrinkles, highlight and dark of her head were represented precisely and her joyful mood was conveyed. Her cotton-padded clothes were “written” in simple, spontaneous, but

1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

precise, calligraphic strokes, typical Chinese elements, with the addition to washes for convincing shade and texture. The artist tried to paint an ideologically appealing work while retaining and even developing traditional methods of brushwork and inking. Yang Zhiguang’s “The First Time in My Life” recollects “Refugees” (Fig. 1.8) by Jiang Zhaohe with their technique not seen in traditional ink renwu. While Jiang Zhaohe applied his skill in drawing of chiaroscuro and anatomy into his masterpiece with great humanitarian spirit, he inherited the tradition founded by urban literati artists during late nineteenth century, especially Ren Xiong and Ren Bonian. Ren Bonian was a pioneer who experimented with western painting skills in ink art, learned at the Tushanwan Art Workshop, Shanghai, where he was a student for a short time. Tushanwan Art Workshop, run by missionaries, taught Chinese orphans to paint Christian scenes, and so became the first workshop that brought western-style art and its pedagogy into China. The hanging scroll “In the Cool Shade of the Banana Tree” by Ren Bonian was an excellent example of this experimentation (Fig. 1.9). The sitter, Wu Changshuo, was rendered in a highly realistic manner, his body done with anatomical precision complemented by the spontaneous brushwork of his slacks and the plant behind. The volume of body, his head and top torso, were built up with a subtle, but precise application of chiaroscuro, unprecedented in the history of Chinese ink painting. About a half century later, Jiang Zhaohe inherited the new tradition of ink painting with chiaroscuro, also benefited from his masterful technique in western-manner drawing (he worked as professor of drawing for two years at the Shanghai School of Fine Arts). Using less volume than Ren Bonian’s piece, the focus here was given to the shabby dress and the exhausted, sick, or dying appearance of the desperate refugees. However, the great humanitarian compassion reflected in “Refugees” would be replaced by lenient amiability, seen in his “Read Newspaper for Grandpa,” in the 1950s (Fig. 1.10). This time, the technique in chiaroscuro and anatomy, combined with spontaneous but accurate brushwork,

1.3

Remolding of Guohua: Political Messages and Chiaroscuro

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Fig. 1.8 Jiang Zhaohe, “Refugees” (detail), 1943, ink and color on paper, c. 200  2600 cm, National Art Museum of China

became more mature as the subject was politically safe. It showed a happy, joyful life in the new China, with little trace of suffering or agony, although natural and man-made calamities were about to come.26 Li Qi, an ink painter, became known for his portraits of leaders in the new China. He painted Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Peng Dehuai, Song Qingling, Jiang Zemin—all

26 Three-Year Great Famine occurred from 1958 to 1961, and death toll reached 15 million according to the government statistics. Some historians believe 30 million would be the number closest to the fact, see Nicolas Lardy's essay, “The Chinese Economy under Stress, 1958–1965,” in Roderick MacFarquhar and John K. Fairbank edited, The Cambridge History of China, Volume 14, “The People’s Republic, Part 1: The Emergence of Revolutionary China, 1949–1965,” Cambridge University Press, 1987, pp. 371–372. Frank Dikötter, a Dutch historian who specializes in modern China, believed there were at least 45 million Chinese died in the calamity, see Wikipedia entry “Great Chinese Famine at https://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Great_Chinese_Famine, available on May 5, 2019.

communist leaders, as well as Sun Zhongshan, father of the Republic of China, and cultural figures, such as Lu Xun, Li Keran and Xu Beihong. The painting “Chairman Walking across the Nation” (Fig. 1.11) was one of the most popular Mao portraits done in ink. In traditional, dynastic court portraiture, emperors were also shown with solemnity and majesty to create a sense of authority. Mao Zedong, however, was eulogized as a “people’s leader,” and so amiability and geniality became new criterion for the portraiture of new Chinese leaders, and in this Li Qi’s work was a great success. Although looking relaxed, every detail is planned with care, a balance that required great effort and skill. This is because the artist needed to depict the leader as authoritative and amicable at the same time. In 1960, Mao had not yet been deified as in the Cultural Revolution, so his simple and even humble features were popularized in media to the Chinese people. It is alleged that Mao “walked” across the nation to investigate the

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Fig. 1.9 Ren Bonian, “In the Cool Shade of the Banana Tree,” 1888, ink and color on paper, 129  58.9 cm, Zhejiang Provincial Museum, Hangzhou

economic and political situation in this period, shown here. Using a low vantage point of view, Mao looks lofty, while his simple white shirt, loose trousers, especially the straw hat in his hand (popular in the countryside of southern China), all show his apparently placid and humble characteristics, with a charisma that appealled to millions of Chinese. The realistic depiction of figure’s head and hands combined with carefully manipulated brush strokes provided the portrait with a convincing three-dimensional representation while retaining its Chinese identity. People were always attracted by its visual and psychological proximity to the viewers, as seen on

1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

printed reproductions which were hung on the wall of millions of Chinese families in the 1960s. In painting like this, Chinese artists created a mature hybrid of two different art heritages with confidence. In terms of technique, they matched the achievement of their predecessors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although shanshui lost its primary role in ink painting, it was remolded like figure painting, enabling this traditional subject to serve ideological needs too, making it an important subject of guohua. One of the most well-known and paradigmatic works was “Such is the Beauty of Our Rivers and Mountains” (Fig. 1.12), a work by Fu Baoshi and Guan Shanyue. A verse of Mao’s poem, “Ode to Snow,” written in 1936, was the theme represented here. What Mao Zedong promoted in art and literature, combination of revolutionary romanticism and revolutionary realism, also associated with shanshui after 1949. In Chinese ink painting, literati painting in particular, poetry played an integral role in shanshui, where the artist conveys the poetic significance through their depiction of mountains and waters. Mao’s poetry was full of ideological messages and sentiments of revolutionary romanticism, so it provided artists with a natural inspiration for creation of new shanshui. A huge panorama, this painting measured 650 x 900 cm, and commissioned for The Great Hall of the People, Beijing. It was completed in only two weeks. The task was very difficult because the two artists did not know how to capture the essence of the poem in the beginning and their first draft was unsatisfactory. Advised by the Foreign Minister Chen Yi, a poet-general, they focused on the beauty of the fatherland by including scenes from the south and the north of China, the full length of the Yellow River, and the four seasons, mixing geography and seasons. By doing so, it represented the magnificence of China’s landscape, as expressed in the poem.27 This is by no Stanza one, the first half of the poem, reads, “North now, survey the national scene, thousands of li locked fast in ice, 10,000 li a whirl of snow. Toward the Long Wall (should be “Great Wall,”—Zhou Yan) appears, within, beyond,

27

1.3

Remolding of Guohua: Political Messages and Chiaroscuro

19

Fig. 1.10 Jiang Zhaohe, “Read Newspaper for Grandpa,” 1956, ink and color on paper, 97  89 cm

means a realistic landscape nor was it a literati shanshui, although western chiaroscuro and Chinese traditional pingyuan (level distance) perspective were applied. While Fu Baoshi was mainly responsible for the composition, Guan Shanyue painted most of the excellent details with his prominent brushwork and colorwork. The focus of painting was the rising sun at the top right, a symbol of CCP or Mao Zedong. Without it, this piece was nothing but an ink panorama. Finally, Mao himself inscribed it with the phrase from the poem, “jiangshan ruci duojiao,” the title and his endorsement of the

only more wild and shapeless blur, great rivers seem, upstream or down, bereft of their torrential flow. The mountains, silver snakes that dance, plateaus, wax elephants that gallop, by such gold thrust might wish to tempt the Lord of Heaven’s approval. But sure of sun-clear days, will I see red flowing over underlying white, evoking all-entrancing glow.” Translated by Jeremy Ingalls, see his Dragon in Ambush: The Art of War in the Poems of Mao Zedong, Lexington Books, 2013.

work. It was enlarged, copied, and made into the completed work.28 Shanshui was remolded not only to support a revolutionary poetic landscape, but also landscape featuring socialist construction and revolutionary activities. In this way, the natural scenery was humanized, and nature and culture were blended into a visually spectacular, but artistically arbitrary manner. Such socialist/revolutionary shanshui was the result of ideology-oriented culture with an obvious stamp of the times. In the same year as Fu Baoshi and Guan Shanyue created their “Such is the Beauty of Our Rivers and Mountains,” Shilu painted his “Fighting in Northern Shaanxi,” a painting that is difficult to classify within traditional categories (Fig. 1.13). Compositionally, it is a shanshui, 28 For detailed discussion of collaboration in painting the “Such is the Beauty of Our Rivers and Mountains,” see Julia Andrews, Painters and Politics in the People’s Republic of China: 1949–1979, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994, pp. 229–232.

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Fig. 1.11 Li Qi, “Chairman Walking across the Nation,” 1960, ink & color on paper, 196.8  117.5 cm

though the subject is renwu, a unique blending of the two types of ink painting. Its theme is that Mao Zedong, along with thousands of red army soldiers, arrived Yan’an, Shaanxi, after the Long March, in 1936. From there he became the commander who led the guerrilla war against Japanese invasion in rural northern China and then the Civil War against Nationalist troops. The composition recollects literati painting where a scholar or gentry-official sits and meditates in front of waterfall or a mountain, but the literati figure here was replaced by a communist leader and the meditative theme was taken over by strategic foresight. The pingyuan perspective or level distance was applied providing a vast bird-eye’s view in which the grandeur of north China rocky ridges functions as a stage for the leader’s contemplation of strategy. The solid form was

1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

rendered spectacularly through layered rhythmic brushwork. The cunfa or texture methods seen here were neither the mannerist fupi cun or ax-cut nor the stylistic pima cun or hemp-fiber, but a descriptive, representative strokes which rendered the mountain structure naturalistically. In contrast to the relationship between the small literati figures and the grand environment in traditional literati painting, here humans and nature were equal within a harmonious relationship. The Communist leader dominates the natural setting, or, actually, the natural setting simply provides a stage for a strategic mastermind. Qian Songyan was representative of artists who painted the socialist/revolutionary shanshui. Born in Yixing, Jiangsu, hometown of Xu Beihong, Qian became an artist through a different approach. Basically self-taught, he only had five years education in a teacher’s school. In his eighty-six years of life, he strove to reform shanshui during the turbulent period. The “Red Cliff” (Fig. 1.14) and “Rice Fields in Changshu, Jiangsu” (Fig. 1.15), two of his most well-known new shanshui, were pieces that combined the traditional technique, a new perspective, and, most importantly, an ideological message presented in a harmonious manner. The “Red Cliff” is imbued with revolutionary romanticism and realism. The Red Cliff, located in Sichuan, was one of so-called “revolutionary sacred sites,” where the CCP Southern Bureau and the Office of the Eighth Route Army were located during the Anti-Japanese war. The Red Cliff’s name was correlated with the color red, the chromatic symbol of revolution in communist ideology. The location actually contains little real red color in terms of topography and vegetation, as seen in the photo (Fig. 1.16), but Qian Songyan painted this sacred place, imaginatively and romantically, in bright red color, which met collective awareness of communists and ordinary Chinese during the Mao era; it was a psychological rather than a naturalistic truth. Therefore, this coloration was hardly arbitrary to the audience of the time. Qian Songyan created his unique cunfa, texture method, with enclosed square or rectangular strokes that endow the mountain and rocks with structural solidity and a heavy sense of

1.3

Remolding of Guohua: Political Messages and Chiaroscuro

21

Fig. 1.12 Fu Baoshi & Guan Shanyue, “Such is the Beauty of Our Rivers and Mountains,” 1959, ink & color on paper, 650  900 cm, the Great Hall of the People, Beijing

layers. This cunfa became his trademark, especially later when it had a special effect generated by his aged, shivering arm and hand. Compositionally, the artist put the main building on the top of the cliff. It was surrounded by a tree with huge crown, banyan likely, along with a mass of banana trees, accessed by steep rock stairs leading to the mountain top, all of which served the purpose of building a lofty revolutionary monument. The “Rice Fields in Changshu, Jiangsu” conveyed the artist’s affection for his homeland. The ideological message here is integrated into depiction of pingyuan perspective or level distance scenery of Jiangnan (southern China, especially Yangtze River delta area). The socialist countryside was one of major subjects for new shanshui, in which audiences usually saw landscape with features of “socialist construction,” namely, highvoltage poles, tractors, trucks, trains, etc. While Qian Songyan did not paint any of these features, he still created a painting full of the energy and

vitality of “socialist construction.” Painting large, plain rice fields is not easy, but the artist applied compositional divisions by leaving the paper blank for rivers, brooks, and ponds. Clusters of houses in foreground and sailing boats in front and in the distance, indicate a busy, energetic country life. The shivering brushwork, dotted ink strokes, were the artist’s signature ink method and applied to the rice fields. The contrast of dark and light inking created an aerial perspective that stretched the vast rice fields from foreground to the distant horizon. Amazingly, viewers could feel the shining light on the waters in foreground, seemingly reflection of skylight, generated by the excellent treatment of the tonal contrast of the painted fields, trees, shores, and blank areas. Qian Songyan became a master of new shanshui of the 1960s and 1970s with his perfect implementation of revolutionary romanticism and creative application of ink tradition, setting a paradigm for the new shanshui in this period.

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1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

Fig. 1.13 Shilu, “Fighting in Northern Shaanxi,” 1959, ink and color on paper, 238  216 cm, Museum of the Chinese Revolution, now National Museum of China, Beijing

The remolding of guohua was a success, because this traditional subject was transformed into a type that served the ideological goal perfectly. As we claimed above, ‘remolding of guohua’ was meant to transform this type of work from an elitist affair into a form that is accessible to and welcomed by the majority of Chinese populace, making it appeal to the maximum number of people” (p. 14). Guohua during the first seventeen years of the PRC had left the ivory tower and entered the public sphere when Li Qi’s “Chairman Walking across the Nation” was hung on the walls of so many Chinese homes and Qian Songyan’s apparently arbitrary “Red Cliff” was accepted by the public with little hesitation. It became, as Mao Zedong said, “Chinese style and spirit which the common people of China love,” where ordinary Chinese citizen instead of the literati (a social stratum which

petered out in new China29) was its subject—a critical change in the history of Chinese ink art.

1.4

Oil Painting: Humble Realism, Socialist Realism and Nationalization

Oil painting as an art type in China went through phases from its introduction in the nineteenth century and development in the early twentieth 29 In fact, literati as a social stratum of those who created and consumed literati art had changed in modern Chinese history, when urban literati, consisting of educated businessmen, entrepreneurs, and intellectuals, gradually replaced the traditional scholar-bureaucrat literati in late Qing Dynasty. This new literati stratum, however, would be suppressed, persecuted, and eventually disintegrated in the 1950s.

1.4

Oil Painting: Humble Realism, Socialist Realism and Nationalization

23

Fig. 1.14 Qian Songyan, “Red Cliff,” 1960, ink and color on paper, 103.8  81.2 cm, collection of National Art Museum of China

century. Its impact on China’s art, however, was relatively insignificant before the 1950s. There were only a handful of oil painters in the Republican period and some of these moved back to ink painting or simply painted in both media, including the celebrated Xu Beihong, Liu Haisu, Lin Fengmian, and Ding Yanyong. After 1949, oil painting would develop as a major art type because it met the needs of the new ideology and propaganda programs. Its descriptive and narrative features were what traditional ink painting might lack. Interestingly, when oil painting became popular in the West during the fifteenth

century, it adorned churches and cathedrals; in China after 1949, it also adorned temples, but ideological ones, including state-run museums of the revolution, military, and history. While the former transformed biblical stories into accessible imagery, the latter narrated and celebrated revolutionary and historical activities in an imported medium. The establishment of the legitimacy of the new leadership needed not only law, ideology, and social structure, but also a public culture, including art, by which the party could glorify its history, educate its people, and establish its moral

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1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

Fig. 1.15 Qian Songyan, “Rice Fields in Changshu, Jiangsu,” 1963, ink and color on paper, 53  36 cm, collection of National Art Museum of China

and political legality. When the official ideology was responsible for the content of such glorification, the duty of artists was to find a form to visualize the content, or “contents decide form, and form serves contents.” There were two major themes which were visualized: portraying revolutionary leaders, Mao Zedong in particular, and the representation of revolutionary history. As oil painters continued in the tradition founded in the first half of twentieth century, there was a humbleness to the style and an immaturity in terms of technique characteristic to oil painting in the early years of new China. This continued until the systematic introduction of Soviet Socialist Realism in the middle of the 1950s.

The continuation of newly founded oil tradition of the twentieth century can be seen in Luo Gongliu’s “Tunnel Warfare,” painted in 1951. A history painting, it pays homage to the people who fought against the Japanese invasion in rural areas using guerrilla warfare under the lead of the Communists (Fig. 1.17). While the Nationalist army confronted the invaders on many fronts, the aforementioned troops and guerrilla fighters battled the enemy in occupied, rural areas. The peasant-combatants shown by Luo Gongliu, one of the founders and a faculty member of the CAFA, were ready for a battle. In northern China, villagers dug tunnels underground to connect dwellings. The earth there was hard and dry, and they were able to do this

1.4

Oil Painting: Humble Realism, Socialist Realism and Nationalization

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Fig. 1.16 Anonymous, Red Cliff, Sichuan, the site of the CCP Southern Bureau and the Office of the Eighth Route Army in 1930s and 1940s

even when digging deeply. Here villagers hid out during mopping-up operations by the Japanese troops. Later, in some areas the tunnels were used by guerrillas to store weapons and ammunition. Most importantly, they served as a network that allowed them to move around underground and attack the invaders. In the painting, a group of peasant combatants comes out of a tunnel, seemingly into a storage room or stable of a residence and stand ready for the upcoming battle. Interestingly, the leader is a woman who is posited in the center of composition and highlighted by the artist, a position not unlike the one that was held by the Goddess of Liberty in Delacroix’s “Liberty Leads the People,” though it is different from Delacroix’s painting in terms of subject, resistance vs. revolution. That all eyes are directed to the right, reveals the location of

possible intruders, and creates a charged atmosphere prior to a fierce battle. Without much of an ideological message, this painting recorded a part of the history of the resistance in a realistic manner, remembered by generations of ordinary Chinese. The figures, the costumes, the environment, and the weapons—all are simple and characteristically rendered with a simple oil technique of loose brushwork and easy-to-read spatial relationships between figures, typical of the down-to-earth style of Humble Realism. The most famous oil painting that celebrated the establishment of new China under the leadership of Communist Party was Dong Xiwen’s “Founding Ceremony of the People’s Republic of China” (Fig. 1.18). This historical oil painting with its important political subject brought the artist great fame. Dong Xiwen, from Shaoxing,

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1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

Fig. 1.17 Luo Gongliu, “Tunnel Warfare,” 1951, oil on canvas, 140  169 cm, collection of National Museum of China

Fig. 1.18 Dong Xiwen, “Founding Ceremony of the People’s Republic of China,” 1952–1953, oil on canvas, 230  405 cm, poster version of 1954, collection of National Museum of China

Zhejiang, studied at the Hangzhou Academy of Art under the direction of Lin Fengmian and Pan Tianshou from 1934 to 1937. From 1943 to 1944,

he went to Dunhuang with his wife and researched and copied the ancient murals, a journey that significantly influenced his art. He then

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Oil Painting: Humble Realism, Socialist Realism and Nationalization

27

Fig. 1.19 “Sukhavati” (or “Western Paradise”), detail, Tang dynasty, south wall, cave 172, Dunhuang, Gansu, China

worked as professor at the CAFA from 1946 (Beijing Academy of Art then) and joined the Communist Party in 1949. The painting was a government commission, not unusual in the 1950s. This large-scale (230  405 cm) painting was completed by the artist with great passion and enthusiasm within 2 months. Mao Zedong was the central figure in the composition, as he was in new China. Dong Xiwen composed it as a panorama that covered party leaders on the rostrum of Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) and the masses crowding into the Tiananmen Square. The sky was blue and sunshine bright. It was an exciting moment when Mao Zedong declared that “The People’s Republic of China is established, and Chinese people stand up from now on.” This ceremony was held in the front gate of Forbidden City, which transformed an architectural symbol of feudal dynasties into a national emblem of the People’s Republic. The chairman, though not enthroned, was crowned in this ceremony. Dong

Xiwen visually removed at least one column and one lantern to create an open space where Mao’s view wouldn’t be blocked and so the masses on the square could be displayed with little impediment. To emphasize the atmosphere of solemnity as well as its jubilation, the artist applied brilliant primary colors, red, blue, and yellow, in the painting. These colors were traditionally used in state or domestic rituals, traditional nianhua, and in the ancient murals at Dunhuang (Fig. 1.19). It is believed that when Mao Zedong saw this painting, he was very pleased. To popularize this work two million prints were made in the first run, which quickly sold out. It appeared in various pictorials, catalogs, and even textbooks. Unfortunately, its fate was miserable. When Gao Gang and Liu Shaoqi (the first and fifth on the first row of leaders behind Mao, from right to left), two party leaders, were expelled from CCP in 1954 and 1966 respectively, after their loss in fierce power struggle, their images were removed from the painting,

28

the former in late 1950s, and the latter, 1972.30 The first removal was executed by Dong Xiwen himself, who followed orders from the authorities. Because Dong Xiwen passed away, the second task was completed by other artists. Eventually, the original appearance of the painting was restored in the 1980s. The history of this painting became an epitome of thirty-year brutal power struggle under mainstream ideology, and so the history painting became part of history. The humble, indigenous features in this history painting were composed of use of brilliant primary colors and the magnificent, centralized composition that could be associated with Dunhuang Tang-Dynasty murals, and even the jubilant atmosphere of the festival, reflecting on traditional nianhua. In general, it is those Chinese elements that made the painting part of the vernacular, and so was accepted by the authorities as well as most of the ordinary Chinese. This Humble Realism in the early years of the People’s Republic gave way to Socialist Realism, imported from the Soviet Union, in the mid-1950s. The importation was implemented in two ways: students studying in the Soviet Union and learning in workshops directed by Russian artists in China, both leading to China’s own version of Socialist Realism. In the early 1950s, China’s art education focused on nianhua, guohua, and lianhuanhua (pictorial storybook), types of artwork popular with and understandable by the general public. When the educational authority realized that education, including art education, needed to be systematized and institutionalized for the implementation of party’s ideology, oil painting was emphasized and became the major type taught as guohua in the art academies. Disconnected from the West in terms of economy, politics and culture, China appealed to Soviet Union, the “Big Brother” in 30 In fact, they were “removed” physically from new China: Gao Gang committed suicide on August 17, 1954 after being fiercely criticized by the party, while Liu Shaoqi was persecuted in the Cultural Revolution and tortured to death on November 12, 1969. Ironically, Liu Shaoqi was one of the persons who are responsible for persecution of Gao Gang, and he suffered same fate 15 years later.

1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

Fig. 1.20 Konstantin Maksimov, “Portrait of Qi Baishi,” 1956, oil on canvas

the north, who shared some of their ideology, economy and culture. Students were selected based on their party credentials, qualified political background as well as talent in painting, and sent to the Soviet Union to study at the Repin Art Academy in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). These students included Li Tianxiang, Luo Gongliu, Wu Biduan, Lin Gang, Quan Shanshi, Deng Shu, Xiao Feng, and Guo Shaogang, all of which became influential figures in China’s cultural life after they returned. Chinese cultural delegations, too, which consisted of artists and art administrators from Beijing, visited the Soviet Union to exchange ideas and to gain experience in how to implement ideological revolution. Perhaps the most effective and memorable endeavor in this area was the Maksimov Workshop, held from 1955 to 1956. Arrived in Beijing on February 19, 1955, Konstantin Maksimov, a Soviet portrait painter (Fig. 1.20), was welcomed warmly by the artists and students of CAFA, as Jiang Feng, the president of CAFA, addressed in the welcome ceremony, “Comrade Maksimov’s arrival in China enables us to directly and systematically study the advanced artistic experience of the USSR. We believe that under Maksimov’s direction our art education and our training of oil painting teachers will bring forth extraordinary important and valuable contributions.”31 Quoted from Jiang Feng, “Huanying Sulian Youhua Dashi Makeximofu” (Welcoming Soviet’s Oil Painting Master K. M. Maksimov), Meishu, Beijing, 1955, issue 3.

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Oil Painting: Humble Realism, Socialist Realism and Nationalization

Maksimov indeed contributed a great deal to China’s art education, not only in terms of technique and methodology of Socialist Realism, but also in restructuring the system of China’s art education, which would impact generations to come. He became a cultural hero to the older generation of oil painters in China. The two-year post-graduate program trained about twenty students, selected under fierce competition nationwide. Maksimov was a very responsible and passionate art educator. In front of his talented and politically reliable students, he demonstrated the Soviet academician technique. He also introduced the “Chistyakov Drawing Pedagogy,” which continues to be taught in China’s art schools even today.32 This is a systematic and scientific method of teaching students how to render three-dimensional art. However, when this method became the only scheme of art education, its impact on Chinese art education is not only tremendous, but also disastrous. Under the guidance of the art administrators, this method became basis of all work types in all art schools, including oil painting, guohua, printmaking, sculpture, murals, and even craft arts. It eliminated any other methods of drawing, including baimiao that focuses on outlining or linear form in traditional ink art instead building a threedimensional illusion. It reinforced the pedagogy generated mainly by Xu Beihong who advocated, with his power, the principle of art education, “the (exclusive) drawing is the basis for all plastic art,” and led it towards an even narrower approach. The students of Maksimov’s workshop, not surprisingly, became a major force in Chinese oil painting from the 1950s to 1980s, because of their art talents on the one hand, and because of their direct connection with authentic Socialist Realist painter and educator on the other.33 Zhan 32

Detailed discussion of Chistiakov’s Drawing Pedagogy can be seen in the footnote 21 in this chapter. 33 There were twenty-one students in the Maksimov Workshop, included Chen Beixin, Feng Fasi, Gao Hong, He Kongde, Hou Yimin, Jin Shangyi, Lu Guoying, Qin Zheng, Ren Mengzhang, Shang Husheng, Wang Chengyi, Wang Dewei, Wang Liuqiu, Wang Xuzhu, Wei Chuanyi, Wu Dezu, Yu Changgong, Yu Yunjie, Yuan Hao, Zhan Jianjun, and Zhang Wenxin, while Tong Jinghan

29

Jianjun, a graduate student of ink painting, and a faculty member of CAFA later, chosen to attend Maksimov’s workshop, produced a typical Chinese version of Socialist Realist painting, a rare example of an artist who shifted his work type from ink to oil painting in twentieth century China. His “Five Heroes of Mt. Langya” (Fig. 1.21), commissioned by the Chinese Revolutionary History Museum, was a prominent work that exemplified the achievement of the workshop. Using a heroic, historical theme, this painting depicts a true story of the anti-Japanese war. Five soldiers of the Eighth Route Army, led by Communists, fought the Japanese troop in Hebei in 1941. After they exhausted their bullets and grenades, they retreated to the peak of Mt. Langya. Following a principle that soldiers should never surrender to their enemies, they jumped off the cliff in front of Japanese troops. While two of them survived because they fell on a tree, three soldiers sacrificed their lives for their motherland. If we took away the ideological content added to it by communist propagandists, it was a heroic motto exemplified in history of China, namely, that death can’t lower a hero’s head, and the person who sacrificed her/his life for her/his country was a real hero. In the painting, five soldiers stood as a monument, as their strong physicality was enhanced by their resolute spirit. Zhan Jianjun applied wide, powerful brush strokes to create a group of sculpture-like warriors, including a teenager; even the peak behind them echoed the silhouette of the five soldiers. Compositionally this group was placed above the viewer’s line of vision so that their monumentality was enhanced, reaching the sublime, an effect labeled “revolutionary romanticism” in the ideological vocabulary. By contrast, Hou Yimin painted a “down-toearth” work depicting an event led by Liu Shaoqi, another Communist leader, in “Liu Shaoqi and Coal Miners of Anyuan” (Fig. 1.22). Unlike many paintings that employed a low view to create a sense of the monumentality of communist leaders and heroes, Hou Yimin, a student of the (my academic advisor when I was a graduate student at CAFA) worked as an interpreter.

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1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

Fig. 1.21 Zhan Jianjun, “Five Heroes of Mt. Langya,” 1959, oil on canvas, 200  185 cm, collection of China Museum of Revolution, now National Museum of China, Beijing

Maksimov Workshop and professor of CAFA, used a top view to render the famous Anyuan Miners’ Strike in 1922. This treatment gave the miners and their leader sense of forward movement while still keeping the leader prominent. The most impressive feature, though, was the realistic depiction of miners: their shabby clothes, some without shirts, and the coal-streaked dark bodies and faces with brightly piercing eyes, created a scene almost photo-realistic in its authenticity. The deep grey hue made it look overcast, yet the power here was internal and dynamic momentum was strong, seen from miners’ forward postures and staring eyes. The figures came from his more than eighty sketches drawn in mines. Ironically, the artist was persecuted severely in the Cultural Revolution due to the tragic fact that Liu Shaoqi, the protagonist, was unexpectedly removed from his position of president of the PRC in 1966. Liu was criticized as “a

traitor, secret enemy agent and scab,” finally died of torture in 1969. Beyond depicting revolutionary subjects, Chinese oil painters also celebrated happy lives of ordinary Chinese in new China, much as the Xin Nianhua painters did, and made an effort to represent it in a native manner under the ideal of “nationalization of oil painting.” The advocation of the “nationalization of oil painting” had a special cultural context. In the middle of 1950s, the Sino-Soviet relationship became closer after Stalin’s death, dubbed “fraternity friendship” in official media. The Soviet influence swept through all fields of Chinese life, including the economic, political, and cultural spheres. Imported Socialist Realism replaced the Humble Realism with Chinese elements in art, especially with regard to oil painting. Officially, an indigenous mode of cultural form would provide the state with more legitimacy, but

1.4

Oil Painting: Humble Realism, Socialist Realism and Nationalization

31

Fig. 1.22 Hou Yimin, “Liu Shaoqi and Coal Miners of Anyuan,” 1960, oil on canvas, 160  322 cm, collection of Museum of Chinese Revolution, now National Museum of China, Beijing

Fig. 1.23 Wen Bao, “Four Girls,” 1962, oil on canvas, 110  202 cm

artistically, a nationalized western art type would let it take root among the populace. Therefore, the significance of “nationalization of oil painting” in its very beginning was to proclaim Chinese cultural identity while facing the enormous cultural impact from the “Big Brother” of the north.

There were two ways in which the practice for nationalization of oil painting was implemented: injecting Chinese spirit and integrating Chinese elements of art form. The painting “Four Girls” (Fig. 1.23), created by the twenty-four-year-old woman artist Wen Bao, a faculty of CAFA,

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1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

Fig. 1.24 Sun Zixi, “In Front of Tiananmen,” 1964, oil on canvas, 155  285 cm, collection of National Art Museum of China

attempted the first. This was produced for Wen Bao’s graduate work at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. The national style here was not found in its technique, namely, formal elements of Chinese art, especially Chinese folk art, instead, it laid in the sentiment of ordinary Chinese conveyed through the artist’s creative treatment of countrywomen. Four village girls are shown in everyday clothes and poses that one could see throughout the countryside of Northern China, say, in Hebei, Henan, or Shandong. The simple, humble clothes, hairdos, and facial expressions were really Chinese, along with its country residential setting, making it popular and widely admired work among many Chinese, especially those from countryside and remote areas. Though from same background, the figures’ different personalities were represented in a vivid, loose, and relaxed manner: a naïve tomboy, an outgoing and vivacious figure, a quiet and sedate, and a shy and timid character, were all reflected on their face and postures. Aesthetically it met the taste of most of spectators in China, a nation then with a population of nearly ninety percent agricultural laborers. Compared with paintings done in the

Cultural Revolution with similar subject a few years later, which beautified every aspect in real life and distorted reality, this painting possessed a realistic view, which reflected the artist’s authentic sentiment during the early period of the People’s Republic, that is, a joyful feeling in the new China. Sun Zixi worked as a professor at CAFA. His well-known piece “In Front of Tiananmen” (Fig. 1.24) demonstrated the second way of “nationalization of oil painting,” namely the integration of Chinese art elements into the oil painting; it would become an iconic painting in the “nationalization of oil painting.” Due to its popularity, this painting eventually became the object of post-modern simulacrum and ridicule in early 1990s, by Wang Jinsong (Fig. 1.25). This was composed in a symmetrical panorama. The focus here was the gate with Mao’s portrait, a symbol of People’s Republic of China (an image found on Chinese currency, on its national emblem, etc.). Such symmetrical compositions created by architectural structures in the background can be seen in Dunhuang murals from the Tang Dynasty from a thousand years ago (Fig. 1.19), which showed the Western

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Oil Painting: Humble Realism, Socialist Realism and Nationalization

33

Fig. 1.25 Wang Jinsong, “Taking a Picture in Front of Tiananmen,” 1992, oil on canvas, 125  185 cm

Paradise (Sukhavati in Sanskrit) of Pure Land Buddhism. With a similar function, the symmetry here exemplified a strict order to create the people’s paradise, a utopia promised by the party. For most Chinese who lived in the 1950s and 1960s, one of their dreams was to go to Beijing and take a picture in front of Tiananmen. With such strong ideological significance, this picture grasped one of the most exciting moments of a group of people, again, from the countryside. These villagers look very happy and proud (though still humble), with hearty smiles on their faces, a sentiment like four girls in Wen Bao’s painting. Interestingly, the notion of the group portrait was imported from photography, but its original connection with family, classmates or colleagues in normal group portrait here was weakened when national pride of being part of the new republic was emphasized here. Most importantly, the oil portrait behind the group functions as a patriarch of the big family, the builder of utopian China (the portrait was

mostly screened in Wang Jinsong’s simulacrum that would be read as a subversive stance to the patriarchy), as all Chinese, young and old, were his children and subject. With other groups flanking the center, navy soldiers on the right and ethnic “pilgrims” on the left, this big family picture conveyed a celebratory, jubilant atmosphere in a very Chinese manner. As in the “Founding Ceremony of People’s Republic of China,” the brilliant coloration using highly saturated primary colors functioned as catalytic agent for this celebration. Note that the gate, painted as Qing boundary-line painting (jiehua), not only rendered the architecture in a precisionist manner rarely seen in a western oil painting, it also gave a sense of order that was critical to the nation. This, ironically, showed the hierarchy of the feudal society based on Confucianism that Communists were about to overthrow. The “nationalization of oil painting” as a campaign under the official ideology in the 1960s run to the extreme and began to exclude all

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1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

foreign elements of oil painting. As it evolved into a ideological slogan, it would impede artists from learning authentic oil painting techniques, not to mention aesthetic and spiritual ideas. Up to the 1980s, it even functioned as a weapon against any new trends in oil painting that tried to apply western modernism as model. This was eventually resisted by artists, old and young, and, finally terminated in the 1980s.

1.5

Sculpture: Ideological Theater in Public Space

Sculpture was never as popular as ink painting in the history of Chinese art, the only exception being those statues carved for cave temples, and Buddhist and Daoist monasteries. Prior to the twentieth century there were few examples of portrait busts or group full-length statues. In the first half of twentieth century, sculpture began to develop, but it was mostly single portrait busts produced by a small circle of artists. After the People’s Republic was founded, sculpture, including relief and freestanding single or group statues, became an important work type that served propaganda and ideology of the glorification of communism, a result of learning, again, from the Soviet Union. Interestingly, the success of sculpture in China from the 1950s started with large public works, instead of smaller pieces more typically generated and viewed in studios and galleries. The public space became a great theater for official ideology and sculpture helped to fill it. Two of most well-known public sculptural works are the relief on the Monument of People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square, made from 1952 to 1958, and life-size sculptural installation “Rent Collection Courtyard” made in 1965. The government decided to build a monument at Tiananmen Square for those who lost their lives in last century (1840–1949), which, through the monument, would solidify the legitimacy of new rulers, using sculptural narratives of revolutionary history and other important events. The statecommissioned and sponsored project took nearly 6 years to complete (August 1952–May 1958) and involved hundreds of officials, historians,

architects, construction workers, sculptors, and even painters (who offered compositional advice through sketches). This large project exemplified the official discourse of history. Its scale, efficiency, and power reached the highest level that a state-run propagandist project could reach. The registers on all four sides of the monument provided artists with lots of room to narrate the honorable history of communists, as well as important events in modern Chinese history. The ten reliefs show following events in chronological order: Two on the east side: “Burning Opium at Humen,” drawing by Ai Zhongxing, relief by Zeng Zhushao; “Taiping Uprising in Jintian,” drawing by Li Zongjin, relief by Wang Bingzhao. Three on the south side: “Wuchang Uprising,” drawing by Dong Xiwen, relief by Fu Tianchou; “May Fourth Movement,” drawing by Feng Fasi, relief by Hua Tianyou; “May Thirtieth Movement,” drawing by Wu Zuoren, relief by Wang Linyi. Two on the west side: “Nanchang Uprising,” drawing by Wang Shikuo, relief by Xiao Chuanjiu; “Guerrilla Warfare in Anti-Japanese War,” drawing by Xin Mang, relief by Zhang Songhe. Three on the north side: “Victorious Crossing Yangtze River and Liberating All China,” drawing by Yanhan, relief by Liu Kaiqu; “Supporting Front” and “Welcoming People’s Liberation Army,” both by Liu Kaiqu. There was a tradition of pictorial stone relief (huaxiang shi) during the prosperous period of the Han dynasty, using simple, easy-to-read forms. The modern reliefs of human figures, though, were a combination of Chinese conventions and western modes, especially the classicism of GrecoRoman reliefs. When Xu Beihong and others who studied abroad went back home, they brought reproductions of Greek and Roman sculpture into China’s art classroom in the 1920s, including plaster reliefs. Many of the sculptors involved in this project had also studied in the West, so the notion of relief figures wasn’t new to them. To

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Sculpture: Ideological Theater in Public Space

35

Fig. 1.26 Ai Zhongxin (drawing), Zeng Zhushao (relief), “Burning Opium at Humen,” 1952–1958, relief, Monument of People’s Heroes, Beijing

understand the iconological message and artistic features of this monument, we’ll analyze three reliefs. “Burning Opium at Humen” (Fig. 1.26) depicted how Lin Zexu, an imperial envoy of Qing court, was dispatched to Guangzhou to oversee a campaign to ban importation and consumption of opium in 1839. After confiscating the hundreds of chests containing opium owned by British merchants and Chinese retailers, he ordered them to be burned in Humen, Guangdong, an event that led to the First Opium War. Though not appearing in the relief, Lin Zexu was remembered by Chinese as a great national hero and patriot. The descriptive relief represented workers carrying chests of opium, opening chests with axes and metal rulers, and pouring opium into a crater. The artists did not choose the dramatic moment of burning opium with its soaring flames, rather, the preparation before the drug was poured into the fire, with only smoke curling upward in the background to indicate burning. The physicality of the workers is rendered well but not exaggerated. The peaceful event is carried out by laborers with internal passion and excitement. Sails in the background represent the importation of this poisonous product. The difference between it and the Han stone relief is that as the latter was a two-dimensional, pattern-like image, the former

created an illusion of three-dimensional space for human activities. Compared to the scene of opium burning, the “Wuchang Uprising” was much more dynamic (Fig. 1.27). This relief illustrated a group of revolutionary soldiers rushing forward toward the Hubei government complex in their revolt, one that led to the collapse of Qing Dynasty and founding of the Republic of China in 1911. In it, every figure tilted forward to show their momentum. Notice that two civilians holding an ax and a wood stick respectively were part of the revolutionary procession, indicating public support for the revolution. A stone lion is placed in the background, which usually stood in front of a gate of government complex as a symbol of political power, along with the Yellow Crane Tower, pictured the locale and nature of the revolution. The “May Fourth Movement” displayed a public gathering, where an advocate addressed to the audience, mostly college students, and urbanites (Fig. 1.28). This movement was ignited by the humiliation levied by the Treaty of Versailles settlement in 1919. The students of Peking’s universities gathered in front of Tiananmen and protested the “spineless” government. In the relief, a group of audiences concentrated on the speech, while a woman student handed out the flyers to a passer-by. The dress of college students, women students

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1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

Fig. 1.27 Dong Xiwen (drawing) and Fu Tianchou (relief), “Wuchang Uprising,” 1952–1958, relief, Monument of People’s Heroes, Beijing

Fig. 1.28 Feng Fasi (drawing) and Hua Tianyou (relief), “May Fourth Movement,” 1952–1958, relief, Monument of People’s Heroes, Beijing

particularly, was later called “May Fourth Fashion.” In mainstream ideology, the May Fourth Movement initiated an “Anti-imperialism and anti-feudalism campaign,” the legacy which the communists inherited and continued in new China, though liberals claimed that the movement sought mainly democracy and sciences, or “Mr. De” and “Mr. Sai,” so named by their advocates.

All reliefs in the Monument of People’s Heroes were composed theatrically, so that they looked like a stage layout. This treatment reflected the forward-looking nature of Chinese sculpture during the early period of the People’s Republic on the one hand, and the creators’ intention of appealing to general public using historical drama, a feature that appeared later in various propaganda art, on the other.

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Sculpture: Ideological Theater in Public Space

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Fig. 1.29 Zhao Shutong, Wang Guanyi and students of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, “Rent Collection Courtyard,” 1965, drawing of sculptural installation

This theatricality was enhanced even more in another famous public sculptural project, “Rent Collection Courtyard,” a large group life-size sculpture made in 1965 (Fig. 1.29). The relationship of peasants/tenants and landlords was an important theme in official ideology, especially regarding the conception of class struggle. While the former was victim of exploitation and oppression in rural area, the latter, was representative of exploitation and evil, according to the ideology. The annual collection of land rent, usually paid in rice in southern China, was nightmare to peasants and tenants, because the high rent always left little food for them and children to live on during next year.34 It consisted of seven episodes, not unlike a drama, that narrated a complete story in which a brutal landlord collected rent, eventually inciting resistance. These episodes included turning the rent in, examining the rent, winnowing the rent, measuring the rent, accounting, pressing for more rent, and burning with rage, represented through one hundred fourteen life-size figures, with ninety-six positive characters and eighteen negative ones.35 Amazingly, this huge project was completed by two faculty members, Zhao Shutong and Wang Guanyi, and five sculpture students from the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, in

addition to ten folk artisans, in four months. It was commissioned by the Museum of Dayi Landlord Manor, Sichuan, and reproduced and exhibited in Beijing and many other cities, receiving lavish praise nationwide in local and national media. At the time of its completion and exhibition in 1965 and 1966, the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong’s concept of class struggle dominated social and cultural life in China.36 Unlike many other works with similar themes that concentrate on the peasants’ staunch struggle and revolt, the “Rent Collection Courtyard” realistically rendered most of episodes that portrayed what peasants and tenants suffered miserably. This treatment invoked the sympathy of audience, creating an empathic effect as it is termed in aesthetics. We see a skinny, bare-to-the-waist grandpa walking out with nothing but an empty bamboo basket (Fig. 1.30a), the desperate mother staying behind the bar because the rice she offered was not enough for rent and leaving two starving girls who kneel down at the empty container (Fig. 1.30b). Perhaps the most theatrical scene was that of a blindfolded father bound over to be a laborer in exchange of rent, leaving the mother with her baby behind who, at the very moment, are being kicked by the landlord-hired 36

34 The degree of intensity and extent of this class struggle in the Republican China, emphasized in the theory of class struggle, have been questioned by historians, in other words, they suspect that theorists could have exaggerated the degree and extent to legitimate the class struggle. 35 The definition of positive and negative characters in literature and arts accorded the division in theory of class struggle, that is, people were divided into two camps, revolutionaries and reactionaries or enemies, a simple definition of good and bad that was accepted easily by the less-educated masses.

After 1949, the discourse of class struggle reflected in various of literary and art forms, including Grey-hair Girl (baimao nü), an opera initiated in Yan-an, 1945, then was adapted into movie (1950), ballet (1964) and pictorial story book (1965), that tells a disastrous story of young Xi-er whose hair become grey after her reclusive life in mountains for many years in order to escape from mansion of Huang Shiren, the tyrannical landlord who killed her father and raped her; Gao Yubao, an autobiographic novel written by Gao Yubao in 1955 that focused on struggle between peasants and the landlord. Up to the twenty-first century, these stories have been questioned and become skeptical.

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1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

Fig. 1.30 (a–c) “Rent Collection Courtyard,” details

thug, while his young son desperately tries to stop his father leaving by holding onto his leg (Fig. 1.30c). This passionate and emotioninvoking depiction evoked great sympathy with the exploited and ferocious indignation against the exploiters. The theatrical effect was created in a down-toearth manner. The posture of figures was based on poses by local peasants first, then reenacted by actors and actresses of a local opera troupe who knew well how to pose for theatrical effect. The props were all ready-made, including bamboo baskets, bamboo carrying poles, winnowers, etc. All figures were initially made from mud taken from a rice field mixed with straw and cotton wadding, simply supported with tree trunks and branches from within, a traditional way of making clay sculpture in local Buddhist temples. The setting was in fact the courtyard of a mansion, previously the property of Liu Wencai, a notorious warlord, tyrant and landlord in Sichuan province. In Communist ideology, he was the prototype for the “Rent Collection Courtyard.”37 The mansion became a stage where a drama of A lot of “crimes” allegedly committed by Liu Wencai in the propaganda campaign in the 1960s had been reinvestigated and proved fictional after the Cultural Revolution. The reason for this fiction was the need of propaganda that advocated the class struggle, a preparation for the Cultural Revolution. Liu Wencai was, in contrast to the propagandist depreciation and calumniation, a great contributor to local charities, including building roads, streets, schools, reservoirs, even theaters.

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class struggle played out. Peasants from local communities flooded in to visit and responded with great emotional passion. It was so realistic that a visiting grandma even attempted to beat those “landlord and hired thugs.” The influence of the sculptural installation “Rent Collection Courtyard” has lasted till today. Cai Guoqiang, a contemporary artist, appropriated and reinterpreted it in Venice Biennial in 1999, which caused fierce debates back home. The work has become a classic piece, and like many artworks in the West, it became the object of simulacrum, appropriation, and reinterpretation in the history of modern Chinese art. The art of “Seventeen Years” inherited the ideas of critical and humble realistic art in the 1930s and 1940s, then transformed it into a Chinese version of Socialist Realism. In late 1950s and early 1960s, the issue of cultural identity was reflected in the campaign of “nationalization of oil painting.” In subject matter, the expectation of and excitement in the life of new China was a feeling shared by many Chinese artists in the 1950s and early 1960s. An additional example was a colored woodcut piece, “Dandelion” (Fig. 1.31), by Wu Fan, a graphic artist from Sichuan. A little village girl kneels on the ground and blows dandelion seeds for fun. With no depiction of background or foreground, the protagonist, accompanied by her straw basket and sickle, is immersed in her world and concentrates on her play. The light ink created a Chinese angel,

1.6

Propaganda Posters: Visualization of Absurdity

39

Fig. 1.31 Wu Fan, “Dandelion,” 1959, colored woodcut, National Art Museum of China

with light red cheeks, whose mind seemed to fly with those seeds into the sky or heaven. This minimalist treatment attracted many admirers and earned the artist a gold medal in Leipzig, East Germany in 1959. The fantasy shown in this graphic work reflected feeling of many Chinese who lived in a new and utopian nation.

1.6

Propaganda Posters: Visualization of Absurdity

Although there was no department of propaganda painting in art schools, this work type played great role during the first seventeen years of the PRC. Intensive political campaigns in this period needed visual art that could stimulate the momentum of the masses, in order to advocate special ideological notions and government policies. Many posters looked farcical today

because they were visualization of absurd ideology and reality. The Korean War (1950–1953) was the first campaign when the propaganda poster was used to full account, celebrating all that was in courageous and determined in the nation. The war was named “the War Resisting U.S. Aggression and Aiding North Korea” by the official media, with the Americans as the major enemy. U.S. troops were usually rendered as cold-blooded bandits or sinister gangsters to provoke hateful sentiments among the masses. The poster “The Justified Noose Awaits Them” by Fang Ling (Fig. 1.32), for instance, was painted for this purpose. Led by an officer, created with U.S. President Truman as a prototype, with bloody-hands, the soldiers loot, kill, and rape, as a hospital is set on fire by the bombing of the U.S. air force. The huge noose anticipates the eventual revenge by the righteous forces. The distorted image in this propaganda

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1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

Fig. 1.32 Fang Ling, “The Justified Noose Awaits Them,” 1951, propaganda poster, 78.5  58.5 cm

poster was part of demonization of American as “imperialist,” which justified and glorified North Korea’s invasion of South Korea and Chinese support of it. In late 1950s, government launched a campaign called the “Three Red Flags,” which consisted of the General Line for Socialist Construction, the Great Leap Forward and the People’s Communes, calling on the Chinese to build a socialist state. While the first flag proclaimed the nation’s orientation, the second, rapid modernization in industry and agriculture. The third flag referred to the reorganization of rural communities. “By the end of 1958, nearly all Chinese peasants had been organized into communes averaging 5000 households each. All privately-owned property was taken for, or contributed to, the communes, and people were not allowed to cook their own food and instead

ate in communal dining halls.”38 The campaign turned out to be an economic and humane disaster whose famine caused tens of millions of deaths.39 Nonetheless, the propaganda posters of the late 1950s provided a picture of a paradise full of fattening pigs, thriving herds of sheep and cattle, rows of grain storage barns, and people who had ample food and clothing. One popular propaganda poster, “A Large Yield of Commune’s Vegetable Plots” by Jin Meisheng, represented the whitewash of the miserable situation (Fig. 1.33). Jin Meisheng was a professional artist who painted yuefenpai (calendar pictures) in the 1930s. Here he combined watercolor (rubbing charcoal on shaded area first) and its delicate technique with Chinese traditional gongbi “Three Red Banners,” from https://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Three_Red_Banners, May 8, 2019. 39 See footnote 26 in this chapter. 38

1.6

Propaganda Posters: Visualization of Absurdity

Fig. 1.33 Jin Meisheng, “A Large Yield of Commune’s Vegetable Plots,” c. late 1950s, propaganda poster

zhongcai (meticulous brushwork with saturated, bright colors), printed on art printing paper with offset printing after completion (Fig. 1.34). Instead of working for commercial purposes, Jin Meisheng painted a propaganda poster for ideological aims of the 1950s. Still very smooth treatment in brushwork and bright coloration, the Shanghai-style bourgeoise beauty was replaced by a village girl, who harvested green vegetables and fat melons, a great contrast with the catastrophic reality. The Great Famine which lasted from 1959 to 1961 was created not only by nature, but by incompetent government distribution policy. The propaganda posters in this hid the real catastrophe behind bright colors. From the beginning of the New China, the CCP promised to bring about a paradise for the Chinese, in contrast to the corruption, famine, and high inflation experienced under the Nationalist government. This paradise would be an Elysium for workers, peasants, and soldiers who would

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Fig. 1.34 Jin Meisheng, “A Chinese Pinup Beauty,” c.1930s, charcoal and watercolor, calendar picture

live a life of plenty. This utopia was so attractive that many Chinese believed that they were walking on the broad road of socialism that would lead to communism, an ideological alias for paradise. The propaganda poster “A Paradise on Earth” envisioned the bliss (Fig. 1.35). The artist attempted to squeeze in as many elements as possible to fully convey the idea of paradise on earth. In the foreground of the earth, there is a mountain of flowers and fruit, a Shangri-La in the novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng-en of the Ming Dynasty. Socialist construction then appears in the middle ground, where sit a great dam and vast, golden rice fields, as a pair of dragons on either side pour out water to the river. Tiananmen is in distance, as the national flag flutters above the Monument of People’s Heroes, to indicate the hub of paradise. Eerily the skyline on the background shows Moscow, the Kremlin in particular, rather than Beijing. China would not break with the Soviet Union

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1 Visual Utopia: Art in the Seventeen Years (1949–1966)

Fig. 1.35 Anonymous, “A Paradise on Earth,” c. late 1950s, propaganda poster

until 1960, and so Russians exported almost everything to China, from ideology to policies, from economic infrastructure to administrative institutions, from science to technology, literature, film, music, and the fine arts, so Moscow’s skyline implies Russian’s role as prototype of paradise on earth for China, because it was the first country in the world that promised to build a bliss for Soviet workers and farmers. The only creatures in the composition are female celestials in the air who, transformed from Dunhuang feitian (flying Apsaras) images, cross the rainbow, and fly down from Heaven to join Chinese life of paradise. This stunning romanticist treatment shows the artist’s audacious imagination stimulated by frenzied ideological indoctrination. Like a Xin Nianhua, the style was a combination of traditional New Year’s print and gongbi figure painting: as the former contributed primary coloration and a festive atmosphere, the latter, linear outlining and a delicate depiction.

When the living conditions in 1950s China became more and more severe for the ordinary Chinese, the propaganda machine kept spreading party’s communist utopian vision, to provide people with an ideological hallucinogen on the one hand, and to gloss over the disastrous reality on the other. Propaganda posters from this period visualized the absurdity in Chinese everyday life and were made even more absurd due to their tremendous contrast with the tragic reality. In structure, the art community was constructed in the institutions who administered education, exhibitions and publication, which laid the foundation for the art of People’s Republic of China and has continued to function until the present time. These artistic and institutional endeavors prepared the way for art of the Cultural Revolution, which, in turn, pushed the ideologyoriented art to its extreme.

2

Anti-Culture: Art of Cultural Revolution (1966–1976)

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), also known as “Cultural Revolution,” was the most chaotic and destructive event in twentieth century China. Its violence created an enormous disaster for all of China. Everyone, from high-ranking party leaders, officials at the central, provincial, municipal, county and village levels, intellectuals in all fields, college students, students in high and middle schools, was affected. While in-depth analysis of causes of this collective insanity should be left for historians, briefly, the death toll is estimated between one and twenty million, died from political persecution, suicide after spiritual and physical torture, fights between different mass factions, and the suffering from famine and natural calamities (e.g. Tangshan Earthquake in 1976). Economically, the nation was near collapse, in both industry and agriculture, and trades were disrupted. Culturally, this revolution suppressed almost all fields of inquiry: literature, arts, social sciences, and humanities, etc. The subverted morality and values of the Cultural Revolution gutted traditional ethics in China. Its consequences are still felt today. While Mao Zedong used the Cultural Revolution as a movement of political struggle to defend the socialist system and its infrastructure, and to eliminate oppositional factions in the party, it was a revolution launched in the name of the proletarian culture. As such, artistically, the Cultural Revolution formed a new link in the chain of Chineseversion socialist realism, initiated in the

mid-fifties. There was no abrupt fracture between the art of Seventeen Years (1949–1966) and the Cultural Revolution, but the latter pushed the former to the extreme, thereby constructing art that matches perfectly Mao Zedong’s thoughts and social ideals in terms of concept and visual language. These were reflected in art of Red Guards and art of ideological temples, which were essentially an art of anti-culture. There were, however, eccentric artists who stood aloof from the severe political struggle and produced alterative art outside of mainstream or underground.

2.1

Red Guards Art: Destruction and Construction

The idea that most art of Cultural Revolution was made not by “professional” artists, but by “amateur” ones, mainly Red Guards, was true in the early years of the revolution. A mass paramilitary social organization of young people, composed of mainly college, high school, and even middle school students, the Red Guards were mobilized by Mao Zedong at the beginning of the revolution. Their mission was to destroy the “Four Olds” of Chinese society—old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits—and to construct the “Four News,” new ideas, culture, customs, and habits, or “po sijiu, li sixin.” To fulfill this mission, the Red Guards created revolutionary art throughout the country (Fig. 2.1), while also destroying old books, artwork, museums,

# Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020 Y. Zhou, A History of Contemporary Chinese Art, Chinese Contemporary Art Series, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-1141-7_2

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Anti-Culture: Art of Cultural Revolution (1966–1976)

Fig. 2.1 A team of Red Guards paints a large-scale propaganda poster in a classroom, c. 1966, and a slogan for such action is “to take up your pen/painting brush as sword and spear”

temples, shrines, and other heritage sites (Fig. 2.2). They also attacked people deemed “capitalist roaders,” landlords, rich peasants, reactionaries, rascals, and Rightists, as defined by the CCP ideology. There were more “constructive” than “destructive” works during the Cultural Revolution. While the latter concentrated on repudiation of feudalism, capitalism and revisionism,1 the former (by the Red Guards) focused on the use of approved subjects, including eulogizing communist leaders, especially Mao Zedong, praising the history and contemporary achievements of CCP, and celebrating accomplishments by workers, peasants and soldiers. Among them, “god“Feudalism” refers to ancient Chinese tradition, mainly the ideology and culture of Confucianism, while “capitalism” covers nearly all western cultures. The revisionism is unique in the revolution, which is a label for Soviet ideology after Stalin, because the official ideology believes that Soviets, Khrushchev and Brezhnev in particular, revised and contorted Marxism and Leninism, and thus needed to be critiqued.

1

building” became the most popular theme.2 The Cultural Revolution could be seen as a successful campaign of god-building because Mao, as a leader of China, had been apotheosized in this period, and the art of the Cultural Revolution played an important role in this campaign. Because Red Guard art was part of the Red Guard movement that took place mostly in public places, such as schools and streets, it can be 2 The sectional titles of Shoudu Hongweibing Gemin Zaofan Zhanlanhui (Exhibition of Revolutionary Revolt of Capital’s Red Guards), held at Beijing Exhibition Center on June 2, 1967, are representative in terms of subjects of Red Guards art. They are “Long live the Chairman Mao’s Victoriously Revolutionary Line” (section 1), “Down with China’s Khrushchev (referring to Liu Shaoqi, the former Chairman of PRC)” (section 2), “Sweeping away Monsters and Demons (forces of evil, including “capitalist roaders,” landlords, rich peasants, reactionaries, rascals, and Rightists) in the society” (section 3), and “The Great Movement of Red Guards Shaking the Whole World” (section 4). See Wang Mingxian and Yan Shanchun, Xin Zhongguo Meishushi: 1966-1976 (the Art History of the People’s Republic of China: 1966-1976), Beijing: China Youth Press, 2000, p. 12.

2.1

Red Guards Art: Destruction and Construction

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Fig. 2.2 Red Guards smash the board inscribed “Dachen Gate” in the Temple of Confucius, Qufu, Shandong, c. 1966

termed “street art,” as is true of other art produced under political revolution. Perhaps most overwhelming example of street art is the large painting (7.2  22 m), entitled “Five Milestones” (Fig. 2.3), standing in the Tiananmen Square in 1967. Wang Mingxian and Yan Shanchun described the process of this painting in details.3 To propagate Mao Zedong’s thoughts and the glorious history of the Communist Party led by Mao, Wang Hui, a student of Central Academy of Arts and Crafts, painted a gouache painting that celebrated the history of CCP with five milestones, or “sacred sites of the revolution” (gemin shengdi): Mao’s birthplace, Shaoshan, Hunan; the birthplace of CCP, Shanghai; the site of Zunyi Conference in which Mao was confirmed as the leader of CCP, Guizhou; Mt. Pagoda, Yan’an, Shaanxi, the base that was set on arrival of Red Armies after the Long March; Tiananmen, symbol of People’s Republic 3

Ibid. pp. 33–35.

of China. Approved by the Beijing municipal authority, Wang Hui and his schoolmates enlarged the painting into a huge propaganda billboard in oil set on the west side of Tiananmen Square, completed on Dec. 25, 1967, one day before Mao’s 74th birthday. With its enormous dimensions, this painting possesses nearly all characters that a street propaganda painting may have: great size of painting and figures, strong contrast of colors, and a simple, but balanced composition. Mao stands aloft in the center with a huge flag of CCP behind, his olive-green military uniform in contrast with the bright red CCP flag and the ocean of red flags underneath. The image is so strong that we can imagine most viewers would be attracted by it the moment they walked into the square. The painting also perfectly utilized the stylistic or formal principles of the arts of the Cultural Revolution: “redness, smoothness, brightness” (hong, guang, liang). The principle was first used in stage art of the Cultural Revolution, then

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Anti-Culture: Art of Cultural Revolution (1966–1976)

Fig. 2.3 Wang Hui, “Five Milestones,” 1967, oil on wall in Tiananmen Square, 7.2  22 m

Fig. 2.4 Anonymous, “Proletarian Revolutionaries Should Be Invested with Great Powers,” c. 1967, woodcut

it became a criterion for all visual arts. The color red is a symbol of revolution with its association with blood, as ocean of red flags in this case. Smoothness is usually requirement for New Year’s prints in which few brush strokes could be seen. In “Five Milestones,” most areas were painted evenly with little trace of brushwork except for Mao’s uniform. Brightness symbolizes hope and prosperity, and like the sun, the great leader shines through the illuminated face of Mao and the sunrays from the huge flag. This principle

was required to produce art works by professionals and non-professionals so as to lower the obstacle between artists and the lower-educated public. It conveyed the message effectively, placing it within reach of most of the audience. It mixed the aesthetics of folk art and revolutionary symbolism. At a smaller scale, “Proletarian Revolutionaries Should Be Invested with Great Powers” by an anonymous artist is an example of visual art of “destruction” (Fig. 2.4). A steel worker holds a copy of Selected Works of Mao

2.1

Red Guards Art: Destruction and Construction

Zedong in his left hand, and with his right-hand smashes “capitalist roaders” with a huge seal, a symbol of power/authority, which reads “great power of politics, economy and culture.” A revolutionary mass with red flags in the background functions as his support. The woodcut, following the method used by cartoonists, exaggerates the dimensions of the seal and the physicality of the worker, and downsizes the enemies, namely the hapless “capitalist roaders.” Using only red and black paint, the work provides a great visual

Fig. 2.5 Hu Yichuan, “To the Front!” 1932, woodcut, 23.2  30.5 cm, Lu Xun Memorial, Shanghai

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contrast. The anonymity of the artists is an important feature of Red Guard art, because first, the intention of seeking personal fame was criticized as “bourgeois individualist idea,” and second, the Red Guards formed a mass movement in which individuals were nothing but screws of the great revolutionary machinery. In addition, the woodcut medium used as a propaganda tool was initiated in 1930s China, when the artists applied graphic, mass-produced art to call the Chinese to fight Japanese invasion (Fig. 2.5). The Red Guards, though, added red, the chromatic symbol of revolution, to the medium, to give the revolutionary ideology even greater prominence. Gouache was another popular medium for Red Guard art. While woodcuts provided graphic artists with simple but powerful language and the capability of mass production, gouache was cheaper than oil paint, and could be used on an outdoor billboard. It could also be used to create in a truly large scale, a capability that graphic art doesn’t easily possess. Details and subtlety gave way to strong contrast, stage-like composition and figures’ posture. The simplified color and image were accessible and understandable to most of the audience, especially those with less education. For example, “Bombarding the Headquarters of the Capitalists” (Fig. 2.6), a typical propaganda

Fig. 2.6 Anonymous, “Bombarding the Headquarters of the Capitalists,” c. 1967, propaganda painting in gouache

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Fig. 2.7 (a, b) Red Guard art newspapers and pictorials, c. 1967

painting, done in gouache, was reproduced on the walls, buildings, and billboards in city streets and rural areas. The stylistic principles, “redness, smoothness and brightness,” were carried out perfectly in this propaganda piece, celebrating Mao’s “Bombarding the Headquarters of the Capitalists: My Big-Character Poster,” his “revolutionary summons to war” against “capitalist roaders,” Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping in particular. Graphic art by the Red Guards was circulated widely throughout Red Guard art newspapers and pictorials, though most of these media would be short-lived (Fig. 2.7a, b). Most were inaugurated in 1967 and affiliated with Red Guard groups founded in art academies and schools nationwide. Again, only red and black inks were used to make the images eye-catching to generate a visual and psychological impact.

“Constructive” work formed the majority of Red Guard art, where the assembly of the CCP’s leadership under Chairman Mao was the dominant theme. The oil painting “The East Is Red” represented the earliest attempt at displaying Mao’s almighty leadership of China, especially as the leader of the Red Guards Movement in the Cultural Revolution (Fig. 2.8). It showed an inspection, likely the first one that Mao Zedong made in 1966, when he stepped up with his colleagues to the Tiananmen rostrum to greet around 1500 lucky representatives of the Red Guards, and to wave to nearly one million others on the square (Fig. 2.9).4 Mao, in large scale, forms the epicenter of the composition, while other CCP leaders—Zhou Enlai, Lin Biao, Jiang

4 From August 18 to November 26, 1966, Mao Zedong had inspected Red Guards at Tiananmen eight times, in total about eleven million of Red Guards and other citizens participated.

2.1

Red Guards Art: Destruction and Construction

49

Fig. 2.8 Anti-revisionist Army of the CAFA High School, Beijing High School Red Guards Association, “The East Is Red,” c. 1967, oil on canvas

Qing, Chen Boda and Kang Sheng—are smaller as they flank him,5 reminiscent of similar scenes in Yan Liben’s “Emperors of Successive Dynasties” (Fig. 2.10). The brilliant sunshine floods the group from behind, acting as a halo and bringing out the theme “The East Is Red,” the title of a eulogistic song which apotheosizes Mao as the rising sun from the East and the great Savior of Chinese. The Red Guards on the left, carefully including ethnic minorities, are extremely frantic, experiencing this once-of-lifetime privilege. The artists who created this painting—no individual names are listed—were a group of semi-amateur and semi-professional who were students at the Central Academy of Fine Arts High School.

5

Fig. 2.9 Mao Zedong inspects “the army of the proletarian cultural revolution” (mainly Red Guards from all over the country) on Tiananmen Rostrum, Aug. 18, 1966

In 1966, Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Lin Biao, Chen Boda and Kang Sheng were the members of Standing Committee of Politburo, while Jiang Qing, Chen Boda and Kang Sheng were the members of Central Cultural Revolution Group, which replaced the Politburo Standing Committee as the de facto top power organ of China in the beginning years of Cultural Revolution.

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Anti-Culture: Art of Cultural Revolution (1966–1976)

Fig. 2.10 Yan Liben (Tang Dynasty), “Emperor Sima Yan, Jin Dynasty,” from “Emperors of Successive Dynasties,” ink and color on silk, handscroll, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The only individual painter whose name was remembered by many Chinese in the early period of the Cultural Revolution is Liu Chunhua. Liu Chunhua was a student of the Central Academy of Art and Crafts (CAAC) when he painted the famous “Chairman Mao Going to Anyuan” in 1967 (Fig. 2.11). Although not a Red Guard, Liu Chunhua painted the painting under the commission of Jingangshan Army,6 the Red Guards organization of CAAC. Although modern China is basically a secular nation, the party leaders, especially Mao Zedong, 6 Jinggangshan, Jinggang Mountains, a mountain range located in border of Jiangxi and Hunan provinces, southern China, is known as birthplace of the Red Army, and “cradle of revolution.” Many Red Guards organizations were named as Jinggangshan Army, Jinggangshan Brigade, or Jinggangshan Fighting Force, etc. during the Cultural Revolution to show their loyalty to Mao and determination of revolution.

were deified during the Cultural Revolution, in the “God-Building Campaign.”7 Previously party leaders were painted in a realistic manner, as seen in Li Qi’s “Chairman Walking across the Nation” (1960, Fig. 1.11) and Hou Yimin’s “Liu Shaoqi and Coal Miners of Anyuan” (1960, Fig. 1.22). This realistic approach with a Romanticist flavor gave way to a “combination of Revolutionary Realism and Revolutionary Romanticism,” as it is called in official ideology. Liu’s piece is a perfect example of this. When the artist became a revolutionary legend, the painting became an icon and an unbelievable amount of 0.9 billion In ancient China, emperors were called “the Son of Heaven” (tianzi), a tradition that might have started from Zhou Dynasty (1050–256 B.C.). Thus, emperors are not gods, but the son of god instead, while Mao was apotheosized into a god who lived in the earth, a status even higher than ancient emperors.

7

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Red Guards Art: Destruction and Construction

51

Fig. 2.11 Liu Chunhua, “Chairman Mao Going to Anyuan,” 1967, oil on canvas

images of the work were printed, making it the most-reproduced oil painting in the world. It also appearing in more than a hundred million photographs, badges, postal stamps, among others (Fig. 2.12). The work described the story of Mao Zedong’s leadership in the strikes of Anyuan Coal Mine in 1921. Even though Liu Shaoqi was the main leader of the strikes, later as a party leader, he was eliminated as political archrival by Mao Zedong in the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. Thus, history needed to be refurbished.8 The There has been a dispute in the field of history on who were the leaders of the Great Anyuan Strike in 1922, Anyuan, Jiangxi. Documents show that Li Lisan was the general director of the strike, and Liu Shaoqi was

8

painting depicts young Mao Zedong walking to the Anyuan Mine, Jiangxi from Changsha, Hunan, for about one hundred miles, to spread Marxism and lead the strike against the authority of the mine. As for the treatment of the protagonist and the background, the statement by the artist would be the most authoritative,

plenipotentiary of the workers’ club who represented workers in negotiation with the authority of the mine, while Mao Zedong was involved in the preparation of the strike, including investigation of workers’ conditions and enlightenment of coal miners, see Henan: Jingjiu Wanbao (Jingjiu Evening Paper), Sep.14, 2011 and http://www.baike.com/wiki/安源路矿工人大罢工, available Jan. 21, 2014.

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Anti-Culture: Art of Cultural Revolution (1966–1976)

Fig. 2.12 Badges, books, prints that reproduced the oil painting “Chairman Mao Going to Anyuan” during the Cultural Revolution

In composition, we gave great prominence to the image of Chairman Mao. The lofty image of Chairman Mao faces us, walks to us, just like the brilliant sun rising in front of us that brings us great hope. Every gesture and posture by him are the embodiment of Mao Zedong Thoughts.9 Therefore, it is necessary to inject every detail with meaning. The raising head and calm facial expression indicate Chairman Mao’s indomitable revolutionary spirit

9

The phrase Mao Zedong Sixiang was translated into “Mao Zedong Thoughts” rather than “Mao Zedong’s thoughts” because it was considered as a theory or discourse by CCP. It is like “Maoism,” which is used in the West but never appeares in China’s official media.

that makes him fearless to difficulties, dangers and coercion. The tight left fist represents Chairman Mao’s great ambition and victorious belief that he would liberate the Chinese and even all humankind with persistence and determination. The old umbrella in his right-hand shows Chairman Mao’s painstaking work style with which he is busy running for revolution, and traveling across mountains and rivers, rain or shine. His steady steps on the rugged mountain path display that Chairman Mao hacks his way through difficulties and leads us towards victory. His long hair with little care due to busy work and the lower hem of his robe are blown by autumn wind that shows an unusual moment, namely, the moment right before a revolutionary storm. Finally, we see the rising of red sun

2.1

Red Guards Art: Destruction and Construction

53

that brings the Anyuan area with red light of morning.10

The passage from the artist’s article represents an exaggerated and flattered symbolism that set a paradigm for the art of the Cultural Revolution. It is not a history painting, as Hou Yiming’s “Liu Shaoqi and Coal Miners of Anyuan” (Fig. 1.22), instead, it is a modern icon painting to which people need to revere and worship, but ironically, was based on a fabricated story in which Mao was upgraded from an assistant to the leader of the strike. In fact, endorsed by the authority, mainly by Jiang Qing, Mao’s infamous wife who was in charge of cultural affairs during this time, this painting was printed in huge amounts and sent to every corner of China. People all over China welcomed the arrival of reproduction of the painting in a frenzy of delight, not unlike the scene of Buddhists greeting respectfully Buddha’s relic with whole town turning out. This iconolatry successfully served the deification of Mao Zedong in the Cultural Revolution, which we might call “an alternative pop art.” The difference of this pop art and American’s Pop Art from 1950s to 1960s is their ideological basis: the latter embraced the concept of mass production and almighty proliferation of media, while the former, used the public for a “god-building campaign” through mass production and distribution of political icons, supported nationwide by state-run media. Unsurprisingly, later Chinese contemporary artists have sneered at it in manner of cynical simulation (Fig. 2.13), in which frontal image of Mao was replaced by the artist with his back to the audience to subvert the parament revolutionary icon. The wild phase of Red Guards art had lasted no more than two years. In the end of 1968, Mao Zedong urged “the Educated Youths” (zhishi 10 Liu Chunhua, “Gesong Weida Lingxiu Maozhuxi Shi Women Zuidade Xingfu” (Eulogizing the Great Leader Chairman Mao Is Our Greatest Happiness), Renmin Ribao (people’s daily), July 7, 1968, quoted and translated from Wang Mingxian and Yan Shanchun, Xinzhongguo Meishu Tushi: 1966-1976 (The Art History of the People’s Republic of China: 1966-1976), Beijing: China Youth Press, p. 54.

Fig. 2.13 Wang Xingwei, “Road to the East,” 1995, oil on canvas, 200  155 cm

qingnian, also translated as “Rusticated Urban Youths” or “Sent-Down Youths” by some historians), mainly middle and high-school students, of which Red Guards consisted, go to the countryside and frontier regions. He said that “The intellectual youth must go to the country and will be educated from living in rural poverty.”11 Therefore the art of the Educated Youths, from approximately 1969 to 1972, can be seen as the continuum of the Red Guard art. The artists of these two kinds of art came essentially from the same group of students, some of whom were part of both groups. There were two types of art about the Educated Youths: that which was Quoted from “Women Yeyou Liangzhihou, Buyao Daizai Chengli Chixianfan,” (We too Have Two Hands, Let us not Laze about in the City), Renmin Ribao, Dec.22, 1968. The movement of zhishi qingnian as a solution of unemployment started in fact in the 1950s, when youth from urban areas were organized to move to remote towns to establish farms, but it didn’t become a national campaign until the early 1969 when nearly all graduates of middle- and high schools were involuntarily sent to the rural countryside.

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Fig. 2.14 Shen Jiawei, “Standing Guard for Our Great Motherland,” 1974, oil on canvas

created by the Educated Youth artists, and that which dealt with the subject of the Educated Youths.12 Shen Jiawei was a representative of the Educated Youth art. Born in Shanghai, Shen moved to Jiaxing, Zhejiang, at age of three. From Nov. 12, 1966 to Jan. 22, 1967, he, along with five high-school classmates, had walked from Shanghai to Tiananmen, an action similar to the Great Revolutionary March (dachuanlian) of the Red Guards. He was then sent to Heilongjiang, the north-most province in China, in 1970, when a mandatory immigration took place under Mao’s directive. One of the most talented and representative artists of the Educated Youths, Shen Jiawei 12

In Wang Mingxian and Yan Shanchun’s book, the subtitles of Chapter Five, “Vast World Where Much Can be Accomplished: Art of the Educated Youths,” are “A few famous artists of the Educated Youths” and “Artwork with the subject of the Educated Youths,” see Wang Mingxian and Yan Shanchun, Xin Zhongguo Meishu Tushi: 1966-1976 (The Art History of the People’s Republic of China: 1966-1976), Beijing: China Youth Press, 2000, pp. 80–96.

combined the ideologically correct content and the best form he could produce in his piece, “Standing Guard for Our Great Motherland” (Fig. 2.14). This painting entered the National Art Exhibition that celebrated twenty-fifth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in 1974. It was allegedly endorsed by Jiang Qing. The context of this painting is the military conflicts in the China-Soviet border of the northeast, including the most famous confrontation at Treasure Island (zhenbao dao), Heilongjiang, in 1969.13 When the ideological divergence and political conflicts between two socialist countries 13 There were two battles between Russians and Chinese in Treasure Island in 1969, which left casualty of around eight hundred soldiers in Chinese side, about ten times of Russian loss. See Thomas Robinson, “China Confronts the Soviet Union: warfare and diplomacy on China’s Inner Asian frontiers,” in Roderick MacFarquhar and John K. Fairbank edited The Cambridge History of China, Volume 15—The People’s Republic, Part 2: Revolution with the Chinese Revolution, 1966-1982, Cambridge, New York, Port Chester, Melbourne, Sydney: Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 254–261, “The 1969 SinoSoviet Border Conflict.”

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Red Guards Art: Destruction and Construction

evolved into a military clash on the border, it bestowed paintings like this with ideological significance and patriotic sentiment. The painting depicts heroic border guards on a watch tower, inspired directly by the same-title patriotic song, as the artist recollected. The song lyrics include,

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statement in 1975 elucidates the context of and his thoughts on this painting, Chairman Mao taught us, “We require in art the unification of politics and art, the unification of contents and form, and the unity of content of revolutionary politics and consummate artistic form.” To realize this teaching, I made nearly thirty sketches in the art creation workshop of the military farm (where I settled). I tried to find better viewpoint to the watchtower and worked out a good composition to present those stalwart and lofty border soldiers and reveal profoundly the theme of the painting. I was inspired by the melody and rhythm of the song and assured the lyric sentiment, so that I changed in the sketch from the scene of “finding enemies” into the sentinel on duty, to present border soldiers’ sublime spirit with solemnity, pride, responsibility. . . .. . .To paint heroes from multiple perspectives, I added a commander who climbs up and inspects the sentry. His appearance makes connection of the ground and the lofty watchtower. Suggested by senior officers, I painted a militiaman from military farm inside the sentry box to show joint defense by army and militia. The moment of making phone call by him, again, connects the sentry with the ground, the rear base, even Beijing. On the ground, I painted the river and an island, with addition of two signal lights indicating that this is China’s territory. I attempted to use all possible means to give prominence to the major heroes. Among them the sentry is the center. To emphasize him, I made effort in rendering of his face, posture and body contour. Also, I followed suggestions by the comrades in the workshop and placed him against a vast and bright sky to draw immediate attention from the audience. All horizontal lines of the tower converged toward him. Stairs and the sentry box formed a triangle that supports him as if he stands on, but also soars aloft, the motherland at the same time. This also generated a sense of stability for the composition. Finally, I lowered the railing about one third based on the advice by comrades, which made the main hero loftier and didn’t lose a sense of safety.15

Holding a gun in hand, Bathed in bright rays of morning glow, I stand on the border and guard for our great motherland. With a red heart toward Beijing every now and then, Standing on the borderline, As if standing on the Tiananmen Square! Brilliant sun shines the frontier, The rays illuminate hearts of soldiers. . .14

To convey the heroic message, the artist lifts the watchtower up to an unbelievable height (about twenty meters or sixty-five feet high), which the viewer can grasp from the great vertical distance between the tower top and the frozen river beneath (Ussuri River presumably). This tower becomes a platform on which three frontier guards stand loftily, enhanced by the bottom-up view. While one guard watches the border through binoculars, posed as still as a statue, a captain-like soldier climbs the tower to inspect the observation. The third soldier, a militiaman indicated by his fur hat, is inside the booth and making phone call as if to report the observation to the commander. As the song tells, they are “bathed in bright rays of morning glow,” and the frontier guards are raised to a sublime level by the artist. Ironically, the Socialist Realism, the paradigm imported from Soviet Union, was used here to paint a work that advocates fighting Soviet military forces. The Socialist Realism in Shen Jiawei’s painting, however, is a typical Chinese version, seen from its special perspective, combination of pingyuan (level distance) for the vast view below and gaoyuan (high distance) for the monumental watchtower with soldiers, perspectives of traditional shanshui. The artist’s

14 Quoted from Wang Mingxian and Yan Shanchun, Xin Zhongguo Meishu Tushi: 1966-1976 (The Art History of the People’s Republic of China: 1966-1976), Beijing: China Youth Press, p. 86, translated by Zhou Yan.

After its entry into the National Art Exhibition in 1974, copies of this painting were printed in the hundreds of thousands, appearing in many newspapers and magazines nationwide, thus becoming very popular along with the same-title patriotic song. Shen Jiawei’s painting marks the Shen Jiawei, “Suzao Fanxiu Qianshao de Yingxiong Xingxiang” (Painting Heroic Images of the AntiRevisionist Frontier), quoted from ibid. pp. 86–87. 15

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Fig. 2.15 Zhou Shuqiao, “Poplars and Willows Grow up in Spring Breeze,” 1974, oil on canvas

end of Red Guard art, especially the kind of street art, through its masterful treatment and quasiprofessional quality. The wildness of Red Guard art was replaced by maturity of Socialist Realism. The 1974 National Art Exhibition featured many works that rendered the life of the Educated Youths in the countryside, most completed in the early 1970s. Instead of being made by the artists of Educated Youths, though, these pieces were mostly made by professional artists. For example, the oil painting “Poplars and Willows Grown in Spring Breeze” (Fig. 2.15) was done by Zhou Shuqiao, a Guangdong artist who graduated from Department of Oil Painting, Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in 1966. He chose to depict the first day when the Educated Youths had arrived the village. Teenagers with glorious red flowers on their chest, surprisingly most of whom are women, sit in rows with classroom-style, their faces alight with curiosity and excitement, surrounded by peasants who are supposed to be their re-educators. Bathed with brilliant sunshine from behind, they hold tea bowls offered by the peasants, having left their brief personal belongings on the floor. They are dressed as typical “revolutionaries:” as everyone holds military satchels, wears military trousers, and even military shoes for some, vestiges of Red Guards uniforms. A pile of Selected Works of Mao Zedong on the desk provides the “spiritual food” for them, while a pile of bamboo hats on the chair represents their

coming labor. As the students are welcomed, the peasants feel as if their own children have come home. The title, “Poplars and Saplings Grow up in the Spring Breeze,” infers this relationship between the Educated Youths and peasants. Such beautiful harmony between students and their new environment is also shown in the propaganda painting “Strong Sprouting in the Vast World” (Fig. 2.16), a gouache painting by Zhang Shaocheng, an artist from Guangxi. This popular piece shows three Educated Youths full of vigor and vitality walking to their new workplace, a rubber plantation, as indicated by their headlamps and the rubber tapping knife on the shoulder of one student, and the rubber-plant saplings in foreground. The plants are sprouting and growing like the Educated Youths under the brilliant sunshine of Mao Zedong Thoughts. The reality, however, was far from the harmonious and joyful scenes painted here. The urban youths who came to rural areas took up a large portion of limited sources from local peasants causing serious conflicts of interest between the Educated Youths and local communities. The limited availability of food led the Educated Youths to steal from the peasants’ vegetable gardens and hencoops, a common phenomenon according to many Educated Youths’ recollection. Then when the urban areas had job opportunities for the youths, many of them were claimed by those who handled personal relation

2.2

Art in Temples: Refinement and Institutionalization of the Art of. . .

Fig. 2.16 Zhang Shaocheng, “Strong Sprouting in the Vast World,” 1973, propaganda painting in gouache

with their “re-educators” well, allowing them to leave the impoverished countryside. Those with no connections desperately traded what they had (including their bodies) for such opportunities. Thus, the hypocrisy or at least distortion and beautification are essential in the artworks that reflect the idealized life of the Educated Youths.

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Art in Temples: Refinement and Institutionalization of the Art of “God-Building Campaign”

associated with worship. In 1959, the monumental “Ten Great Buildings” were built in Beijing, which provided artists with ideological temples for creation of usually large-scale artwork. They are the Great Hall of the People, the China Revolutionary History Museum, the Cultural Palace of Nationalities, the National Agriculture Exhibition Center, the Chinese People’s Revolutionary Military Museum, in addition to the Beijing Exhibition Center (built in 1954) and the National Art Museum of China (built in 1958–1962), where the space was designed to wholly or partially exhibit artwork. During the Cultural Revolution, the transformation of street art into the art of temples followed the decline of the Red Guards Movement in the early 1970s. This is a continuation of the God-building Campaign art initiated by “Chairman Mao Going to Anyuan.” This paradigmatic piece was exhibited first at the Chinese Revolutionary History Museum but became part of street art later when it was reproduced in various media and distributed nationwide. From 1972 to 1974, there were at least six “national” large-scale exhibitions associated with art in temples, held in Beijing, among them the National Art Exhibition in the Thirtieth Anniversary of Chairman Mao’s “Talks on the Yan’an Art and Literature Forum” (1972), the National Exhibition of Lianhuanhua (serial picture stories) and Chinese Painting (1973), and the National Art Exhibition in the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of PRC (1974). The great buildings became temples for worshiping the CCP and its leadership, with shrines for apotheosizing Mao Zedong in particular. Professional artists, including art college faculty and artists of huayuan of national, provincial and municipal levels,16 were hired and the anonymity was gradually replaced by celebrity. In addition to older generation of oil 16

During the Cultural Revolution, there was a great deal of artwork produced for state-run museums or created for various official exhibitions to be displayed in temple-like public spaces, in contrast with the relatively few pieces of Red Guard art found on streets. Displaying art in temples could be traced centuries in China, usually adorned with work

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Huayuan, painting academy, is a special kind of art institution initiated in 1957, when Academy of Chinese Painting (zhongguohuayuan) was founded in Beijing. More academies of painting, mainly ink but oil painting in some cases, have been founded in Shanghai and provinces later. Similar to the imperial academy of painting from Song to Qing dynasties, it is an official art institution affiliated with the state administration, thus the painters in the academies are the staff employed and paid by the state, and their work is essentially to serve the state and its ideology.

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Fig. 2.17 He Kongde, “Gutian Meeting,” 1972, oil on canvas, 290  175 cm, collection of the Chinese People’s Revolutionary Military Museum, Beijing

and ink painters, such as He Kongde (1925–2003), Guan Shanyue (1912–2000), Qian Songyan (1899–1985), Yang Zhiguan (1930–2016, not very old yet but was wellknown from the early 1950s), who had enhanced their fame in the revolution, young professionals, including Chen Yanning (1945-), Tang Xiaoming (1939-), Tang Muli (1947-), Tang Daxi (1936-), Lin Yong (1942-), Wu Qizhong (1944-), Yang Lizhou and Wang Yingchun (both 1942-, husband and wife), all from Guangdong except for the artist couple Yang Lizhou and Wang Yingchun, who hailed from Shanxi, and Tang Muli, from Shanghai, acquired their celebrity and popularity through displaying their refined version of God-building Campaign art in these temples. The institutionalization primarily embodied in the process that organized the creation of artworks for certain political events, say the National Day, anniversary of founding of CCP, etc. and selected them for variety level of official exhibitions, all by CAA from municipal branch to the national headquarters, a system that

worked in the Seventeen Years period but was reinforced during the Cultural Revolution. He Kongde, student of the Maksimov Workshop, worked as professional artist at the Chinese People’s Revolutionary Military Museum. His most popular pieces include: “A Letter from Home” (1957), “Right Before the Attack” (1963), “Gutian Meeting” (1972, Fig. 2.17), “the Autumn Harvest Uprising” (1972, collaborated with Gao Quan, Ji Xiaoqiu and Chen Yuxian), “Only Acting in Unison Can We Win a Victory” (1974, collaborated with Gao Hong and Peng Bin), “Good Premier of the People” (1977, collaborated with Gao Hong), all of which were painted for particular exhibitions or to enter permanent collection in museums. The high quality of China’s version of Socialist Realism seen here caused these paintings to become representatives of the art of the temples. “Gutian Meeting” celebrates Mao Zedong before he took the control of the Communist Party. It is the ninth meeting of CCP representative of the Red Fourth Army, presided by Chen

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Art in Temples: Refinement and Institutionalization of the Art of. . .

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Fig. 2.18 Hou Yimin, Deng Shu, Jin Shangyi, Zhan Jianjun, Yuan Hao, Yang Lin-gui, “We Must Implement the Proletarian Cultural Revolution to the Finish,” 1972, oil on canvas

Yi, held in Gutian Village, Fujian, in 1929, in which Mao Zedong, the party secretary of the army, gave a key speech on how to build a proletarian military force. Technically the work is the highest quality. The sophisticated pyramid composition, common in Russian and Soviet painting, is composed of three groups of soldiers and officers who sit in a courtyard of typical southern China village residence (Fujian Province), forming several layers from fore to middle ground. The standing protagonist, Mao Zedong, is given prominence with his head forming the top-of-pyramid position. Light focuses on Mao and the group close to him, recalling scenes of priests amiably preaching the gospel, accessible to all, including the viewer who could be among the foreground group conceptually. The shrine where Mao stands is not itself aloft, but instead is placed at the worshippers’ level. The images of Marx and Lenin behind Mao indicate the ideological bloodline functioning like remote and supernatural spirit; in contrast Mao becomes an earthly deity who lives among his chosen people. This painting hung prominently in the National Art Exhibition in the Thirtieth Anniversary of Chairman Mao’s “Talks on the Yan’an Art and Literature Forum” in 1972 before it was moved to a permanent display in the Chinese People’s Revolutionary Military Museum.

The same 1972 show featured another important piece that also belongs to the God-building Campaign. It was painted by a group of professional artists, all but one of whom were trained in the Soviet mode, and who had just been freed from the labor camp (or niupeng, cowshed, as named in the revolution period) near Beijing.17 They include the artist couple Hou Yimin and Deng Shu, Jin Shangyi, Zhan Jianjun, all celebrated oil painters—in addition to Yuan Hao and Yang Lin-gui. Similar in subject to the painting “The East Is Red” by the CAFA High School students (Fig. 2.8), this painting builds a more convincing deity because of its professional skill (Fig. 2.18). Instead of inspection on the rostrum with his colleagues, Mao walks alone to the Golden-Water Bridge ( jinshui qiao) below the rostrum and into the massive crowd of Red Guards who have gathered from all over the country on the square, and surround him like a god whom they had dreamt of seeing in person. With the army cap in his right hand, Mao, the absolute epicenter of the composition, waves to the frenzied crowd with his left hand. Again, the

17 See Julia F. Andrews, Painters and Politics in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1979, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1994, p. 361.

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resplendent rising sun with magnificent rays is a symbol of Mao and his thoughts, which illuminate all the objects in the picture. The panorama format provided artists with a space large enough to depict masses of Red Guards. The arrangement of central figure and crowds is manipulated carefully: two-third space in front of Mao is given over to the crowd, so that his vision can cover the majority of his subjects. The artists enhanced the propaganda effect by painting the text on the red flag to the right, “follow Chairman Mao in the Long March” and emphasizing the theme, “we must implement the Proletarian Cultural Revolution to the finish.” A collaboration of six painters on one single painting would not be easy, but the revolutionary enthusiasm of the team (prompted by their recent release from imprisonment) ensured that they worked in a highly cooperative spirit. Other works related to the development of this secular worship were those that cherished the “victorious achievements of the Cultural Revolution and socialist construction,” focusing on the activities of workers, peasants, and soldiers. Featured in national exhibitions from 1972 to 1974, these pictures, like the ones in a Catholic church which illustrate biblical stories of Jesus Christ and his disciples, were part of the art of ideological temples associated with the earthly god, Mao. Artists, encouraged or inspired by his directives, heroically perform their tasks. The following lists only a few paintings of this type which attracted the most attention at the national exhibitions in the early 1970s. Tang Muli, “Acupuncture Anesthesia,” 1972, oil on canvas. Chen Yifei and Wei Jingshan, “Trailblazers,” 1972, oil on canvas. Zhu Naizheng, “New Manba (Tibetan, “doctor”),” oil on canvas, 1972. Tang Xiaoming, “Never Stop Fighting,” “A Woman Party Committee Member,” both 1972, oil on canvas. Yang Zhiguang, “A New Woman Coal Miner,” 1972, ink and color on paper. Chen Yanning, “Chairman Mao Inspecting in Guangdong Countryside,” 1972, oil on canvas; “Diary in the New Long March,” 1973, ink and color on paper; “A Barefoot Doctor in Harbor,” 1974, oil on canvas.

Anti-Culture: Art of Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) Tang Daxi, “People’s Apples,” 1973, ink and color on paper. Guan Shanyue, “A Green Great Wall,” 1973, ink and color on paper. Wang Yingchun and Yang Lizhou, “Keep Cutting into Mountains,” 1973, ink and color on paper. Wu Yunhua, “Copper Miners,” 1973, oil on canvas. Wu Qizhong, Zhou Bo, and Lin Yong, “Gifts from Beijing,” 1974, ink and color on paper.

For example, the successful application of acupuncture anesthesia in surgery was considered as one of greatest accomplishments of the Cultural Revolution by official media. The Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni even shot a stunning episode of acupuncture anesthesia applied in the process of Caesarean section operation at a hospital in Beijing in his 1972 documentary film China, that recorded variety of activities in China during the Cultural Revolution. Such achievements were celebrated in paintings. Compared with other pieces that met the principle of “redness, smoothness and brightness,” the tone and coloration of Tang Muli’s “Acupuncture Anesthesia” (Fig. 2.19) are unusual.18 Commissioned by a health service, it featured the 1972 exhibition to great acclaim. The environment portrayed is simple, but it shows how all of the basic hygienic conditions are met. All figures work in a professional manner, except for the nurse who is operating the acupuncture anesthesia by putting a long needle on the hukou of the patient, because her face is not covered with surgical mask like that of her colleague.19 The gray tone must have been impressive to an audience used to seeing the bright red tones of the

18 Julia Andrews discusses in detail how Tang Muli dealt with the conflict of professionalism and ideological requirement in creation of this painting, see her book Painters and Politics in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1979, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1994, pp. 357–358. 19 Hukou, literally “tiger mouth,” is the part of hand between the thumb and the index finger that is assumed the acupuncture point for anesthesia. The reason for the nurse who doesn’t wear the mask is that the artist needed to show her smile to display her enjoyment and amiable communication with the patient, according to Julia Andrews, ibid. p. 358.

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Fig. 2.19 Tang Muli, “Acupuncture Anesthesia,” 1972, oil on canvas, 165  229 cm

Fig. 2.20 Yang Zhiguang, “A New Woman Coal Miner,” 1972, ink on paper

revolutionary art. Doctors and their assistants concentrate on the operation under shadowless lamp which illuminates the upper part of the patient whose calm betrays no pain or fear—an effect that the commissioner obviously wanted to emphasize. The professionalism is also reflected in the treatment of two groups: conceptually, although the surgery team behind is more important than the anesthesia group in front, because of the subject matter, the front group is placed in the center. The illumination of the front two nurses emphasizes their centrality as the subject of the painting. Yet, the rear group is equally emphasized by the intense and absorbed expressions on their faces. Such expressions charged the atmosphere around them though they are out of spotlight. Particularly impressive are the subtle differences of the almost entirely white surroundings. The white uniforms and white sheets unify the composition, but retain subtle differences produced by lighting, texture, and distance. Images of soldiers, workers and peasants comprised the iconography audiences saw in most national exhibitions, except for images of Mao. Yang Zhiguang’s painting “A New Woman Coal Miner” (Fig. 2.20) shows the worker as a protagonist using traditional ink and light colors.

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Fig. 2.21 Sergei Gerasimov, “A Collective Farm Festival,” 1937, oil on canvas, 234.5  372 cm, The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

This Cantonese artist, beginning in the 1950s, experimented with ink figure painting (Fig. 1.7). Conceived of as a portrait, Yang Zhiguang illustrates a young woman miner of heroic bearing from the front. She glows, full of energy and health. Tying on her headgear, she bears with a smile reflecting her happiness on her first day of work. Her delightful pink shirt underneath her new uniform, and especially her bright shining eyes, all convey an ideal image of a young worker of Socialist China. Although her pose seems somewhat theatrical, not unlike an actress on stage, this image drew great praise from audiences and media when it was displayed in the National Art Exhibition in 1972. The treatment of back-lighting is typical in this kind of heroic painting, because it gives the heroine a dazzling radiance, influenced by Soviet Socialist Realistic painting, as seen in Sergei Gerasimov’s “A Collective Farm Festival” (Fig. 2.21). The surrounding is attentively executed, and every item, prop, and object is selected carefully. The work shed on the right houses supplies and

uniforms, while a loudspeaker, hanging on the lintel, was a device used everywhere during the Cultural Revolution for official announcements and propaganda broadcasts. The bamboo railing and stairs, as well as banana trees in foreground, reflect the geographic feature of southern China. The pit opening and outward-bound trains in the background provide visual context for the painting. The artist made sure to add a propaganda window on which there are displayed political clichés, official documents, and local news. Every detail, though, focuses on the heroine in the center, through the contrast of strong ink and brushwork between her and the rest of the lightly brushed composition. Another heroic subject matter was that of a peasant, here in the ink painting “Keep Cutting into Mountains” (Fig. 2.22) painted by an artist couple, Wang Yingchun and Yang Lizhou. The well-received painting was featured the National Exhibition of Lianhuanhua (serial picture stories) and Chinese Painting (1973). Chen Yonggui, a model peasant from Shanxi who led his fellow

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Fig. 2.22 Wang Yingchun & Yang Lizhou, “Keep Cutting into Mountains,” 1973, ink and color on paper

villagers in the reconstruction of their homes, fields, and environment. His achievement was recognized by Mao Zedong, who appointed him to serve as vice premier of the central government from 1975 to 1980. Though it was an honor, it was a problematic appointment because Chen was illiterate. He would later fall from favor when he opposed Deng Xiaping’s policies and died from lung cancer in 1986. In the painting, Chen Yonggui, wearing his signature headdress, uses a hoe and his left foot, helped by a young man, to push rubble caked with soil down the hill. He works despite it being a snowy day, typical of severe weather in northern China. Nonetheless, in this case, Chen Yonggui and the villagers continue to cut down the mountain, taking barren hills and making them into terraced fields to plant crops. To display the loftiness of the protagonist as well as the grand scene of this mass campaign, the artists combined two perspectives:

we see the major figures from below, but the middle- and background are shown in a bird’seye view. This scientifically arbitrary perspective looks back to the traditional shifting viewpoints of Chinese shanshui tradition. Like “A New Woman Coal Miner,” all activities and images surrounding the central figure visually proclaim him as heroic. The work exemplifies the “Three Prominences,” hierarchy of figures from positive, heroic to central heroic characters.20 The artists depict the central hero most meticulously. Using oil painting technique in his head and hands,

“Three Prominences,” santuchu, like the principle “Redness, Smoothness and Brightness,” is a principle transplanted from revolutionary stage art. It gives prominence to positive figures in all figures, then to heroic characters, finally to central hero/heroine(s). When the principle “Redness, Smoothness and Brightness” is about technique of coloration, brushwork and lighting, this one is the guidance of composition.

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Fig. 2.23 Tang Daxi, “People’s Apples,” 1973, ink and color on paper

Chen Yonggui’s humble, energetic and optimistic properties are grasped through excellent depiction of his physicality and facial expression. To create the natural effect of snowflakes on his cottonpadded jacket and pants, the artists dripped alum water on the paper before painting so that ink couldn’t seep into the spots. Compared to Jiang Zhaohe’s ink figure painting “Refugees” painted thirty years ago (Fig. 1.8), the artists of ink figure painting in the 1970s were versed in various skills and methods needed to portraying heroic images. The friendly heroic image was continued by Tang Daxi, another Guangdong artist, who

contributed “People’s Apples” (Fig. 2.23) to the 1973 exhibition. Trained as a professional sculptor, Tang Daxi created an ink piece of eulogy on the People’s Liberation Army, which reflects a sculptural quality garnering high praise in the show. The painting fabricated a scene that shows PLA soldiers passing an apple orchard, when heading to a battle during the Civil War in late 1940s. Though apples are offered willingly by the little girl held by her mother, an orchardworker, among others, they politely refuse. This reflects the “Three Main Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points for Attention of the Chinese

2.2

Art in Temples: Refinement and Institutionalization of the Art of. . .

People’s Liberation Army,” especially the second rule, “don’t take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses.”21 Here a group of PLA soldiers, led by a machine gunner and followed by four soldiers who carry a heavy machine gun on their shoulders and, further back, other comrades, progress toward the audience, to be welcomed by the orchardists under the apple trees hanging heavy with fruit. With an overlook view, the composition emphasizes the harmonious atmosphere between the army and the people. The central hero, despite carting a machinegun, is amiable, his smile and sturdy body display the features of a model soldier as a visual eulogy of “people’s army.” Because the artist was primarily a sculptor, the brushwork here is applied as it was an oil painting with trace of chisels, far from the calligraphic tradition. The art of temples during the Cultural Revolution took central stage, as the great leader occupied the shrine-like center, while everyone else stood by, acting as lesser, flanking deities or supplicant donors placed below. The activities of workers, peasants and soldiers were an incarnation of the leadergod’s thoughts or discourses. Shanshui or landscape painting would seem alien to this milieu, but like early examples of shanshui, developed in Tang Dynasty, it functioned as a backdrop to human activities, or incarnations on the stage of a great temple of the earthly god. Still, it does not mean that artists could not be creative. On the contrary, they continued the remolding of ink art, shanshui “The Three Main Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points for Attention of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army,” sanda jilü baxiang zhuyi, were originated from the four regulations for officers and soldiers who took part in the Autumn Uprising in 1927. These regulations were developed into a final version in 1947, announced by the PLA Headquarters. The Three Main Rules of Discipline are: 1. Obey orders in all your actions; 2. Do not take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses; 3. Turn in everything captured. The Eight Points for Attention are: 1. Speak politely; 2. Pay fairly for what you buy; 3. Return everything you borrow; 4. Pay for anything you damage; 5. Do not hit or swear at people; 6. Do not damage crops; 7. Do not take liberties with women; 8. Do not ill-treat captives. To make it popular, there is even a song of “Three Rules of Discipline and Eight Points for Attention of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army,” which could be heard in barracks, college campus, factories, and countryside during the Cultural Revolution.

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particularly, which started from the early 1950s, and developed in Qian Songyan’s socialist shanshui in the early 1960s. In the name of revolutionary romanticism, shanshui painters still experimented in technique that could convey political message more effectively in the Cultural Revolution. Guan Shanyue, the artist who collaborated with Fu Baoshi in large-scale painting “Such is the Beauty of Our Rivers and Mountains” (Fig. 1.12) in 1959, and never stopped his explorations new shanshui, now flavored them with revolutionary romanticism. “A Green Great Wall” (Fig. 2.24), featured the National Exhibition of Lianhuanhua (serial picture stories) and Chinese Painting in 1973, is one of a few examples of shanshui in the Cultural Revolution that created a unique scenery full of ideological meaning by blending traditional ink method with oil technique. Unlike the 1959 painting, that depicted a panorama of the entire nation, this illustrates the coast of Guangdong, southern China, the artist’s home province where he was born in Yangjiang, a coastal town. There the environment was poor before so that little was able to be planted there. Under the call of “Greening the Motherland” by Mao Zedong, women in the area planted trees, while most men sailed out to fishing. The planting created a successful forest and, in this context, Guan Shanyue found a subject that complimented the socialist achievement through his exploration in representation of dense forest in ink. This large-scale painting (144.5  251 cm) consists of three layers: the luxuriant and green forest of Casuarina trees in foreground, the dark green tree torrents rolling in the middle ground toward the distance, and the vast seascape behind. The torrents of forest blend seemingly with waves of sea, as if we could hear rustling of forest as well as crashing of the surf. As in figure painting, the central hero, here the brightly green forest, make up the core of composition, filling two-thirds of the pictorial plane. To create the dense, lush effect, the artist applied a large amount of shilü (mineral green, a fine green pigment made of malachite). This thick, opaque Chinese pigment can be used as oil pigment, allowing it to be layered depending on how thick the

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Fig. 2.24 Guan Shanyue, “A Green Great Wall,” 1973, ink and color on paper, 144.5 x 251 cm

depicted object needs to be. The trunk and branches of the trees are painted as in oil on canvas, so that the typical brushwork of a Chinese ink painting is minimized, but it creates a lush, textured effect in the foreground forest. The middle portion is mix of dark ink with the green color, setting off the outline and highlighting the forest in foreground, forming sub-layers of waves that roll toward the horizon. Though tiny, there is a squad of militiamen on patrol on beach, echoing the title “The Green Great Wall.” This wall refers to the forest used as a shelter belt, and the militiamen who will defend against potential foreign disturbances. The vast ocean that forms the background is painted in a light color wash, giving it a sense of distance. Like the middle ground, the artist added details: lots of fishing vessels reflect the peaceful scenery of socialist production. Its perspective, pingyuan (level distance), helps to create a sublime shanshui painting, not unlike his “Such is the Beauty of Our Rivers and Mountains” (Fig. 1.12). Its loftiness is also reinforced by the tall, upright trees in the foreground.

2.3

Alternative Art in a Turbulent Age

In addition to the mainstream, Red Guard art and the art of temples, an “alternative art” that stepped outside the strictures found in the propagandistic productions. There were three types of alterative art in this turbulent age. The first type is associated with the incident of the “Black Painting” by artists who were actually inside the official art world, such as Huang Yongyu, Shilu, and Li Keran, among others. The second type was created by artists outside the mainstream, such as Huang Qiuyuan and Chen Zizhuang who continued to work in the rarely-seen literati traditions, mostly shanshui. The third type was made by the artists who belonged to the same generation as the Red Guards but chose to stand aside from the violent and insane “revolution” and sought to create “art for art’s sake,” and, as such, these artists belonged to the “No Name” and other underground art groups.

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Alternative Art in a Turbulent Age

The “Black Painting” incident took place in the intense peak of chaos and irrational behavior sparked by the Cultural Revolution in a manner that might be hard for readers today to understand.22 Briefly speaking, it was in 1971, several years after the violent turmoil had engulfed the country, Premier Zhou Enlai proposed that traditional ink painting should be used to decorate hotels and other venues that international visitors stayed, such as the International Club in Beijing. The rationale for this proposal was that, instead of Mao’s images and texts, art objects with greater historical significance and value might appeal to international guests. Scores of previously celebrated artists, mostly ink painters, who had been attacked or persecuted and then sent to the countryside during the first years of revolution, were suddenly freed and invited to work on this project. These included Wu Zuoren, Li Kuchan, Huang Yongyu, Tian Shiguang, Zong Qixiang, Yu Zhizhen, Dong Shouping, Huangzhou, Li Hu, Xu Linlu, Yanhan—all guohua painters—as well as oil painter Pang Xunqin. Later, the similar projects were created in Shanghai, Xi’an, Nanjing, Jinan, and Guangzhou. The ink painters in Shanghai and vicinity included Lin Fengmian, Pan Tianshou,23 Zhu Qizhan, Feng Zikai, Wu Dayu, Cheng Shifa, Yaming, and Fu Baoshi, among others. In Xi’an, Zhao Wangyun, Shilu, He Haixia and Fang Jizhong were involved. Thousands of artworks were created by these artists in only one year. For example, Zong Qixiang painted one hundred fifty pieces, while Li Keran made even more, around three hundred. Being free and able to paint for the first time in many years, they were enthusiastic and passionate, especially because the subjects painted did not have to be ideological. Unfortunately, Premier Zhou Enlai was the target of a power struggle with Jiang Qing, Mao’s infamous wife, and her allies, Yao Wenyuan and Zhang Chunqiao, members of the Central Cultural 22 Julia Andrews narrates the ins and the outs of the incident under the subtitle “Black Painting Exhibitions” in her book Painters and Politics in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1979, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1994, pp. 368–376. 23 Pan Tianshou died on Sep.5, 1971, thus his painting was used in the project posthumously.

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Revolution Group. Because of this, these paintings, made under Premier Zhou’s idea and proposal, were collected and labeled as “black painting” by Jiang, Yao and Zhang. To shame Zhou Enlai and the artists, the Exhibition of Black Painting was held in Beijing and Shanghai, as part of a campaign castigating “black painting,” starting in 1974. In chromic symbolism of political life after 1949, especially during the Cultural Revolution, the color black referred to something evil because of its connection with darkness, understood in the same manner that the color red was a chromic symbol of revolution due to its association with blood. Therefore, the “black painting” was a label for “reactionary” or “counter-revolutionary” painters, a politically lethal stigma to any unfortunate artist, just as the scarlet letter “A” on Hester Prynne’s dress in the novel Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, American author, published in 1850. In addition, the tone of many monochrome shanshui happened to be black, such as some of Li Keran’s work which featured large areas of thick, even scorched ink wash, made the term “black painting” an “accurate” description. The criticism of the “black painting” was mostly fabricated, spurious, and ridiculously absurd. For instance, “Fragmental Lotus Leaves” by Li Kuchan was labeled as a “malevolent attack” on Jiang Qing because first, the eight fragmental lotus leaves recalled the eight model operas, created under Jiang Qing’s directives; second, the kingfisher standing on the rock sarcastically alluded to Jiang Qing’s tyranny; third, perhaps the most ludicrous charge was that because the bird appeared to have lost a tuft of hair on head, it mocked of the “respectful” Jiang Qing’s head with her sparse hair. Another example of this criticism was leveled at Yanhan’s graphic piece “Spider Plant” (or “hanging orchid,” diaolan in Chinese). The trumped-up charge is derived simply from its title, since orchid symbolizes traditionally upright educated gentlemen, the “hanging orchid” allegedly referred to the Cultural Revolution “hanging the gentlemen.” Zong Qixiang, an elderly ink painter, painted many ink works for the project, but one where he depicted three tigers brought him great sorrow because of a far-fetched connection with

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Fig. 2.25 Huang Yongyu, “Owl,” 1978, ink and color on paper

late Lin Biao, a “conspirator and traitor.”24 The Chinese character of Lin’s given name, 彪, consists of a character “tiger” and three left falling strokes. Thus, Zong’s three energetic tigers were criticized as praise to the “traitor.” Probably the most well-known and absurd case associated with the “Black Painting” incident is the “Owl” by Huang Yongyu (Fig. 2.25).25 While the owl stands on a branch, 24

Marshall Lin Biao (1907-1971) was Vice-Chairman of CCP, Vice-Premier of PRC, Minister of National Defense of PRC, and was named Mao’s designated successor in the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. However, he died in September 1971 when his plane crashed in Mongolia, following what appeared to be a failed coup to oust Mao. After his death, he was officially condemned by the authority as a “traitor” because the plane seemed to head for Soviet Union, and “conspirator” due to the alleged conspiracy of assassinating Mao. 25 Huang Yongyu painted many paintings of an owl with one eye open and the other closed. The piece made in 1977 here has inscription saying that owl is a beneficial bird which hunts rats, but “Gang of Four” hated it because they

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he winks as if turning a closed eye to what he faces. This was read as his dissatisfaction with socialism or the Cultural Revolution by malicious critics, because in Chinese saying, turning a closed eye to something means either letting it go or disdaining to look at it.26 As pointed out above, the phrase “black painting” might have referred directly to Li Keran’s “black shanshui.” Li Keran in fact started to experiment with shanshui by adding large areas of thick ink wash and texture in the 1960s. This technique continued the work of Huang Binhong. Li Keran pursued Huang’s experiment in inking methods, which were summed up as “Seven Methods of Inking:” the thick (longmo), the light (danmo), the broken (pòmo), the splashed (pōmo), the leftover (sumo), the accumulated ( jimo), and the scorched ( jiaomo). While Huang concentrated on subtlety of ink and the broad application of flying white to provide breathing space for the picture, Li Keran was fascinated by the effect of thick and splashed ink on painting surface and enjoyed spontaneous inking. In his “Mt. Huang” painted in 1963 (Fig. 2.26), washes of thick and dark ink on mountains created sense of heavy volume and solidity. In 1972, his black mountains became even more imposing in “Mountain Lodge in Yangshuo” (Fig. 2.27). The central mountain is so black that, by contrast, it highlights the mountains and lodges in foreground, creating an alternate monumentality, a trademark of the art of his late period. However, in the Cultural Revolution, red was the only politically correct color. That a painting with impressive black tone was repudiated and then condemned as “reactionary” is absurd but understandable in the context of cultural reality with collective insanity. Although persecuted, the artists of “black painting” were insiders of official institutions. Most were CAA members, and either faculty at were ‘Four Pests’ (usually referring to rats, bedbugs, flies and mosquitoes, but here alluding to “Gang of Four,” Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, Wang Hongwen, who were arrested by the authority in September 1976 after Mao died.). 26 Studies have shown that an owl can go to sleep with one half of its brain while the other side is awake, so an owl can literally sleep with one eye open, http://www.raptorshelter. org/our-owls, available on Oct.4, 2016.

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Fig. 2.27 Li Keran, “Mountain Lodge in Yangshuo,” 1972, ink and color on paper Fig. 2.26 Li Keran, “Mt. Huang,” 1963, ink and color on paper

art schools or painters belonging to academies in Beijing or Shanghai in the period of “Seventeen Years” (1949–1966). In contrast, there were artists who stayed outside state institutions and practiced their art who seldom had opportunity to exhibit or publish, so their status was close to that of a hermit. While they were not literal hermits, since most lived in an urban environment, they were hermits of the mind. Huang Qiuyuan and Chen Zizhuang are representatives of this kind of thinking.27 Interestingly, most of these “hermits” were ink painters, and their artwork stood as 27

Huang Qiuyuan and Chen Zizhuang were in a marginalized status even before the Cultural Revolution, but this status appeared extremely unique when most of artists, professional and amateur, were involved in the activities of the revolution.

alternatives to the mainstream art of the Cultural Revolution. Here were traditional literati sentiments and techniques, mostly disowned by mainstream art in the 1960s and 1970s. Like literati artists of the past, they searched for eternal imperatives and ideals to sustain their spiritual growth. Huang Qiuyuan’s artistic fame came after his death, in a manner similar to the posthumous honor and fortune of Vincent Van Gogh. Still, for a true literato, fame was never meant to be more important than one’s art, writing, and ideals, thus Huang Qiuyuan, we believe, passed away without regret for his hermetic life and art. Born to a literati family in Nanchang in 1914, capital of Jiangxi Province in southern China, Huang Qiuyuan was fascinated by painting from his childhood. In his middle school years, his family fortune declined, so he had to find a job to support himself. He worked as an apprentice in a painting mounting workshop where he had

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Fig. 2.28 Huang Qiuyuan, “Living in Seclusion in Autumn Mountains,” 1976, ink and color on paper, hanging scroll, 117  113 cm, National Art Museum of China

chance to see and copy lots of masterpieces. He was basically a self-taught artist without art education in school or instruction from other painting masters. He worked as a bank clerk for thirtyfive years (1935–1970), painting mostly in his spare time. Though a very talented artist, he was unknown in the art world until after his death. A traditional man of letters, Huang Qiuyuan kept his independence as a real artist. It is reported that he rejected an appointment as a county mayor by a Nationalist high-ranking official and a job offer by a Hong Kong art dealer. After 1949, he had never joined the CAA, an identification necessary for a mainstream artist. This self-exile shows his detachment from mundane world and it enabled him to never have to cater to those in power. This detachment reinforced his personality of aloofness and eccentricity. He usually sipped tea

and talked about anything under the sun with one or two bosom friends in a teahouse and wandered in mountains and forests. In 1970, he retired and lived as if he was a hermit. He wrote poems and painted ink paintings, but without exhibition and publication, few knew they existed. Those remote forested mountains, age-old trees, thatched cottages, gurgling cascades, slowly flowing streams, and idle clouds in his painting reflect his hermetic life and state of mind. In 1979, he was so excited that he lost his chopsticks at the dinner table when heard that he could have a solo exhibition, and sadly died of a cerebral hemorrhage the next day. He was 65. “Living in Seclusion in Autumn Mountains” (Fig. 2.28) is a painting made in the last year of the Cultural Revolution, three years prior to the artist’s death. A nearly square format hanging

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Fig. 2.29 Wang Meng, “Forest Dwelling at Juqu,” Yuan dynasty, color on paper, h. 69.2 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei

scroll, this painting shows a detailed close-up view of a mountain, like Shitao’s “block-view” composition, but even more aggressive in terms of inking and brushwork. He used extremely dark ink and similarly dense brush strokes to create rocky and mountainous scenery with dense vegetation. The busy cunfa is reminiscent of “Forest Dwelling at Juqu” by Wang Meng, the Yuan literati artist (Fig. 2.29). The difference is that as Wang Meng applied dry and refined hemp-fiber strokes (pima cun) to depict sophisticated fabrication of rocks, Huang Qiuyuan combined rolling-cloud ( juanyun) and alum-head ( fantou) texture methods, making his brushwork appear more rounded, moist, and restrained. The inking is also very impressive since he applied Huang Binhong’s “Seven Methods of Ink.” Among these methods, he utilized thick, leftover, accumulated,

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and scorched ink. This skillful application of traditional means reflects his profound comprehension and outstanding command of literati ink art. Unlike many paintings that convey solitude of the artist through simple composition and light inking, Huang Qiuyuan’s high density ink and brushwork reinforces the intensity of his proud loneliness in a unique manner, displaying his idiosyncrasy. In the condensed world of a hermitage, the viewer may easily ignore the secluded dwellings, at top right and center of the painting, which exhibits the way that the artist integrates his reclusion in the nature. Compared to the “Living in Seclusion in Autumn Mountains,” another ink piece “Craggy Mountains” (Fig. 2.30) is loose and has more room to breathe. Painted 1 year before his death, when the Cultural Revolution just ended, Huang Qiuyuan seemed to be able to breathe more freely. More imaginative than representational, the artist created another scene of hermitage in shenyuan (deep distance) perspective. Similar density in brushwork, and in the darkness and thickness of ink, the picture is sophisticated in structure. Pine trees in foreground and central cliff, however, add symbolic meaning that was not seen in previous painting, referring to the Chinese symbolism, longevity of life and eternity of human spirit. Does it imply the artist’s state of mind in his last years of life? Or does it indicate eternity of literati ideal on which he had pinned his faith for his entire life? A scholar sits and meditates in the solitary house on bottom right of the picture, perhaps he is meditating about these essential issues in life and art in front of craggy mountains within the boundless universe. During the Cultural Revolution, no one could entirely isolate himself from the chaotic world and its violent politics. “Zhusha Chong” (Fig. 2.31) is a work that depicts a site associated with Red Army’s sentry posts before the Long March began. To choose this site as his shanshui subject is similar to Qian Songyan’s selection of “Red Cliff,” but Huang didn’t inject the political and Romanticist elements that Qian did. Perhaps what attracted him to the subject was the dangerously steep and precipitous mountainside that worked well with his unique composition and spectacular

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Fig. 2.30 Huang Qiuyuan, “Craggy Mountains,” 1978, ink and color on paper, 145  77.7 cm

ink technique, while also being a safe subject for an ink painter to paint during this period. Another shenyuan (deep distance) perspective, this painting incorporated the sublime style found in Northern Song shanshui such as Fan Kuan’s “Travelling among Mountains and Streams.” In the three-plane composition, pine forests are situated in the foreground, the high cliff in the middle ground, and another mountain peak in the background. The center is dominated by the lofty cliff, exemplifying the ancient compositional canon, that is, “the host mountain stands lofty, while guest ones worship it” (zhushan gaosong, keshan chaoyi), a compositional principle of Song dynasty shanshui. His central cliff, though, is rendered uniquely: its vertical rock layers done in

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Fig. 2.31 Huang Qiuyuan, “Zhusha Chong,” 1973, ink on paper

powerful lines that strengthen the loftiness and support the heavy, plant-covered top. Note the narrow trail with stairs runs from foreground to the top of cliff which emphasizes the precipitousness of Zhusha Chong as a sentry point. Huang Qiuyuan was a master, who comprehended traditional aesthetics and was well-versed in ancient shanshui technique. The authentic instead of the reformative is the keyword to understand his art. In 1986, seven years after his death, the Exhibition of Huang Qiuyuan’s Posthumous Works of Calligraphy and Painting was held at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, which to the art world and the public was not unlike a discovery of rich gold mine. The authenticity and purity of his literati art, the idealistic significance found in those paintings and calligraphic works, and the power of

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human dignity and self-cultivation in his art, all amazed and even shocked the audiences. Praises and eulogies from media and art community poured in, and he was even, ironically, admitted as a CAA member after his death. Although the artist couldn’t hear, these are posthumous compensations for his solitary life and great art that he absolutely deserves. After all, Huang Qiuyuan belonged to a rare heterodoxy in a special period, and his posthumous honor and recognition does not mean that literati art could have been revived based on its original philosophic and aesthetic basis; rather, it is more like the last radiance of the setting sun. The archaic is archaic, which cannot really reach the contemporary mind without a modern transformation, not mention that the soil for literati art no longer exists in today’s China. Another eccentric artist was Chen Zizhuang. Born into a peasant family in 1913, Chen Zizhuang’s early career is versatile and tempestuous. He was a professed master of martial arts, amateur painter, butcher’s assistant, bodyguard, and once a member of a secret society. After 1949, he worked in two factories consecutively and eventually found a niche in Sichuan Provincial Institute of Literature and History in 1955, working there until 1976. Different from Huang Qiuyuan, he was very active and passionate in public affairs. Although working in the institute, his eccentric in personality and art convinced the official Artists Association not to accept him as a member. During the Cultural Revolution, he suffered from humiliation, illness, the mental instability of his wife, and the untimely death of his youngest son. He died poor and destitute in 1976, the last year of the revolution. Although highly tempestuous in his life, Chen Zizhuang obsessed with gentle images created in ink. When he moved to Chengdu in the 1930s, capital of Sichuan, he became acquainted with Wang Zuanxu, the governor of Sichuan Province. Taking advantage of the opportunity to study Wang’s rich collection of antique crafts, painting and calligraphy, he studied and copied masterpieces by Zhu Da (Bada Shanren), Shitao, Wu Changshuo and other old masters, from Wang’s collection. In the early thirties, Qi Baishi and Huang Binhong, two ink masters, lived in

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Wang Zuanxu’s residence, so Chen Zizhuang had opportunity to learn from these masters, widening his horizon greatly and inspiring his future career. Unfortunately, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, his house was searched by Red Guards who confiscated nearly all his property, including documents and materials associated with his painting. With not even a dining table left, he continued to work by using a packing box as his painting desk. Chen Zizhuang’s ink painting features simplicity and spontaneity. His “Pastoral” (Fig. 2.32), painted in 1972, shows a peaceful Arcadia during a turbulent time. A herder sits on the back of a buffalo while playing a bamboo flute. Several sparse and irregular branches frame the picture from top left, providing the pastoral background. The broad shape of the buffalo is created through dark, chopping intertwined brushwork, not unlike the brush strokes usually seen in shanshui. While the left part is heavier visually than the right, the artist places the buffalo boy on the far right of the animal, balancing the composition. This typical literati pastoral shows the ideal of nearly sixty-years-old artist, that is, aspiration for a peaceful and tranquil Arcadia. As he said, What I’ve pursued is manner of “simplicity, indifference, solitude and purity.” The “solitude” leads to uniqueness, while the “purity” is like the dustless and bright moon.28

His pastoral was influenced by Bada Shanren in style, while his “Rowing against the Current” was likely inspired by Shitao (Fig. 2.33). Also done in a daxieyi (freehand brushwork), Chen Zizhuang “paints” this metaphorical piece instead of “writes” as in his “Pastoral.” A corner of river scenery, made up of spontaneous brush strokes and washes form a fairyland-like vista. Cliff, rocks, and trees are all rounded with minimal brushwork. The focus of the composition is the Quoted from “Chen Zizhuang Tanyi Lu” (Chen Zizhuang’s Notes on Art) see http://www.hainfo.edu.cn/ yrs/ShowArticle.asp?ArticleID¼13280, available on Feb.12, 2012.

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Fig. 2.32 Chen Zizhuang, “Pastoral,” 1972, ink and light color on paper

boatman who works hard to row up stream. His body tilts forward as he punts the boat with a pole. Considering the disastrous situation that the artist faced in the Cultural Revolution, this painting is not a remote fairytale. The countercurrent in this piece probably refers to the insanity and inhumanity of the Cultural Revolution that violated humanity and ran counter to progressive trend. Although this could be a protest against the evil, and a call for fighting back, the voice here is not very loud. Too, it could be an expression of the artist’s resolution of maintaining the integrity of an upright intellectual. Having similarities in artistic sentiments, tempestuous life, posthumous recognition and honor with Huang Qiuyuan, Chen Zizhuang is called “China’s Van Gogh” by some historians. In 1988, The Exhibition of Chen Zizhuang’s Posthumous Works was held at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing. Two years after Huang Qiuyuan’s show, another extraordinary, but per-

haps the last literati master in the twentieth century was “discovered” by China’s art world, and finally received the great honor that he deserved. The last type of alternative art was created by the artists of the same generation as the Red Guards but chose to be self-marginal and remain outside the inhuman “revolution.” Just like any dynasty in China’s history, there were artists in the Cultural Revolution who didn’t surrender their art and ideals to political power and turbulent society no matter how dire the situation was. Although it is extremely difficult for an artist to stay hermetical physically and spiritually in the period of revolution due to the spread and permeation of political power and its ideological impact, some artists overcame this, keeping pure in their spirit and art, by resisting the “revolution” passively, taking as their stance a weary or disdainful attitude. This self-marginalization from the mainstream had in spirit a long tradition like

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legend in the history of Chinese contemporary art because it held the longest life-span of an art collective, the earliest such since 1949, which marks the search for modernist art and persistence in attaining the ideal of “art for art’s sake.” The first show of No Name Group in July 7, 1979 was held in Beihai Park. It featured twenty-two artists and attracted about 2700 audience per day during the seven-day exhibition. Yet Zhao Wenliang and Yang Yushu, two major figures of the group, began much earlier, starting their art endeavors in 1959, when the two first met at Xihua Fine Arts Continuation School in Beijing and became lifetime friends. Others with similar ideals joined them: Zhang Da-an and Shi Zhenyu in 1962, then Zhang Wei, Li Shan, Ma Kelu, Shi Xixi, Wang Aihe, Wei Hai, Zheng Ziyan, Zheng Zigang, Liu Shi, Tian Shuying, Shao Xiaogang, Yang Yuehua, Cao Xiaomei, Tian Yu, Kang Wanhua, Zhao Rugang, Bao Le-an after 1973. The flexible “No Name” refers, in part, to the artists’ marginalization in society and art world. They were not educated nor trained in art academies, and most of time, they went out to Fig. 2.33 Chen Zizhuang, “Rowling against the Current,” paint in nature during weekends and holidays and exchanged artistic ideas and skills only inside c.1970s, ink and color on paper their coterie. Zhao Wenliang, who acted as advithat depicted in the “Seven Sages of the Bamboo sor of both the concept and practice in the group, was a very productive artist. His ideal for his Grove” during Six Dynasties.29 The No Name Group (Wuming Huahui) had group was an “individual empiricism,” that been, like its name, little known to the public and stressed individual feelings in response to social seldom recorded by historians.30 It is, however, a affairs, nature, and life. This feeling was not purely emotional, rather it was filtered through human reason. He advocated artistic practice by 29 As is traditionally depicted, the group of “Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove” wished to escape the intrigues, personal cultivation in one’s morality and tempercorruption and stifling atmosphere of court life during the ament on the one hand, and learning process of politically fraught Three Kingdoms period (220–280 A. painting technique on the other. He insisted that D.). They gathered in a bamboo grove in Shanyang (now artists should be self-contained and resistant to in Henan province) where they enjoyed, and praised in their works, the simple, rustic life. This was contrasted trends in politics, society, and fashion. This attiwith the politics of court. The seven sages stressed the tude made him and his group “indifferent” to enjoyment of Chinese alcoholic beverages, personal free- ever-changing environment from the 1950s to dom, spontaneity and a celebration of nature. See http://en. wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Sages_of_the_Bamboo_ Grove, available on Feb. 5, 2014. 30 Gao Minglu is the first historian who recorded and researched the art and history of No Name group. In 2006, the exhibition Retrospective of No Name Group, curated by Gao Minglu, was held at the Y.Q.K. Deshan Space of Culture and Art and TRA Gallery, Beijing, then travelled to Guangdong Art Museum and Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art, along with the Chinese-

version catalogue, edited by Gao Minglu, Wuming, Yige Beijü Qianwei de Lishi (the No Name: a History of a SelfExiled Avant-Garde), Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press, 2007. A brief discussion on the group and its art can be found in Gao Minglu, Total Modernity and AvantGarde in Twentieth-Century Chinese Art, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press, 2011, pp. 84–92.

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Fig. 2.34 Zhao Wenliang, “August 18,” (a) 1966, oil on cardboard, 21.3  18.2 cm. (b) words on the back, c.1976

the 2000s. Because of this insistence, he and his comrades had seldom opportunity in exhibition, publication and market, so that their paintings piled up in their small apartments for years or even decades. One of the most symbolic actions of rejection of politics and embracing the ideal of “art for art’s sake” by No Name artists during the Cultural Revolution occurred on August 18, 1966, when Mao Zedong first inspected millions of Red Guards in Tiananmen Square. Zhao Wenliang, Yang Yushu, and Shi Zhenyu chose not to join the frenzy in downtown Beijing, but went to the suburbs and made outdoor sketches. A very Impressionist piece, Zhao Wenliang’s landscape sketch titled “August 18” (Fig. 2.34a) commemorates that special day. Nearly ten years later, the artist inscribed on the back of the piece, expressing his hatred to the bloody violence, grief, and indignation at its consequences, and his feeling of relief of not being involving in it (Fig. 2.34b). After this was made on August 18, 1966, the bloody terror of “Red August” occurred.31 I had stopped painting for forty-five days. On October 2 (I) again took up the painting brush. This painting

The “Red August” refers to the large-scale nationwide violence against those “capitalist roaders” and other “reactionaries.” 31

has laid dormant in my carry sketch box for nearly ten years now.32

Landscape sketches like “August 18” became the major art subject/type of the No Name artists. They went out to parks and suburbs to sketch from nature, most of time in Yuyuan Lake Park, west of Beijing, giving this enlarged group the name Yuyuan Lake School at first. To make such journeys easier, most of time they painted on oil paper or cardboard in small scale. Gao Minglu has argued that the No Name artists painted landscape as history beyond natural scenery. Indeed, these Impressionism-looking landscapes did not seek formalist effect of en plein air as Impressionists did, but to express artists’ own feelings instead. They avoided depicting modern scenery of urban areas and focused instead on the beauty of nature as a form of escape from people. Because the artists perceived the nature as a mindset of forced escapism, the perception itself became political and the

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The translation of this note in Gao Minglu’s book isn’t accurate: “Red August” instead “8–18” “occurred;” stopped painting for “forty-five days” rather than “fifteen days,” Gao Minglu edited, Wuming, Yige Beijü Qianwei de Lishi (the No Name: a History of a Self-Exiled Avant-Garde), Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press, 2007, p. 95.

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Fig. 2.35 Zhao Wenliang, “Breeze,” 1975, oil on paper, 27.4  20.2 cm

Fig. 2.36 Yang Yushu, “Ashcan and Weeping Willow,” 1974, oil on paper, 24.9  18.7 cm

objects of their perception were transformed into metaphorical symbols.33 Looking at Zhao Wenliang’s “Breeze” painted in 1975 (Fig. 2.35), one can see the charm, peace, and tranquility of seascape that the artist conveys. It was painted in Beidaihe, Hebei, a famous summer resort in eastern coast, where he led more than ten of group members in painting from nature. Though created during the Revolutionary years, the Arcadia in their minds isolated them from the chaos, and they found peace on the See “The No Name Group: An Avant-Garde in SelfExiled from Kitsch,” ibid. p. 21, and English translation, p. 97.

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seashore with breeze under overcast sky. A quiet beach, an unattended boat with shorts hung on punt-poles and the wavy ocean consist of a pure land, far from the turbulence inland. Loose brushwork and a bright and relaxed tone reinforce the atmosphere of tranquility. Anxiety was cooled down in this peaceful seascape, and attitude of political non-cooperation was embedded in a piece with the appearance of “art for art’s sake.” Yang Yushu is Zhao’s first student and shared his teacher’s artistic conception, but his style differed from Zhao, connecting the landscape to his own personality. He utilized colors as metaphor of what he called “purity, righteousness and

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Fig. 2.37 Wei Hai, “Lotus,” 1975, painted in Purple Bamboo Park, oil on paper, 24.7  17.7 cm

spirituality” (qing qi, zheng qi, ling qi), an idea close to literati art, which perceived the landscape (shanshui in ink art tradition) as a visual carrier of artist’s sentiment and morality. His “Ashcan and Weeping Willow” (Fig. 2.36), painted in 1974, shows his “nature of leniency.”34 Using a minimal treatment, he depicts a weeping willow accompanied by an ashcan, a sketch made in the Purple Bamboo Park (zizhu yuan), in western suburb, Beijing. Its very light tone, simplistic brushwork and composition convey a sense of leisure, peace, and quietude. The artist inscribed on the back of canvas, “In 1974, . . .. . .the ashcan that usually won’t appear in an artwork enters Yang Yushu’s painting in a graceful manner. The creatures in the painting stay together harmoniously as friends.”35 Ideals and emotion, namely humility and friendship, were injected into the tree and the object. Unanimously No Name artists painted lotus ponds (Figs. 2.37, 2.38) and audiences tend to make connections between these paintings with Monet’s series of water lilies because of their stylistic similarity. It is in fact not coincidental. Textual and visual information about Impressionism and PostMa Kelu, “Wuming Niandai” (Years of the No Name), ibid. p. 212. 35 Quoted from ibid., p. 49. 34

Impressionism was seldom available during Mao’s era, especially in the Cultural Revolution, but No Name artists found it from undergraund sources or so-called “internal references” (neibu cankao).36 The meaning of the lotus is mostly associated with ethical symbolism of Chinese tradition, in both Buddhism and literati culture specifically. The lotus is used as a symbol of purity, especially because of its growth from mud; “lotus comes out of the dirty mud unsoiled” (chu wuni er buran), a well-known Chinese tenet. The attempt of using lotus as an ethical symbol can be found as early as Yuan Dynasty (1206–1368), when Qian Xuan, one of the early literati artists, painted his “Lotus” in a basically linear method (Fig. 2.39). In the inscribed poem, he made association of delicate fragrance of the lotus with moonlight, both are pure and may refresh the

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Zheng Ziyan mentioned in her short memoir that in the early 1970s Shi Xixi borrowed a catalogue of PostImpressionism and others took turn to copy pictures from it, such as Gauguin’s pieces of Tahiti. See Zheng Ziyan, “Wo dui Wuming Huahui de Huiyi” (My Memory of the No Name), ibid. p. 235. Ma Kelu told the author in WeChat conversation that they found catalogues of Impressionism from closed libraries that needed special relationship with librarians to access.

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Fig. 2.38 Zhang Wei, “Lotus Lake,” 1976, painted in Beihai Park, oil on paper, 18  26 cm

Fig. 2.39 Qian Xuan, “Lotus,” Yuan dynasty, ink and light color on paper, 42  90.3 cm, Shandong Provincial Museum

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Fig. 2.40 Zhao Wenliang, “Poor and Blank,” 1976, oil on linen, 32.2  41.7 cm

mind.37 As Qian Xuan expressed his refusal to soil his hands with foreign rule, No Name artists found their peace of mind in the lotus pond and showed their resistance to wallow in the mire with dirty politics and muddy reality through depiction of the white and fragrant lotus. During the Cultural Revolution, a landscape without any signified of official ideology was a protest of the totalitarian in art on the one hand, and its rarely seen modernist appearance and experimentalism challenged the hypocritical Socialist Realism on the other. Although they did not produce many, still life was also a painting subject for the No Name artists. In China’s art schools, still life was used as a means of training in composition, color and

37 Although he received jinshi, the highest and final degree in the civil service examination, in late Song Dynasty, Qian Xuan refused to take any position from Yuan Administration, but plunged into ink art for his hermitage.

the shaping of objects posited in a special arrangement and illuminated. They required no spiritual significance, not like a vanitas of Flanders or the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. To No Name artists, a still life piece was not merely a visual exercise, but usually had a story behind it, or a reflection of artist’s sentiment in life. Zhao Wenliang’s “Poor and Blank”38 was painted in 1976, the last year of the Cultural Revolution, when the “Gang of Four” was arrested. He saw an apple and an empty bowl on the table, which inspired his thoughts regarding the 10-year cataclysm that left nothing for people, so he visually recorded two objects to commemorate the bitter material life as well as disastrous spiritual experience of 38

Poor and blank, yiqiong erbai in Chinese, is originally an ideological set phrase, referring to the pre-1949 China that was backward both economically and culturally.

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Fig. 2.41 Yang Yushu, “Green Tea Pot,” 1973, oil on paper, 25.3  20.5 cm

the past years (Fig. 2.40). Yang Yushu, in contrast, painted a green tea pot and a catalogue of Van Gogh’s works, a documentary of his life during the chaotic years (Fig. 2.41). He recalled, “This work was created at Shi Zhenyu’s home. He purchased three catalogues of Van Gogh, but two of them were hidden in his native home in Northeastern China. These publications were pretty old and their quality was poor, with obvious distortion of color.”39 Although rejecting the violent politics in the revolution, the artists of No Name never rejected politics in general, and never abandoned their ideal to build a better environment for material as well as cultural life in China. Democracy is not only for a politically free nation, but also required for a liberal country to produce cultural and artistic creations. It is why they enthusiastically took part in the April Fifth Movement in 1976, the last year of the Cultural Revolution.40 Some artists 39

See Gao Minglu edited, Wuming, Yige Beijü Qianwei de Lishi (the No Name: a History of a Self-Exiled AvantGarde), Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press, 2007, p. 511. 40 The day of April 5, 1976 was Qingming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day, in Chinese tradition, a day that people mourn and commemorate their deceased relatives and ancestors by cleaning up their tombs and holding sacrificial rituals. When citizens gathered at the Monument of People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in early April to

participated in the protest and confronted with police and militiamen. At the same time, they documented this event by photography. Afterwards, Zhang Wei (Fig. 2.42), Zheng Ziyan (Fig. 2.43), Zhao Wenliang (Fig. 2.44) and Yang Yuehua recorded the incident in oil paint. Rather than treating the image in the traditional narrative manner, the cityscape here, with curious unanimity, was painted with a depressed tone. While Zhang Wei depicted the monument in far distance, Zheng Ziyan put it in middle ground, and Zhao Wenliang applied a close-up, giving demonstrators more prominence. The sky is overcast, and atmosphere is solemn and even somehow depressed, an implication of approaching crackdown. commemorate Premier Zhou Enlai, died on January 8, 1976, by presenting paper wreaths and flowers at the foot of monument, some poems with implication of dissatisfaction with current authority were read in public, written and hang on the railing of the monument, thus mourning became a quasi-democratic movement soon. The authority acted on the night of April 5 to crackdown the movement with clubs and batons to drive the people away from the monument. According to Jon Wong, a Canadian of Chinese descent who studied at Peking University from 1972 and took part in the April Fifth Movement, four thousand were arrested, sixty protesters were dragged into the Forbidden City, beheaded and secretly cremated later, Jon Wong, Red China Blues—My Long March from Mao to Now, Toronto, New York, London, Sydney, Auckland: Doubleday/Anchor Books, 1996, p. 171.

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Fig. 2.42 Zhang Wei, “April Fifth Incident,” 1976, oil on paper, 17.8  23.5 cm

Fig. 2.43 Zheng Ziyan, “In Memory,” 1976, oil on paper, 27.2  38.8 cm

The Cultural Revolution was an appalling calamity to all of China, not unlike the World War II was to Germany. The mainstream art of this period has been condemned and some even shame some of the artists who are responsible. Yet, people should face the reality and examine and even repent what they did in this period, otherwise they would never learn their lesson

and history will be repeated. Without this re-examination and rethinking, new art and modern art in China would be a castle in the air. The art of the Cultural Revolution pushed the Socialist Realism to its negative extreme so that it lost its legitimacy, and this, in a sense, generated a huge momentum to bounce back away from it. To

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Fig. 2.44 Zhao Wenliang, “Tragedy of Chinese People,” 1976, oil on paper, 35  53 cm

What an artist needs to do is to install “typical characters” into it, which looks just like the eastern Jingtubian painting of the twentieth century.41 Therefore, men as individuals are weakened to subordinate the center. The “reality” and the “world” in art become carriers of people’s romantic sentiments. The “reality” is neither a reality of life in terms of epistemology because it is irrational, nor a reality in terms of visual perception because it requires beautification, and nor an eternal reality in terms of religion because it rejects experience of solitude and agony. Instead, it is an “emotional reality,” which ignores any non-emotional and objective circumstances and events. The emotional reaction excludes calm observation and analysis and takes fetish to authority and unconscious impulse as its basis; therefore “the conflict between theology and science was quite as much a conflict between authority and observation,”42 as Bertrand Russell pointed out.43

which direction this bounce goes is important and crucial for China’s contemporary art. In the book Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), written by Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, and Tong Dian, the nature of art of the Cultural Revolution is discussed, The art of the Cultural Revolution accords with the culture of god-building or meta-politics of its times. It is the people’s interpretation of relationships between man and the world, between different individuals, and men themselves, in that time period. The art and the ideology of this period are correspondent, though they’re different in form. Without exception, the art of the Cultural Revolution follows the mode of “Three Prominences,” one of Jiang Qing’s revolutionary aesthetic principles, that is, in all figures, artists should give prominence to positive ones; in positive figures, prominence should be given to heroes; in heroic characters, the central hero should take highest prominence. The hierarchy here is a reflection of the severe hierarchy of human society. It recalls the “Emperors of Successive Dynasties,” by Yan Liben of Tang Dynasty, and the shanshui painting of Song Dynasty in which “the central mountain rises loftily, and the rest worships it.” The goal is to create a “principal center” in the order of human society or the universe. The “principal center” in the art of the Cultural Revolution is the god on earth, represented through revolutionary realism plus romanticism. The space of the picture, namely the “real scene,” is nothing but a box with pre-arranged hierarchy and seats.

41

Western Jingtubian painting, or Sukhawati, Western Paradise, seen in Dunhuang grotto murals, Gansu Province, depicts abstract Buddha sutra, which usually displays hierarchy of Buddhist world in a magnificent manner, especially those Tang murals. 42 Bertrand Russell, Religion and Science, New York: Oxford University Press, 1961 (first published, 1935), p. 16. 43 Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991; revised and published as’85 Meishu Yundong (85 Art Movement), Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press, 2007, p. 34.

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The art of the Cultural Revolution prepared the art of the next period when art gets rid of a “principal center” where the god resides. It returns to the relationship of people as groups or individuals, reexamining the world of humanity.

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Anti-Culture: Art of Cultural Revolution (1966–1976)

3

Truth, Virtue and Beauty: Art in the Post-Cultural Revolution (1977–1984)

For many Chinese, the year 1976 was one of the most striking, poignant, and memorable years of the twentieth century. On January 8, the premier Zhou Enlai passed away. It was a sad shock to many Chinese because of his reputation as a statesman who devoted his life to the nation and died in the harness.1 This strong admiration was commemorated with a memorial event for the late premier on April 5, the Qingming Festival, when the Chinese pay respect to their ancestors by visiting and sweeping their tombs. Fearing the crowds, the authorities cracked down on the gathering and the consequent demonstration in Tiananmen Square, inflicting hundreds or even thousands of casualties. This event became known as “April Fifth Movement.”2 Then General Zhu De, Commander-in-Chief of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), died on July 6, followed by one of the most disastrous earthquakes in world history on July 28, which destroyed nearly whole city of Tangshan, Hebei Province, killed 242,419 people, and severely injuring 154,581, according to China’s official 1

There are different judgements on Zhou Enlai and his role in Mao Era, which are in opposition. Some believe that Zhou was a statesman who assisted Mao, and corrected Mao’s wrongdoing or reduced its impact, while others insist that Zhou was a politician who helped a tyrant to spread evil. To most Chinese in 1976, however, Zhou was a “people’s good premier,” thus his death was a great loss to them. 2 For details about the April Fifth Movement, see footnote 40, Chap. 2.

statistics (some sources provide much higher estimates). And then, on September 9, Mao Zedong died at age eighty-three. For many Chinese, this was the worst of the worst things, because Mao had become a virtual god during the Cultural Revolution. When the god died, it was as if the sky was about to fall and the end of world approached for many innocent or brain-washed Chinese.3 However, these terrors didn’t take place. On the contrary, the Gang of Four, led by Jiang Qing, Mao’s infamous wife, were arrested on October 6. The public, who had experienced violent ups and downs in mood in such a short time, were now celebrating fall of the gang, bringing about the official end of the Cultural Revolution. Hua Guofeng was then appointed as Mao’s successor. Mao’s ambitious and utopian project ended with his death, but it was not until two years later that new kind of art appeared due to political and cultural inertia. The cultural avant-garde would not fully emerge until the mid-1980s, when the cultural world was ready for it in terms of ideology and discourse. The reform began in ideological and cultural fields after 1978, when Hua was forced to retire by the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee of the CCP. It marked the beginning 3

I myself was part of it and felt that way when I worked as a graphic designer at a porcelain factory, located in the remote mountainous area of western Hunan province.

# Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020 Y. Zhou, A History of Contemporary Chinese Art, Chinese Contemporary Art Series, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-1141-7_3

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of the “Reform and Opening Up” policy, and the moment when Deng Xiaoping became the de facto leader of China. The slogan “Practice is the only measure of truth” became a new criterion with a pragmatist and individualist core on ideas, policies, laws, and activities. Around 1981, the issue of humanism and alienation were actively discussed in the fields of philosophy and humanities, in which Karl Marx’s idea of humanism, extracted from his Economics and Philosophical Manuscripts, written in his early years, was introduced to provide ideological legitimacy for the exploration in once-forbidden areas and conceptions, such as human values, the humanist philosophical position, human dignity, human rights, and human freedom. Individuals, rather than part of the collectives, say, the proletarian class, were “re-discovered” and glorified. It was a great bounce back from the ideology of the Cultural Revolution where humans were treated as either screw of revolutionary machinery or objects of fierce class struggle. It also opened a discursive revolution, which reached its climax in around 1985. However, the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign was launched by the authority in 1983, which repudiated the ideological liberation as spiritual pollution from the West. Hard-liners and conservatives within the CCP could not tolerate any attempt to de-classify and de-ideologize, which to them was essentially de-Maoization. Although short-lived, this campaign slowed down, if not stopped, the pace of discursive reform in the early 1980s.

3.1

3.1.1

Democracy and Modernity: Stars Society and Other Self-Organized Avant-Garde Groups

Revolution ended and Mao, who had been the almighty leader of China for twenty-seven years, passed away, everything seemed to continue along their old tracks except the highest position in Zhongnanhai, the location of central government, was succeeded by Hua Guofeng, a leader who was allegedly appointed by Mao. Thus from 1976 to 1978, art continued the campaign of god-building, while artists did not get a chance to think about anything beyond the “principal center,” such as the reality they lived, relationship between man and god, etc. The inertia of sentiment, conception, and art expression drove people and artists so that they sought, willingly or unwillingly, for a new god to replace the deceased one. The rewriting of history was not based in reality but on the standard, which determines true or false revolutionaries and cherished the memory of the old generation of revolutionaries in a manner of revolutionary art. Mainstream art immediately after the Cultural Revolution displayed three aspects. The first was the glorification of old revolutionary leaders and the establishment of the image of a new leader, mainly Hua Guofeng, the first Chairman of CCP after Mao. In a National Art Exhibition held in November 1976, one-sixth of works were about Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Zhu De, Hua Guofeng, and other party leaders. Peng Bin and Jin Shangyi used the alleged Mao’s imperial-edict-like note, “with you in charge, I am at ease,” as the subject and title to create the scene of the transfer of the crown (Fig. 3.1).4 Mao sits in his simple study with an ancient thread-bound book in his right hand, and holds the hand of his successor. With trust and anticipation in his eyes, he seems to brief him on handing over the work and mission. Hua Guofeng, in a dark blue tunic suit with the note on his hands and a badge of Mao on his chest, sits on the edge of sofa to show his loyalty and humility before his predecessor, and listens with rapt attention to the Mao’s directives. The piece “Chairman

The Art After the Cultural Revolution: 1976–1978 4

As was true throughout history, great changes in the political arena did not bring an immediate transition in cultural fields. So, when the Cultural

As was the case with numerous feudal dynasties, when the succeeding to the throne of the crowned ruler was usually the result of fierce fight or even palace coup, historians are skeptical as to the existence or authenticity of the note that Mao allegedly wrote and handed to Hua.

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Fig. 3.1 Peng Bin and Jin Shangyi, “With You in Charge, I Am at Ease,” 1977, oil on canvas, 226  270 cm, National Art Museum of China

Fig. 3.2 He Kongde and Gao Hong, “Chairman Hua’s Heart Beats in Unison with Ours,” c. 1977, oil on canvas

Hua’s Heart Beats in Unison with Ours” (Fig. 3.2), by celebrated oil painters He Kongde and Gao Hong, simply replaced Mao with Hua, both in title and artistic treatment, in this painting done in the typical style of Cultural Revolution. The second aspect was images criticizing the Gang of Four, mostly in form of caricature and propaganda posters. This repudiation retained the style of the Cultural Revolution propaganda, that is, exaggeration and romanticism remained. The critique was not based on profound speculation

and rethinking of reality but instead focused on superficial and merely emotional catharsis. The third aspect possessed more artistic significance, so it’s worthwhile to discuss in detail. While the art depicts figures in the revolutionary tradition, including the representation of martyrs and ordinary heroes, it did so in a way that attempted to show them as truer to life. The oil painting “Overturning the Dynasty of Jiang Jieshi” by Chen Yifei and Wei Jingshan in 1977 is a good example (Fig. 3.3). To those audiences

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Fig. 3.3 Chen Yifei and Wei Jingshan, “Overturning the Dynasty of Jiang Jieshi,” 1977, oil on canvas, 335  466 cm, Chinese People’s Revolutionary Military Museum

who were accustomed to the art of the Cultural Revolution, its humble, realistic depiction would have been striking, though from today’s viewpoint, its composition is very theatrical. Commissioned by the Chinese People’s Revolutionary Military Museum, Beijing, this painting was to display in the Liberation War section (referring to the Civil War from 1945 to 1949). It depicts the fall of the Nationalist regime in 1949 when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) laid the siege to and eventually took Nanjing, the capital of the Republic of China. In the painting, the PLA soldiers climbed up to the gate top of the Presidential Palace and replaced the national flag with a red flag, the symbol of the communist revolution. Without much photographic documents, the artists interviewed the soldiers who were involved in the siege, researched textual documentation, and finally made a small sculptural model for their composition to approach the truth of history. Though still very revolutionarily romantic, this painting broke most of the artistic criteria set in the Cultural Revolution. The artists said in an article, The Gang of Four . . .restricted artists in creation by all means. For example, the heroic figures must be good-looking and robust, namely, with heavy

features, red cheeks, and big necks. There should be no oil stains or dust on their faces, even after severe fighting. The clothes or uniforms must be new and without folds, looking as if they have been ironed beforehand. It would be problematic if the clothes are broken (torn? Damaged?). Painting needs to follow stage art so that painting is not painting any more. . . .In our painting, we attempted to strengthen the expressive power of oil painting and to be faithful to the truth. We tried to make all elements realistic, including the site, image, costume, props, and we drew and sketched from real objects prior to painting.5

Viewed from above and placed in a pyramidal composition, the group on the gate top is posited under spotlight, as on a stage. The sculptural and theatrical postures and gestures of soldiers focus on the moment of raising the flag, the climax of the event, to create a victorious drama. The ideological message is conveyed clearly by contrasting the revolutionary and the reactionary, represented by two flags, and PLA soldiers and the relief characters of the “Presidential Palace” (總統府), of which only one-third are shown and

5 Chen Yifei and Wei Jingshan, “‘Jiangjia Wangchao de Fumie’ Yihua de Chuangzuo Tihui (Notes in Creation of Painting “Overturning the Dynasty of Jiang Jieshi”), Meishu, 1977, issue 5.

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Fig. 3.4 Li Bin, “April 24, A Clear and Boundless Sky, Nanjing, 1949,” 2010, oil on canvas

are trampled underfoot. The central hero here, however, is not a general, a marshal or even a captain. He is anonymous, one of the thousands of soldiers in this “Liberation War,” most likely the son of a peasant, as are all his comrades around him. He happens to be in the center because he was the first who climbed to the top of the building rather than because of his rank in the army. This selection is a direct denial of the principle of the “Three Prominences” in the Cultural Revolution, which gave prominences to positive, heroic, and central heroic characters successively. All are positive and heroic figures in this picture; thus, they are virtually equal. He was not a good-looking person, but an ordinary, even humble youth. All his comrades, with their oily and dusty faces, dirty uniform and leggings with lots of folds, reflect the fierce battle. They express various facial expressions, smiling, amazed, solemn, or simply expressionless. These “unusual” treatments made the picture close to what the artists sought, namely, the historical truth, at the maximum degree they could reach at that time. Ironically, this history painting that artists attempted to paint realistically might not have portrayed true history. Li Bin, a Shanghai artist, created a painting entitled “April 24, A Clear and Boundless Sky, Nanjing, 1949” in 2010 (Fig. 3.4)

to restore the historical truth. Based on the recent research, there was no battle when the PLA entered Nanjing on April 24, 1949, because the general Tang Enbo, the highest Nationalist official in Nanjing then in charge of the capital’s defense, withdrew his troops to Shanghai before PLA’s attack to avoid a bloody battle. The peaceful ending, according to the research, is a result of withdrawal of Nationalist troops, and collaboration from within with forces from without, represented by Chen Xiuliang, female secretary of Nanjing underground Communist Party, and Chen Shiqu, the commander of PLA that encircled the capital, respectively.6 The painting described the meeting of PLA officers, Nanjing underground communist party cadres, led by Chen Shiqu and Chen Xiuliang, in addition to a few Nationalist officials and officers who crossed over to the communists on top of the gate of Presidential Palace. Chen Yifei and Wei Jingshan 6

Suzanne Pepper’s research confirmed the fact, as she describes, “On 21 April, the armies of Ch’en Yi (Chen Yi) and Liu Bo-ch’eng (Liu Bocheng) moved together once more, crossing the Yangtze River along a 300-mile front. Against minimal resistance they took the KMT capital, Nanking, on 24 April; . . .” from her “The KMT-CCP conflict 1945-1949,” in John K. Fairbank and Albert Feuerwerker edited, The Cambridge History of China, Volume 13, “Republic China 1912-1949, Part 2,” Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 783.

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attempted to depict the history in a realistic manner, as Li Bin questioned the recorded history itself and restored the truth through his authentic realism. This restoration is critical because most of audience, including many in art circles, realized that what they learned from Chen Yifei and Wei Jingshan’s famous painting was based on a fabricated story.

3.1.2

No Name, Stars Society and Other Avant-Garde Groups

“Beijing Spring” is the term artists and intellectuals used to describe the period of post-Cultural Revolution, referring particularly to late 1970s, suggesting that China turned a new page that, hopefully, would bring about a “blossom of hundred flowers” in art and culture. In December 1978, the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee of CCP was held in Beijing, starting an age of “Reform and Opening-Up” under the goal of “Four Modernizations,” that is, modernizations of industry, agriculture, science and technology, and finally national defense. Accordingly, a relatively liberal cultural policy was announced. Ten months later, Zhou Yang, the chairman of China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, encouraged diversification in subject, form, and style, competition among a variety of art styles and schools, and open disputing of different art viewpoints, at the Fourth National Congress of Literature and Art Workers in Beijing. Though official exhibitions and magazines continued in the mode of the Cultural Revolution, non-official shows provided audiences with more vivid and diverse art styles with less-ideological messages. In 1977, the national examinations for higher-education admission were held for the first time since the Cultural Revolution began in 1966.7 Thousands of applicants, aged from teens to thirties, poured

into eight art academies in Beijing, Hangzhou, Tianjin, Chongqing, Xi-an, Shenyang, Guangzhou, and Wuhan. An extreme example of severe competition is that one art school attracted sixteen thousand applicants competing for 68 seats, in other words, only one was chosen from two hundred fifty young hopefuls. The No Name Group continued their experiments in, and pursuit of, modernist art in China. The significance of the No Name Group can be considered from four angles. First, it was the first avant-garde group in the history of Chinese contemporary art, and its art was rarely influenced directly by western modern art and culture, different from the art by those vanguard groups of the 1980s, which is the result, in a sense, of combination of solution of Chinese issues and importation of western modernism and post-modernism. Second, its idea of “art for art’s sake” is idealistic and anti-kitsch in terms of both political and materialistic trends, which was the artists’ reaction to and resistance of the political, societal, and artistic evolvement of last 30 years, rather than a merely formalist pursuit, thus the artists’ practice is full of political and sociological significance. Third, the ontological value of the group was individualist and elitist, and the art was for the group a quasi-religious way of self-cultivation. This individualist ontology supplements the social ontology that grounds on social reform and global value. Finally, the art of the group was mainly landscape, but it was a dialogue between and unification of nature, self, and social environment. The scenes depicted were usually associated with the group’s activities and surrounding, so they were rarely naturalistic landscapes, but social scenery instead, though it is hard to decipher directly from painting itself.8 Although the revolution ended, No Name artists painted, as always, with little interruption See Gao Minglu, “Wuming Huahui – Jujue Meisu de Beiju Qianwei,” (The No Name Group: An Avant-Garde in Self-Exile from Kitsch), in Gao Minglu edited, Wuming, Yige Beijü Qianwei de Lishi (The No Name: A History of a Self-Exiled Avant-Garde), Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press, 2007, Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press, 2007, p. 12 (Chinese), pp. 89–90 (English translation). 8

7

During the Cultural Revolution, colleges and universities closed first, then stopped to take students from high school, but recruited students from factories, countryside, and military camps instead from 1970 on. Applicants were recommended to colleges by their leaders, based on their performance rather than academic qualifications, thus no academic exams were taken.

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Democracy and Modernity: Stars Society and Other Self-Organized Avant-Garde Groups

in subject and style, mainly landscape, with a small amount of still life and figures. A maxim by Fan Zhongyan, a statesman and writer of the Northern Song dynasty, taught people in his famous prose “On Yueyang Tower” remaining indifferent whether granted favor or subjected to disgrace, “Not pleased by external gains, not saddened by personal losses” (buyi wuxi, buyi jibei). To No Name artists, this maxim represented their mindset and attitude toward life. Except for the emotional and physical involvements in the “April Fifth Movement” in 1976 and the Democratic Movement in 1989, they retained a status of indifference and tranquility in life. An incomplete list of works made in the years right after the revolution could be an indication. “The Yellow Plain,” 1977, by Wang Aihe “Sunrise,” 1977, by Zhao Wenliang “Dreamland,” 1977, by Zhao Wenliang “Field in Moonlight,” 1979, by Shi Zhenyu “Sunset in Snowfield,” 1979, by Zheng Zigang “Nirvana” (a still life), 1981, by Zhao Wenliang “Peach Blossom,” 1980, by Zhang Wei “Chicks,” 1976, by Li Shan “Bay,” 1979, by Wei Hai “Early Summer,” 1976, by Wang Aihe “White Birches in Early Spring,” 1978, by Wei Hai “Snow in Beihai Park,” 1980, by Zhao Wenliang “Spring Breeze Blowing the Riverbank Green,” 1979, by Zheng Zigang “Going to the City,” 1977, by Li Shan “Cellist,” 1979, by Zhang Wei “My Dad,” 1978, by Li Shan “Becoming a Cynic in Ten Years,” 1977, by Zhao Wenliang “Lotus in Autumn,” 1979, by Ma Kelu “Untitled” (Lotus Pond), 1978, by Li Shan “Lotus Pond,” 1977, by Zheng Ziyan “Orchid in February,” 1979, by Li Shan “Woodworking Room,” 1978 or 1979, by Wang Aihe “Chinese Medicine,” 1978 or 1979, by Wang Aihe “A Red Chair,” 1977, by Li Shan

They responded to, and were involved in, the “April Fifth Movement” in 1976 and created painting in memory of it, as discussed in the Chap. 2, but they were seemingly indifferent to Mao’s death and to the arrest of Gang of Four, significant events that took place in the same year.

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At least we cannot see their direct response from their artwork during this period. Their landscapes were minimal and simple in appearance and small in dimension. Wei Hai’s “Bay,” for instance, a seascape, built a dark, mysterious but somehow violent scene in an expressive way. “Field in Moonlight” by Shi Zhenyu (Fig. 3.5) in 1979 placed a broken tree trunk in the epicenter under the moon as if it is a tragic hero. Was it a metaphor of the “April Fifth Movement” in 1976, or simply a symbol of the No Name artists themselves? The color contrast between blue sky and red-orange chunk of wood against the dark field reinforces its allegorical significance. Zhao Wenliang painted a rather expressive and minimal landscape, “Sunrise,” a year after the revolution ended (Fig. 3.6). In it an abruptly lofty cliff diagonally occupies more than half of compositional space and blocks the far view, allowing only the sun rising behind. The sun looks awkward because it rises with a surreal halo done in a solid brush stroke. However, this is not a surrealistic world, because there are a tiny pavilion on the mountain top and a sailing boat on the waters below, indicators of a mortal sphere. It is difficult to divine an explicit meaning from such a unique landscape, but we may find hints in ancient artworks. An ancient painter who loved to paint blockview shanshui was Shitao, an eccentric monk artist of the early Qing dynasty. Look at his “A Man in a House beneath a Cliff” (Fig. 3.7), it is not hard to find similarities between Shitao and Zhao, not only because of the diagonal blockview cliffs, but also, more importantly, the literati sentiment seen from the harmony between nature and humanity, as well as the reclusive mindset. A pavilion, a fishing boat, or a thatched cottage in remote mountains and waters has long been a symbol of literati retreat from chaotic reality. Therefore, Gao Minglu suggested that Zhao Wenliang and Yang Yushu “seem to have become modern self-cultivated literati, in a traditional moral sense.”9 As for the surreal sun with a 9 Gao Minglu, Total Modernity and the Avant-Garde in Twentieth Century Chinese Art, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press, 2011, p. 91.

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Fig. 3.5 Shi Zhenyu, “Field in Moonlight,” 1979, oil on paper, 27  24 cm

Fig. 3.6 Zhao Wenliang, “Sunrise,” 1977, oil on paper, 26.4  25 cm

solid-brush-stroke halo, it could be read as a sign of the non-mundane world or sanctity of spirit. Woman artists were also active in the No Name Group in the late 1970s. Wang Aihe’s

“Chinese Medicine” (Fig. 3.8) depicts a pot for decocting Chinese herbal medicine, a cup with the decocted liquid, and a couple of pieces of fruits. The fruit, pears most likely, could also be

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Fig. 3.7 Shitao, “A Man in a House beneath a Cliff,” early Qing dynasty, ink and color on paper, height 24.2 cm

Fig. 3.8 Wang Aihe, “Chinese Medicine,” 1978, oil on paste board, 45.5  41.5 cm

part of the medicine because they were believed to be good for soothing coughing and reducing phlegm. A representation of hard, but warm everyday life is made through the still life with its heavily dark-brown tone, relatively loose brushwork, and the contrast of texture and brightness between the pot, the fruit, and the cup. Zheng Ziyan painted another favorite subject of the No Name artists, a lotus pond (Fig. 3.9), but painted it in a Fauvist manner. Considering the cultural

context, when the Cultural Revolution had just ended and Chinese still recovering from this chaotic period, a modernist piece, made by a woman artist, was absolutely a vanguard work. Li Shan’s “Chicks,” too, subtly challenged expectations. The piece looks like a miniature genre painting. Its lyrical tone played out by a variety of chickens, who either find food or play around, against an empty background. A peaceful world of poultry could be metaphor of human arcadia, an ideal for

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Fig. 3.9 Zheng Ziyan, “Lotus Pond,” 1977, oil on paper, 38.8  18 cm

Fig. 3.10 Li Shan, “Chicks,” 1976, oil on paper, 13.5  9.5 cm

the artist who was tired of the fierce class struggle in the revolutionary era (Fig. 3.10). Though few in number, figure painting was critical to No Name artists since it was the most direct way to display their ideas, ideals, feelings and thoughts. The “Bassist” by Zhang Wei epitomizes such spiritual pursuits (Fig. 3.11). Gao Minglu called Zhang Wei “an aesthete with innocence and passion,”10 reflecting the nature of 10 Gao Minglu, “Wuming Huahui – Jujue Meisu de Beiju Qianwei,” (The No Name Group: An Avant-Garde in SelfExile from Kitsch), in Gao Minglu edited, Wuming, Yige Beijü Qianwei de Lishi (The No Name: A History of a SelfExiled Avant-Garde), Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press, 2007, p. 59.

the artist. The bassist immerses in his play so that the figure retreats, ceding the central role to the instrument. The dark red of the bass is both the natural color of the instrument and a symbol of great passion, emitted from within the musician whose physicality and appearance are greatly reduced into his body, with only the top of his head visible, stressing the power of the music. The deep tone of dark brown and highly expressive brushwork, as well as contrast between red instrument and dark background, all contribute to an expression of enthusiasm, passion, and intoxication. While most of No Name artists tried to retain the boundary between art and politics in the post-

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Fig. 3.11 Zhang Wei, “Bassist,” 1979, oil on paper, 43  58 cm

revolution period, there were exceptions. In 1978, Ma Kelu recorded the Democracy Wall event through his spontaneous and expressive brush (Fig. 3.12).11 Using basically black paint, similar to Chinese ink, Ma depicted the audience reading the big-character posters on the red wall, while a strange smoke billows out of the wall, meeting the red burning sky. Does it imply passion of the participants of the event or symbolize 11 The Democracy Wall (mínzhu qiang) was a long brick wall on North Xidan Avenue, downtown Beijing, which became the focus for democratic dissent. From October 1978 to December, 1979, in line with the Chinese Commu nist Party’s policy of “seeking truth from facts,” activists who concerned China’s reality and wanted to express their political opinions in the Democracy movement recorded news and ideas to address to the public in the form of big-character poster (dazibao) and public speech, during a period known as the “Beijing Spring“. It is the direct context of Stars Society group, which will be discussed later.

fire of democracy? The back of the figure in foreground recollects Ma Desheng, a disabled artist and active figure of the Stars Society. When there were crowds in front of the Democracy Wall, Ma Kelu, along with members of No Name Group, Stars Society, the April Photography Society, and vanguard poets, photographer, and artists surrounding the underground poetry magazine Jintian (today), all belonged to a large assembly, according to Gao Minglu, because their united ideas and awareness of participating in something greater.12

See Gao Minglu, “Wuming Huahui – Jujue Meisu de Beiju Qianwei,” (The No Name Group: An Avant-Garde in Self-Exile from Kitsch), in Gao Minglu edited, Wuming, Yige Beijü Qianwei de Lishi (The No Name: A History of a Self-Exiled Avant-Garde), Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press, 2007, Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press, 2007, p. 62. 12

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Fig. 3.12 Ma Kelu, “Democracy Wall,” 1978, oil on paper, 35  27 cm

On July 7, 1979, the first official exhibition of No Name Group opened at Beihai Park, Beijing. The first show was opened to professionals only from July 7 to 12; the public was then allowed in from July 13 to 29. In fact, the artists held a show at Zhang Wei’s home in the New Year, 1975, the first non-official or underground modern art exhibition in the history of Chinese contemporary art, four years earlier than the outdoor show of the Stars Society. It was held for private viewing of the work to promote an exchange of ideas. The audience of the underground show was No Name artists only, but to them, it was unprecedentedly nervous and exciting.13 By contrast, with great support from Liu Xun, head of Beijing CAA and an open-minded art official, the first public exhibition attracted many visitors, about 2700 visitors per day in the first six days, the period for internal visits.14 13 Ibid. p. 75. The reason for their anxiety was that, if the news of the show leaked, it could have caused great trouble for the artists, because, at this time, no individual was allowed to hold an art show on the one hand, and, on the other, the works on display were absolutely heterodox. 14 There are a variety of internal activities in cultural events, such as performance, film screening, exhibition, etc. in China, which open to specific groups of audiences rather than the public, for reasons such as serving only to

The show featured about twenty-four artists and at least seventy-four paintings.15 The subjects included landscape, portraits, figures, genre, and still life, done in oil or watercolor, with a diversity of styles. As one can imagine, the show caused controversy, and several works were required to be removed from the exhibition by the officials of Beijing CAA. In the meantime, the show was supported by artists such as Liu Haisu, Wu Guanzhong, and art theorist Wang Zhaowen, all celebrated figures in art world, who came to visit and made many encouraging comments regarding the show and the work displayed. Many of the works in the show were small.16 “The Eastern Building, Compound 203, under the

privileged classes, having sensitive contents, or previewing for professionals prior to opening to the public. 15 There is no documentation of numbers of featured artists and artwork. The numbers of twenty-four artists and seventy-four artwork results from counting those mentioned in Wuming, Yige Beijü Qianwei de Lishi (The No Name: A History of a Self-Exiled Avant-Garde), Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press, 2007. 16 Gao Minglu discussed the small size of painting box and frame used by No Name artists and associated it with uniqueness of religious icons. Ibid. pp. 74–75.

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Fig. 3.13 Shi Xixi, “The Eastern Building, Compound 203, under the Evening Glow,” 1974, oil on panel, 55  43 cm

Evening Glow” (Fig. 3.13), by Shi Xixi, is a landscape measuring 43 cm in height and 55 cm in width. It is the only work that survived after the early death of artist at age fifty in 2004. The building is particularly significant, not only because the artist lived there, but also because it was the gathering place for the No Name artists in the 1970s, where they painted still life, portrayed each other, and discussed art. In turn, the building became the object of their painting because it carried their unforgettabe collective memory. The building in the background, against blue sky, appears brilliant under the evening glow. It is blocked partially by heavily dark tree trunks and crown, an audacious treatment, which creates sense of monumentality for the building. One the most controversial pieces in the show was, to the artists’ amazement, Zhao Wenliang’s “Becoming a Cynic in Ten Years” (Fig. 3.14), not because of its style, but because of its title. Probably a self-portrait, it depicts a young man with a disdainful expression in expressive and simplified brush strokes. With an army greatcoat, typical winter dress for youth of the Cultural Revolution, the young man looks like a Red Guard. When the

Fig. 3.14 Zhao Wenliang, “Becoming a Cynic in Ten Years,” 1977, oil on canvas, 35  48 cm

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Fig. 3.15 The show Stars, outside the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, 1979. From left: Qu Leilei, Liu Xun, an audience, Li Shuang, an audience, Wang Keping

officials of Beijing CAA saw the painting in the censorial session prior to the opening of the show, they required the artist take it out of the show, along with “Me,” Yang Yushu’s self-portrait, Shi Zhenyu’s “Self,” another self-portrait, and Zhang Yu’s “A Porter.” It was 1977, right after the end of the revolution, when this painting shows, willingly or unwillingly, a defiance towards the insane revolution or critical stance towards it, as indicated explicitly by its title.17 After Liu Xun’s resistance, these paintings were kept in the show, a victory for the artists and for the open-minded art official.18 No Name artists attempted to stay with the approach of “art for art’s sake,” thus any involvement in social or political activities, in the final analysis, served their goal of being independent and individual artists. To the Stars Society artists, however, art was the weapon for political and social reform, or at least a vehicle of political protest. In other words, while No Name artists

The Chinese title of this painting, shinian cheng pi, “in ten years (I) became a cynic” literally, in which pi means not only “cynic,” but also “ruffian,” or “the riffraff,” and is aggressive, provocative or even profane in late 1970s. 18 Liu Xun (1923–2007), was an open-minded official, the vice chairman of CAA, Beijing Branch in late 1970s. 17

pursued aesthetic avant-garde, Stars Society pursued sociological avant-garde. The most radical and poignant exhibition and consequent events in the late 1970s were carried out by a group of amateur artists, Stars Society, named after its first exhibition, the Stars on September 27, 1979, two months after the first No Name Exhibition. Unlike No Name under the principle of “art for art’s sake,” the Stars Society held aloft the banner of “art interfering with politics.” The artists of this group included Huang Rui, Ma Desheng, Wang Keping, Qu Leilei, Zhong A-Cheng (penname A-Cheng), Li Yongcun (penname Bo Yun), Yan Li, Li Shuang, Ai Weiwei, Mao Lizi, Zhu Jinshi, Yin Guangzhong and others. They hung their works—oil painting, ink painting, drawing, woodcuts and wooden sculpture—on the fence outside the National Art Museum of China, since no official galleries offered space for their display (Fig. 3.15). As an interesting contrast, the National Art Exhibition for Thirty-Year Anniversary of PRC was on exhibit within the Museum at the same time. The show was shut down by policemen on its third day. After protest and negotiation, the artists opened an official exhibition in Beihai Park from November 23 to December 2. Surprisingly, they eventually had a chance to hold their second official show in the

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National Art Museum of China from August 20 to September 4, 1980, a victory of liberalism in art that could not have been imagined before.19 It is noticeable that these shows received support and substantial assistance from open-minded art officials, including Liu Xun, then vice chairman of CAA, Beijing branch, and Jiang Feng, chairman of CAA and president of Central Academy of Fine Arts. The first show featured one hundred sixtythree works, by twenty-three artists, the second, one hundred thirty works by thirty-one artists. The society’s slogan was “Kollwitz is our banner, and Picasso is our pioneer.” While in form some artists used non-figurative imagery like Picasso, in subject their critical spirit was inspired by Kathe Kollwitz, a German Expressionist printmaker and sculptor of the first half of the twentieth century. The exhibitions consisted of works done in a variety of art styles, including abstraction, surrealist collage, and expressionism. In terms of content, the works ranged from critiques of political reality, reflections on Chinese nationality, and aspirations for revival of national culture, all of which foreshadowed the characteristics of avant-garde that emerged in the mid-1980s. Their pro-expressionist style and strong politically oriented subjects also pioneered the radicalism of the Avant-Garde Movement. What was remembered by most audiences, though, was its visual protests and critiques, represented mainly by Wang Keping’s wooden statues which screamed protest rather than hinting at it through implicit metaphor. The wood sculpture “Silence” by Wang Keping, a major figure of the Stars Society, was one of their typical protest artworks: a head without its top (brain) and sides (ears), with one eye 19

The story of Stars Society in 1979 is legendary. According to Wang Keping’s recollection, the artists, with their comrades in other fields, launched demonstration on October 1, the National Day, after the police shutdown the outdoor show. They marched to the Beijing Municipal Party Committee and addressed to the participants and audience in front of the government building. The demonstration ended peacefully, a surprise to those concerned, but some of participants got into trouble later. See Wang Keping, “A Memory of Stars Society,” in Chang Tsong-zung edited, The Stars: Ten Years, an exhibition catalogue, Hong Kong, Taipei, New York: Hanart Gallery, 1989, pp. 21–34.

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Fig. 3.16 Wang Keping, “Silence,” 1979, wood, 45  25  25 cm

blinded and the other corked, and the mouth clogged by a chunk of wood (Fig. 3.16). While people were unable to hear, speak and see, their right of thinking was also curtailed—the poignant reality of the revolution. Again, interestingly, we can see some appropriation of modernism here. For Stars Society members, whom were self-taught or amateur artists, the Russian tradition was officially inaccessible because it was only taught in academies, but Picasso could be studied through an unofficial channel—imported magazines and texts brought in by foreign diplomats or experts as art academies were not yet ready to embrace modernism, including Picasso. Kollwitz, however, was officially recognized and admired in China because of her ideological proximity to and humanistic sympathy for lower class or proletarian, so publications and reproductions of her art had been available to the public. The situation for these artists was unique: some of them were the youth who were “sent down” to remote country hamlets to work as “educated youths,” or “rusticated urban youths,” during the Cultural Revolution and so had no opportunity to train, while others were rejected by art academies even when the new admission policy was issued in 1977 because of limited admission quotas, or perhaps because of their particular eccentric, amateurlooking art style. In a sense, they were marginalized in post-Mao society and art circles. Their motivation to pursue art was composed of idealism and the wish to be “bohemian” because they could not make a living through their

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Fig. 3.17 Wang Keping, “Idol,” 1979, wood, 57  30  15 cm

“amateur art.” Yet, because of their amateurism, the Stars artists had not been burdened by traditional training, and so, excited by the new art and frustrated by political reality, they were eager to express themselves freely and take advantage of what they learned from outside the academies, especially from western Modernism. Spiritually, too, the Stars Society was close to the avantgarde and believed that Modernism, instead of traditional realism, was proper for their critique of politics, as seen from the “Silence,” a sheer expressionist piece, which Chinese audiences had not seen for decades.20 Another of Wang Keping’s wooden sculptures, “Idol” (Fig. 3.17), was a direct critique of Mao Zedong, the leader of China for nearly three decades, who launched the disastrous Cultural Revolution. This is the first artwork that visualizes and repudiates the apotheosis (or “deification”) of Mao Zedong, a god-building campaign that reached its climax during the revolution. By combining an image of Mao with a plump Buddhist deity, most likely a Bodhisattva, this wooden statue touched the political nerve of both the ordinary Chinese and officials, bursting into the forbidden zone. It was one of the main pieces that led to

closure of the outdoor show by the authorities. With one eye half-closed and another blind, the idol profanely mocks the leader. Surprisingly, Wang’s audaciously symbolic work, which would have led to imprisonment during the Cultural Revolution, was not punished at all—a sign of the “Beijing Spring.” Qu Leilei featured his woodcut series “Ah, My Motherland” in the exhibition. This series applies strong contrast of black and white to express the artist’s sentiment towards his motherland, that is, a mixture of longing, hope, anxiety and quandary. Series #3 places four nudes underground, with their bodies curled or squeezed (Fig. 3.18). Above, on the ground, are uneven bushes under an overcast sky. While the latter is depicted with dense crosshatching, the former uses loose linear drawing against black ground, to generate a poignant contrast between wild nature and the depressed human world. Though not as direct a protest as Wang Keping’s statues, it pointed to the suppressed reality metaphorically. The inspiration springs again from Kollwitz, but it also echoes the scream from works of the New Woodcut Movement in the 1930s. The Stars show left most of audience and historians with the impression of a political event. There are three reasons for this impression. First, the work shown in front of the National Art Museum of China demonstrated strong political orientation, especially those works of visual protest by Wang Keping, Qu Leilei and Ma Desheng. Second, the outdoor show and the following demonstration were connected with the “Democracy Wall” movement during this period.21 While some activists of the “Democracy Wall” participated in the artists’ street demonstration, a few members of the Stars Society were also involved and played active roles in this political movement. Li Shuang, the only female member of the group, drew attention from international media because of her relationship with a French diplomat and her two-year imprisonment,22

20

The latest case of expressionism prior to the Stars show can be traced back to the 1930s, when the New Woodcut Movement took place. For instance, “To the Front,” by Hu Yichuan in 1932, persuades his nation to fight against Japanese aggression through in an expressionist manner with intensive emotion (Fig. 2.5). Its stark contrast of white and black strong angular lines was influenced by Kathe Kollwitz, the German Expressionist printmaker.

21

See note 11 in this chapter. Li Shuang fell in love with Emmanuel Bellefroid, a diplomat of French Embassy in Beijing, in 1979. Li was arrested and sentenced to two years imprisonment, and Bellefroid was forced to leave China. Li, released later, married to Emmanuel Bellefroid and settled in Paris in 1984. 22

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Fig. 3.18 Qu Leilei, “Ah, My Motherland, #3,” 1979, woodcut

which was a reprisal for her rebellion against authority and individualist expression. This reinforced the group’s significance in terms of political dissidence. Finally, many Stars Society members were from families of celebrated intellectuals or high-ranking party cadres. For instance, Qu Bo, Qu Leilei’s father, was a famous writer and composer; Zhong A-cheng’s father, Zhong Dianfei, was a celebrated film critic; and Ai Weiwei was the son of Ai Qing, a well-known poet. This kind of background caused hardship for them when their parents were persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. They were sensitive to political situation that combined with a strong rebellion against political violence. However, the Stars show is not a purely political event. It connected to the artists’ idea of aesthetics, in association with their idea of politics. This idea concentrates on the “individual,” which, in spirit, is a concept of humanity and freedom, and an aesthetic expression in art. Ma Desheng, the major figure of the group and activist of the Demonstration in 1979, talked about the name of the group and its meaning in 1989, “Every artist is a Star. Even great artists are Stars from the cosmic point of view. Ten years ago, we called our group ‘the Stars’ in order to emphasize our individuality. This was directed at 23 The Stars: Ten Years, edited by Chang Tsongzung, Hong Kong: Hanart Gallery, 1989, front-page.

the drab uniformity of the Cultural Revolution.”23 (Fig. 3.19) The term “individuality” or “individualism,” criticized as bourgeois ideology in the Cultural Revolution, was now connected with freedom in politics and art found in the work of the Stars artists. From “Menglong Poetry” by poets of Today magazine,24 landscapes by No Name artists, and the works by Stars artists, one can feel the melancholy, romantic, and aesthetic sentiments previously dubbed the “petite bourgeoisie sentiment” (xiaozi qingdiao). In the context of post-Cultural Revolution, the sentiment in these works carried an idealistic momentum that they hoped could rectify the wrongdoing in art and politics during the revolution by expression of individual experience of trauma and exploration of ego and unconsciousness. This is an elite language incomprehensible to the general public, but it exemplified independence and integrity of the intelligentsia in this period. While not at the scale, or possessing the influence of the Stars, others self-organized groups “Menglong Poetry” refers to poems written by a group of poets, including Beidao, Mangke, Gu Cheng, Jianghe, Yang Lian and Shu Ting, among others, from 1978 to 1983. Most of these poets involved in Today, an underground literature magazine founded in 1978. The word menglong means dim, hazy, shady, misty, or opaque, and was employed by critics to suggest a poetic quality detached from a clear-cut political message in an “obscure” and “incomprehensible” style. 24

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Fig. 3.19 Protest of the Stars group (at center is Ma Desheng) on Oct.1 (National Day), 1979. The banner reads, “Demonstration to Safeguard the Constitution”

emerged and exhibited in late 1970s, including Twelve Artists Exhibition, Grass Society (Shanghai), New Spring Painting Exhibition, April Photography Society, Same Generation Painting Society, Violet (Beijing), Shen Society (Yunnan), Weed (Sichuan), Modern Painting Exhibition (Xi-an), and Five Youngsters of Guiyang (Guizhou). Among them, the April Photography Society was the first non-official photography group. It was established by Li Xiaobin and Wang Zhiping in April 1979 and its first show, entitled Nature, Society and People, featured mainly pictures shot during the April Fifth Incident, demonstration in Tiananmen Square and subsequent events.25 Due to its sensitive subject, the show drew large crowds and caused great controversy. As one of the earliest documentary photographers, Li Xiaobin had recorded historical events with his camera since 1975, including, beside the April Fifth Incident in 1976, the Democracy Wall in 1978 and the Stars exhibition. One of the most important and poignant pieces was his “A Petitioner from the 25

See footnote 40, Chap. 2.

Locality Appealing to the High Authority,” photographed in 1977 (Fig. 3.20). Petitioners from provinces or remote areas appealing to higher authorities in Beijing is a phenomenon specific to China. They are victims of various persecutions or crimes, but cannot find justice with local authorities that could be the executors of black deeds, and so travel to Beijing to seek help from those who wield greater power. Sadly, it usually turned out to be a futile gesture. In the photo, the senior peasant wears a ragged cotton-padded coat, with cotton exposed conspicuously through tears and is tied by a strip of white cloth. Three Mao badges, popular in the Cultural Revolution, are pinned carelessly on his chest, which could be read as his hope, a hope for justice, the vestige of the god-building campaign during the Cultural Revolution. However, his eyes are filled with anxiety, absence, helplessness, and even despair. He is a person who lives at the bottom of society and is disfranchised and marginalized. This picture can be seen as a sister piece of “Father,” an oil painting by Luo Zhongli done in 1980 (see Fig. 3.23).

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themselves to just the field of painting, the new form of assembly provided artists with cohesive power, which generated clear, substantial and concentrated guidelines, concepts and manifestoes, and, in general, most of art groups formed outside of the established institution, especially the CAA, Chinese Artists Association, the official organization of artists. Still, the No Name and Stars groups, consisted of self-taught artists, were unique in the history of Chinese modern art. While the former had lasted nearly a half-century and kept a relatively consistent concept and style, the latter existed for several years produced a variety of styles.

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Fig. 3.20 Li Xiaobin, “A Petitioner from the Locality Appealing to the High Authority,” 1977, collection of National Museum of China

There were artist societies in China during the first half of twentieth century, such as the Heavenly Horse Painting Society (1919), the Eighteenth Art Society (1929), the Storm Society (1931), Chinese Independent Art Association (1935), etc. These societies were formally close to art salons in the West, but like most assemblies of artists, their main objective was to revolutionize art. Thus, their organizations pursued a longterm goal, instead of just gathering for a brief exchange of art and ideas or a one-time exhibition. After 1949, there were no non-official art societies formed until late 1970s, when artists, under a freer environment, began to take responsibility for the revolution. They organized painting societies (huahui), gathered, exchanged ideas, and exhibited. The form of painting societies changed to “group” (qunti) in the middle of the 1980s, because artists did not wish to constrain

Revival of Academic Art: Social Realism and Art for Art’s Sake

A humanitarian spirit (rendao zhuyi jingshen) returned gradually to the art produced after the Cultural Revolution. That is, the “Principal Center” of political ideology gave way to a general, common, and conceptual awareness of humanity. By “general,” “common” and “conceptual” we mean that the notion of “human” here was not an awareness of human as individual, but rather a reflection of the collective consciousness in the previous period. Accordingly, a universal love became a major subject in the art of this period. This love was given by artists to all people: young and old, men and women, peasants and workers, those of Han nationality and minorities, urban and the remote. The universality of this love pointed to all, collective human, except for the artists, who, as elites, believed that they were humans as self-contained individuals, different from those who still considered themselves part of collectives. At the same time, art reflected a return to ontology. “Ontology” here means both pursuit of artistic entity independent from social content under the principle of “politics or subject as priority” and a rethinking of the essence/nature of art. Because the art produced during the Cultural Revolution was submerged in the “god-building” culture, art on its own terms had either been

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ignored or banned. Therefore, to fight the legacy of the art of the Cultural Revolution, artists had to return the art to its independence. The ontology of art in this period built on the principle of universal humanity, which determined the new standard of art, an entity of truth, virtue, and beauty. In traditional Chinese literary theory, the truth is seldom discussed, while unity of virtue and beauty is considered essential. According to Confucianism, this theory considers virtue as truth, since morality is superior in the mainstream ideology. In western classical aesthetics, truth is “Logos” (Plato), “One” (Plotinus), “Idea” (Hegel), or universal humanity of the eighteenth century; following this, art should display a harmonious unity of truth and virtue, which is beauty. In art of the post-Cultural Revolution period, the pursuit of “truth, virtue, and beauty” enabled a revival of authentic realism practiced in Scar Painting with significant critical realism, and Rustic Realism with the concept of naturalism. Seeking formal beauty, too, is another aspect of humanist art, represented at this time by revived academicism. Indeed, all these movements can be considered revival of academic art because the works possess strong academician taste and were made mainly by artists who either worked in art academies or were its graduates.

3.2.1

Social Realism: Scar Painting and Rustic Realism

“Social Realism” is a term that refers mostly to the Ashcan School in the United States of the early twentieth century, which focused on the lives of American lower-class, especially the working poor, in a down-to-earth, explicitly realistic manner. Like the American artists, young Chinese art graduates attempted to expose to the public the traumatic or just plain life of the ordinary Chinese during the Cultural Revolution. At opposite ends, they either poured their anger and sense of tragedy onto canvas or they sang visual hymns to grassroots culture in their lyric painting. These artists belonged to the Red Guard generation. The end of the Cultural Revolution completely destroyed their dreams of making a

utopian nation and dismantled their loyalty to Mao. In Scar Painting, “they wanted to represent the beautiful things that were coldly destroyed by the naked brutal reality,” as several Scar Painting artists described,26 when they attempted to liquidate the utopian passion of their generation as expressed in the revolution. Because of this, the subject matter in each of their paintings is autobiographical. “Scar Painting” was named after a popular short story “The Scars” by Lu Xinhua, published in 1978, which tells of a family tragedy in the late 1960s.27 The word “scar” refers to the trauma the Chinese had suffered in the Cultural Revolution. It was a loose school which consisted of art students and graduates who entered art school thanks to the new admission policy in 1977. As a generation who experienced the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, the artists tended to reveal the darkest side of the revolution and tried to address the trauma it had caused. The subjects were events in the revolution and the life of the educated youths. Realistic depictions created with emotional brushwork, cold gray tones, and the occasional use of collage or sand, reinforced the sense of the real, and brought the audience back to the inhumane revolution, evoking painful recollections, sympathy, or sometimes sentimentality. Again, a group of Scar Painting artists described their intentions in a sentimental tone, through direct visual perception “we expose audiences to the purity, sincerity, innocence as well as to the tragedy of our generation in the revolution. In the undisguised reality we publicly tear the most beautiful part of our generation to shreds.”28

26 Chen Yiming, Liu Yulian, and Li Bin, “Guanyu Chuangzuo Lianhuanhua ‘Feng’ de Yixie Xiangfa” (Some Ideas about the Illustration of the Short Story “Maple”), Meishu, issue 1, 1980, p. 34. 27 The name “Scar Painting” was invented by Gao Minglu in his article “Schools of Recent Oil Painting,” in which the phrase “scar school” refers to this kind of painting, see Meishu, issue 7, 1985, p. 62. 28 Chen Yiming, Liu Yulian, and Li Bin, “Guanyu Chuangzuo Lianhuanhua ‘Feng’ de Yixie Xiangfa” (Some Ideas about the Illustration of the Short Story “Maple”), Meishu, issue 1, 1980, p. 34.

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Fig. 3.21 Cheng Conglin, “Snow on X Month X Day, 1968,” 1979, oil on canvas, 202  300 cm, National Art Museum of China, Beijing

One of the representative paintings is Cheng Conglin’s “Snow on X Month X Day, 1968” (Fig. 3.21), referring to a page of a diary in the form of painting. It depicts a scene familiar to those who had experienced the Cultural Revolution. A group of defeated Red Guards, led by a girl who stands barefoot in the snow in a torn white shirt, is surrounded by an armed group of the victorious Red Guards. The scene depicts the aftermath of a brutal battle after a verbal struggle between adversaries, a nationwide phenomenon during the first years of the revolution. This epic is rendered in striking details to represent the brutality of its violence: a woman Red Guard bandages the bleeding arm of the leader of the victorious group; on the defeated side, two Red Guards carry the wounded bodies of dying comrades, while another, bound with ropes and blindfolded, is beaten by an adversary with rifle butt. Townsmen on the street watch the procession under escort with stunned expressions, including a woman who was likely once the

teacher of those teenagers, and is subjected to a punishment of sweeping the street because of being a “counter-revolutionary.” The tragedy here was not only the physical torture and trauma of the defeated and the hatred between two groups of the fighters, who might have been classmates months earlier and were now enemies, but also the staunchness and pride on the faces and posture of the fighters on both sides. These Red Guards, like those all over the country, believed that they were fighting for a just cause, and they were willing to sacrifice their blood and even their lives for that cause, although it was just “Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line,” an ideological cliché based on Mao’s idea of class struggle. The composition, tone, coloration, atmosphere, and even the snowy scene recalled the painting “The Boyarynia Morozova” painted by Vasily Surikov, a nineteenth century Russian history painter, in 1887 (Fig. 3.22). A big crowd acted on the snowy ground full of tracing rut, as a central figure and her group, victims or losers of

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Fig. 3.22 Vasily Surikov, “The Boyarynia Morozova,” 1887, oil on canvas, 587.5  304 cm

a kind, are surrounded and watched by bystanders with sympathy or rivalries with hostility, in a depressed atmosphere. As Surikov mourned over the dying Old Believer movement, Cheng Conglin manifested and repudiated the brutal violence with irrationality and insanity. This similarity reflects how the Scar artists were inspired by Critical Realism, a term used by some critics. This referred to realists of nineteenth-century Russia much more than to the Socialist Realists of the twentieth century Soviet Union, popular among their teacher’s generation. First, most professors who had studied Soviet realism trained this generation and so for the faculty it was most familiar with the Russian art tradition. The Wanderers—IIya Repin, Vasily Surikov, Valentin Serov, Isaac Levitan and Ivan Shishkin—were all held up as idols to them during their student years. Second, they believed that the nineteenth-century realists were loyal to reality and truth, while the Socialist Realists of the Soviet Union were more concerned with propaganda than truth, similar to what their parents’ generation created before and during the Cultural Revolution. Learning from Surikov and other nineteenth century Russian masters in technique and spirit was common among these young artists. Third, and most importantly, when the

critique of reality instead of the critique of culture became a major task of the Scar Panting artists, this tradition became central to them, as western modernism, later the major inspiration for the avant-garde, had not yet become influential. Russian realism of the nineteenth century inspired most of the realism in the works created by art students and artists of late 1970s, forming Critical Realism. These artists, including Cheng Conglin, respected the history on the one hand, while emphasizing theatrical conflict and effect on the other. The striking effect on the eyes and hearts of the audience in the late 1970s was tremendous because these paintings in illustrating the artists’ visual autobiography, depicting both “heroes” and victims at the same time, touched nerves of many Chinese who had similar experiences. The call for a return to virtue in human nature was an important aspect in Social Realism after the Cultural Revolution. In the revolution, communist leaders, especially Mao Zedong, had been elevated to a “sacred throne,” while ordinary people fought each other in fierce class struggles. Hatred, suspicion, and revenge dominated the relationships of colleagues, neighbors, and even relatives and family members when they expressed different political viewpoints, not to

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Fig. 3.23 Luo Zhongli, “Father,” 1980, oil on canvas, 241  160 cm, National Art Museum of China, Beijing

mention those “enemies,” the targets of class struggle, who became victims of torture and persecution. Sympathetic, realistic descriptions of ordinary people, reflecting the artist’s humanist idea, was taboo during the revolution. To the artists of Rustic Realism, a universal love or fraternity was light at dawn that should bathe everyone, especially those who live at the bottom of society. While Scar Painting focused on the poignant experience of the artists themselves, Rustic Realism concerned with and represented “the other.” Luo Zhongli’s painting “Father” (1980, original title was “My Father”), a representative of this tendency, became a classic work in history of twentieth-century Chinese art (Fig. 3.23). A senior peasant was rendered in a super-realistic manner in a scale similar to Mao’s portrait during the Cultural Revolution, measuring about 241  160 cm (7 1/2  5 feet), and looking like a bronze statue. The respect for a devoted senior peasant was conveyed in manner of hyperrealism,

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showing the artist’s highly developed oil skills, as seen in the work of most artists of Scar Painting and Rustic Realism. Though there is no plot as the “Snow, X Month X Day, 1968,” the artist told a life story full of hardship through his extremely meticulous depiction of this father’s facial features, at the moment of his “tea” break, a rest from his backbreaking work. They include the deep crisscross wrinkles, his rough bronzecolored skin, his expressionless face, and the dull look in his eyes. All details were carefully conceived and painted. Sweat drops from the forehead, eyebrow ridge and nose. The coarse, sparse, gray hair of the eyebrows and beard as well as the single front tooth between chapped lips, and aged-spotted skin, all are traces of tough and painstaking life. Even the mole near his nose has its meaning as it was considered a sign of cruel fate in Chinese physiognomy. Other props, such as cracked bowl, worn and rugged headdress and linen cloth, and carelessly wrapped bandage on the finger, all serve the same purpose. The artist admitted that he saw several photo-realist portraits in magazines, probably by Chuck Close, American Pop portraiture painter of the 1960. The inspiration is manifold. As said in his recollection of his original impulse for this work, his motivation for such a super-realistic piece was humanitarian enthusiasm and compassion, This was the eve of Chinese New Year. Almost midnight, I went to the latrine before going to bed.29 Under dim light, I found him. The extreme chill “squeezed” him into the corner of a shack. He huddled up, cold, while his eyes, like the eyes of a cow or goat, were fixed on the manure pit. He looked as if he was a victim of a predator and wouldn’t resist but only wished to protect his own confinement. I was shocked. All sorts of feelings, like sympathy, compassion, sorrow, welled up in my mind like a fierce wind. . . I didn’t know what he ate, how he spent his time. . . The thing was always like

29

In the countryside of the 1970s, southern China particularly, a latrine was mostly a thatched shack, built with mud brick, and separated from residential houses.

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this: humble peasants were usually in unfavorable situations. I know this, “I want to shout for them!”30

This concern for the fate of the grassroots individual was an expression of the artist’s humanitarian sentiment, encouraging him to create one of the most touching pieces in the art in the post-Cultural Revolution period. His concern for marginal groups in society, as we see from this work, reflected a concern for human fate and destiny in a more general sense, as was shown in avant-garde art later. If we could say Scar Painting was concerned with action, emotion, and a moral of “mine” and “ours,” Rustic Realism turned their focus into “him/her” and “them,” or “the other”, who live in the countryside and remote frontier. The “father” here is the father of all ordinary Chinese, as some critics commented, so it is a portrait of millions of fathers. His humility, simplicity and modesty are properties many Chinese fathers possess. It is the state of humanity in general in the form of a good and beautiful ideal on the one hand, and a silent protest against the art and literature that beautified and distorted the true situation of the ordinary Chinese lives on the other. This highly poignant depiction of reality is a visual denial of pseudo-realism in the Cultural Revolution. However, the mark of the times exists. The ball pen on his left ear was added afterwards on the insistence of Li Shaoyan, chair of Sichuan Branch of CAA, to show that he lives in new China and is literate. This ludicrous addition reminds audiences of the specific cultural environment in early 1980s. Though not strictly chronical, “Father” acted as a transition from Scar painting to Rustic or Rural Realism. Most of the artists of Scar Painting and Rustic Realism were from Sichuan, mainly from Sichuan Fine Arts Institute. This province, in the deep southwest, is the largest agricultural province in China, and that made their new focus reasonable. In fact, many artists of Rustic Realism painted Scar Painting, so this transition indicates Luo Zhongli, “‘Wode Fuqin’ de Zuozhe de Laixin” (A Letter from the Artist Who Painted “My Father”), Meishu, issue 2, 1981, p. 5. The painting’s title “My Father” changed to “Father” later.

a humanist shift from a critique of the reality to the concerns of ordinary people, especially marginalized commoners. The anger and sorrow of Scar Painting artists found a channel of catharsis in the depiction of the rural country and its grasslands. The oil painting “Spring Breezes Have Arrived” (Fig. 3.24) by He Duoling, a graduate student of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, is a wellknown piece of Rustic Realism. With poetic temperament, He Duoling’s career was like a solitary journey. When he tried to escape from Soviet mode and explore his own way of oil painting, he was out of the mainstream. Compared to the avant-garde of the mid-1980s, his art appears, by contrast, conservative. His solitude is reflected in his art, which carries the sentiments of melancholy, pensiveness, and disillusion. After completing a couple of descriptive paintings with marks of Scar Painting, He Duoling painted the “Spring Breezes Have Arrived.” A girl cowherd, a buffalo, and a dog are the focus of this work. A view from above places the horizon out of the composition, and three creatures facing different directions do not interact with one another. The extremely meticulous rendering of the figure and animals, as well as those delicate grass blades convey a subtle and gossamer-like sentiment. Audiences noticed the melancholy mood and lyrical tone in this painting, which echoed the artist’s personal perception of the land in which he lived. He said, “The diversity of topographic features and closeness of Sichuan Basin accord with my concept of universe, and the subjects of most of my works derived from my meditation on this land.”31 However, there is something more profound in his Rural Realist art. Audiences of art community noted the influence of Andrew Wyeth, an American painter of the twentieth century. He Duoling admitted, People said that I was the imitator of Andrew Wyeth. It might be true. I love his “sentimental realism” and attempt to follow him. I like the

30

He Duoling, “Guanyu ‘Chunfeng Yijing Suxing’ de Tongxin” (A Letter on the Painting “Spring Breezes Have Arrived”), Meishu, Beijing, issue 4, 1982.

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Fig. 3.24 He Duoling, “Spring Breezes Have Arrived,” 1981, oil on canvas, 95  130 cm

serious ponderation in his art, and I’m fascinated by the lonely horizon in his painting. Though considered romantic by some critics, with objective and accurate depiction his art is more meditative and philosophical. In fact, a style can’t be imitated or reproduced, because we must push our techniques into extreme. A style, however, is the sum of all technical obstacles that can’t be surmounted from a long-term point of view. Someone commented that my painting is like a photograph. I see this as compliment, but I have not yet attained it. My imperfect technique only enables me to express the wish, just a wish, of my love of those negligible souls in nature.32

Comparing He’s “Spring Breezes Have Arrived” with “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth, we can find similarities in technique and mood. Both applied photographic articulation to the figures and animals, not to mention grassland, and both conveyed sentiments of solitude, longing, and hope. The contexts in which the sentiments were aroused, however, are totally different. While Wyeth injected his sympathy for the girl crippled by paralysis in his Maine neighborhood, the girl in He Duoling’s painting was not an identifiable individual. Rather, she

32

Ibid.

was a symbol of the generation that had been thirsty for spring breezes, a simile of humanistic ideals. This generation could be the group of rustic Chinese to which the protagonist belongs, but it also might be the young generation with which the artist himself affiliated. As for the compositional difference, as one paints the horizon while another gets rid of it, this might imply that while Wyeth’s world could be metaphysical and hopeful, He Duoling created a down-to-earth reality where dream might or might not come true. Chen Danqing, an artist from Shanghai, is another excellent painter of Rustic Realism. The protagonists in his painting, however, are Tibetan. The “Series of Tibet” consisted of seven pieces painted as part of his graduate work for a Master’s degree at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, in 1980. As an Educated Youth in the 1970s, Chen Danqing was an artist who became disillusioned by violent politics as a teenager. He recalled that he started studying oil painting in 1968 when he was 15 and was put to work painting Mao Zedong’s portraits during the day and copying the drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo during his free time at night. In 1970, he went to countryside

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of northern Jiangsu and southern Jiangxi respectively as an Educated Youth. From there he got a chance to travel to Tibet, where he drew hundreds of excellent sketches of the Tibetan landscape and inhabitants. His painting “Tears Streaming Down to the Field of Harvest” (1977) which depicted Tibetan’s reaction to death of Mao Zedong brought him unexpected fame, because it was the first time after the revolution that an artist rendered emotional response—here, sadness and grief—rather than sweeping happiness with smiles found in the art of the Cultural Revolution. One year after Chen Danqing’s “Tears,” the Exhibition of Nineteenth-Century French Rural Landscape came to Beijing and then traveled to Shanghai in 1978. These works, especially ones by Jean-François Millet, attracted great admiration in China’s art world due to their humility and verisimilitude, in addition to their outstanding realistic technique. This show opened a new window onto art from the outside world for Chinese artists because there had seldom been shows of western art in China since 1949, and thousands of reproductions could not generate the impact of one original masterpiece. Chen Danqing admitted that this exhibition greatly influenced him and he immediately decided to paint like Millet. When he had a chance to return to Tibet during his graduate period at Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1980, he did not hesitate to paint his “French” Rustic Realism and completed his series in about half a year. If we could say that He Duoling injected the Rustic Realist work with a great deal of personal sentiment, Chen Danqing’s work was, to high degree, an exercise in artistic experimentation instead of spiritual interaction with his protagonists and their prototypes. In other words, while He Duoling created a feeling of solitude associated with the Sichuan Basin and the girl cowherd, Chen Danqing found images of Millet’s art in Tibet. He talked about his perceptions of Tibetans in an article,

33

Kangba, Kham Tibetan Areas, a Tibetan region that crosses Tibet, Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai. 34 Chen Danqing, “Wode Qizhang Hua” (My Seven Paintings), Meishu Yanjiu, Beijing, issue 1, 1981.

You would say that they are real men if you saw herdsmen in Kangba.33 I saw them standing in groups on the street, exchanging jewelry or selling Tibetan butter. Their eyes shine brightly with spirit, their foreheads look large, bulky braids coil on the tops of their heads, pendant-like ornaments hang at their waists and swing when walking. They walk slowly with steady steps and so look undaunted and sedate with great dignity that I admire them the most. They are the best for my painting. What I need to do is to find a straightforward language. When they stand, it is a perfect picture.34

“Kangba Men” (Fig. 3.25) depicts what he saw in the Kangba area. Though one man stands in the front at the center, there is, in fact, no central figure in the painting. As in He Duoling’s “Spring Breezes,” these men face different directions without making eye contact or interacting. This treatment, common in Rustic Realism, reduced the narrative factor, ridding it of theatrical effect usually seen in the painting of Socialist Realism. Rough, bronze-color, sculptural faces were the focus of the picture. Due to the high altitude (at least 3000 meters or 10,000 feet above sea level) and with little air pollution, Tibetans are more exposed to ultraviolet light, making their skin browner than the typical Han Chinese. This “exotic” looks reinforced by their clear-cut facial features. Five men stand as a wall, their solid, sturdy bodies composing a wall as an impregnable fortress. Their deep dark-brown coats echo the color of their faces, and their still posture makes their world seem to freeze in the moment. Ornaments, such as pendants, Tibetan knives, bracelets, headdresses, tassels, and the thick Tibetan coats and boots with their tough texture, fascinated the artist, who, rendered them in thick and chopping brush strokes layer by layer. “Going Down to Town” (Fig. 3.26) is another powerful piece in the “Series of Tibet.” As the title suggests, this painting should be a narrative: three family members walk down to the town, but there is no story, no drama, as the figures walk steadily towards their destination. The strong, robust bodies of the couple are represented in a down-to-earth manner so that they look like two lofty towers rising from Tibetan plateau. The husband’s bronze-colored face and wife’s lightbrown skin indicate the geographic environment

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Fig. 3.25 Chen Danqing, “Series of Tibet: Kangba Men,” 1980, oil on canvas, 75  55 cm

in which they live. The nearly plain and deep dark brown coat and boots the husband wears, plus his carelessly coiled braids contrast with his wife’s bright, glamorous shirt and fur skirt, multiple long braids and colorful headdress, and, most importantly, the baby in her arms. Compared with the works of Millet, whose art was full of religious nobility, such as “The Angelus,” Chen Danqing’s Rural Realist work possesses a humble, secular tinged more with mysticism than tranquility found beneath religious belief.

3.2.2

Art for Art’s Sake

The message of Critical Realism—Stars Society and Scar Painting—was basically a concern for

the human condition, namely the life and dignity of ordinary Chinese people. This was a product of the process of seeking or recovering truth in society and virtue in people’s minds. Another approach was in reaction to the Socialist Realism and propaganda for academicians which sought beauty of form. As the focus on subject matter was concern with humanity, the academicians tried to present it beautifully, because beautiful visual art would please the audience, and the humanist concern reflected on visual perception of human beings. More than other groups, academician artists now probed artistic beauty. During the Cultural Revolution, any attempt to pursue beauty or simply formal factors was criticized as a bourgeois tendency or formalism, the opposite of the dogma

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Fig. 3.26 Chen Danqing, “Series of Tibet: Going Down to Town,” 1980, oil on canvas, 75  55 cm

of “putting politics in command” in official ideology. In this period, the political life of Chinese was irrational because the “god-building” campaign needs insanity, while their everyday life became “rational” in terms of stoicism. This transposition, ironically, kept balance in people’s lives. After the revolution, artists echoed ordinary Chinese who sought an enriched sensuous life including creating of art characterized by visual beauty. Traditional shanshui and huaniao flourished again, while oil landscape, still life, especially nudes, came back to the curriculum of art schools, museums, and hotels, because they provided audiences with pleasant visual experiences. Academician artists also embraced the abstraction of modernism. For them, modernism was a revolution of form, because line, shape, color became independent factors that could be interpreted as beautiful without any reference to reality or subject matter. Matisse and Chinese

folk art, for instance, was an ideal combination for building this formal beauty, while the linear character of literati painting could make a harmonious symphony with Cezanne’s colorful dabs. Furthermore, this formalist pursuit was also a reaction to “subject matter as the highest priority of art,” a dogma of revolutionary art. As we will see later, this anti-subject stance laid the foundation for the anti-formalism of the avant-garde in a reverse direction. Therefore, there are four characteristics found in academician art of post-Cultural Revolution period: apolitical themes; an elegant, refined style; a belief that the purpose of the creation of art was technical experimentation; and a rejection of any spiritual or conceptual emphases. Although most artists of Social Realism were from art academies, they have not been classified as academic artists because they emphasized different facets of these four aspects. The main force of academic art during this period consisted mainly of faculty members in art academies and other art institutions (such as non-educational painting academies), who were mostly in their forties and fifties and who had previously devoted themselves to Socialist Realism. One of examples of the typical “aesthetic” work was the twenty murals painted by forty artists in the new Capital International Airport, Beijing, unveiled in September 1979. The project was led by Zhang Ding, senior artist and professor of Central Academy of Arts and Crafts (CAAC). Its well-known murals include “Boy Hero Nezha” by Zhang Ding, “Mountains and Rivers of Sichuan” by Yuan Yunfu, “The Tale of the White Snake” by artist couple Li Huaji and Quan Zhenghuan, “The Spring of Science” by Xiao Huixiang, “Song of Forest” by Zhu Danian, and the most famous and controversial “Ode to Life: The Water-Splashing Festival” (Fig. 3.27) by Yuan Yunsheng, brother of Yuan Yunfu. The themes of these mural ranged from legend, myth, and landscape to folk culture, with little evidence of ideology or propaganda. The only exception was the “Spring of Science” that echoed the “modernization of science and technology,” one of four modernizations proposed in the Third

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Fig. 3.27 Yuan Yunsheng, “Ode to Life: The Water-Splashing Festival” (detail), 1979, wall painting, Capital International Airport, Beijing

Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee of CCP. The woman artist Xiao Huixiang, however, applied semi-abstraction to this subject reflecting her understanding of modernism. Besides this appropriation from western Modernism, the painters sought all available native sources for their revolution in formalism, such as murals found in Yuan Dynasty monasteries and the Dunhuang caves, traditional Gongbi painting, and New Year’s prints. Borrowing formalist elements from the native tradition and culture was a good strategy for academicians, then who then applied their understanding of the modern and the traditional onto huge surfaces in the airport lounge (most of them are 340  2000 cm). The series was a visual feasts for eyes tired of revolutionary propaganda, and a light musical concert for thirsty minds. Yuan Yunsheng in his “Ode to Life: The Water-Splashing Festival” created elegant and tender human figures, snake-like movements of the female body, and a harmonious riot of color, all providing a sense of carnival. The origin of Water-Splashing Festival is found in the area of the Dai People in Yunnan Province.35 The region Xishuang Banna is a famed Shangri-La in China,

known for its virgin forests, unpolluted subtropical environment, unique residential houses and villages, and attractive natives and their exotic customs and culture. Yuan Yunsheng applied variety of lines to portray subtropical trees, dancing youngsters and woman bathers, composing a symphony of curves. He said in the article “A Dream of Mural,”

35 The Dai people are one of several ethnic groups living in Yunnan.

36

The most exciting thing is the marvel of Xishuang Banna and the beauty of Dai people. . .This is a world of varied but simple lines – slender but flexible lines, forceful but delicate lines, and stubborn but gentle, natural-silk-like lines.36

This is no doubt the perception of a formalist who interprets the wonderland he saw from a special perspective, that is, art for art’s sake. It is a Chinese version of Impressionism, since to academician artists Impressionism was basically a formalist revolution. The attention of audiences and officials, however, was drawn to the two naked girls among the group of bathers, a representation of a folk custom. For the first time in thirty years, nudes appeared in public space, a direct challenge to the asceticism demanded and Yuan Yunsheng, “Bihua Zhimeng” (A Dream of Mural), Meishu Yanjiu, Beijing, issue 1, 1980.

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the nude’s taboo in official ideology. This controversy spurred curious audiences to pour in during the first month’s opening. After holding disputes among art circles and then in the public sphere, the airport authority covered nudes with a curtain. In 1981, the nudes were paneled over, which was not removed until 1990. Therefore, this mural tells a story beyond art that witnessed the vicissitude of society and ideology in the 1980s. Wu Guanzhong was the standard-bearer of the academism in the post-revolution period. An artist trained in France in the 1940s and an educator from the 1950s, he devoted his life to the endeavor of art for art’s sake. In late 1970s, he wrote a series of articles where he became the first artist who dared to challenge the dominating principle of “contents determine form in art” in national art periodicals. This led to a debate among critics and artists nationwide and encouraged many academicians to explore the “beauty of form.” The first and the most influential article is his “The Formal Beauty of Painting,” published on Meishu, the official journal of CAA, issue 5 in 1979. He stated, The formal beauty is crucial in art creation, as well as unique means of art that serves people. Art is related directly and closely to politics and literature, as we see in propaganda painting, illustration and series picture stories.. . .. . .There are a lot of successful artworks that greatly impacted our society. At the same time, I wish to see more independent artworks, which have their own value as plastic beauty, instead of carrying extra didactic significance. . . .. . . The duty of an art teacher is to teach artistic technique, principles and laws of formal beauty. For several decades, who dared to be Prometheus37 in the situation that anyone who talks about artistic form would be criticized as formalist? What we taught was nothing but “trifling skill” of an imitator, which was called “realism” high-soundingly. . . .. . . I believe that beauty of form should be the center of art education, while imitation of objects is only one of many artistic modes, supplemental to the art that catches the beauty of objects. How to 37 Prometheus, a Greek mythological character who steals heavenly fire for human, thus is punished severely by Zeus. 38 Wu Guanzhong, “Huihua de Xingshi Mei” (The Formal Beauty of Painting), Meishu, issue 5, 1979.

approach and understand beauty of objects, and how to analyze and grasp formal factors as basis of beauty should be the major part of art education, as entrée in a banquet.38

In 1979, the official ideology that dominated Chinese art for decades was still a dogma that few dared to question. Wu Guanzhong admitted that art and politics could not be separated, but then he pointed out that artistic form instead of contents (usually ideological message) was central to art and art education. He criticized the imitation of object as pseudo-realism because it ignored the nature of reality and art. His ideal was to get rid of literary and political burden in art and to seek beauty in pure color, line, and composition. This led to his conception of beauty via abstraction, generalization and organization of form. He was the artist who practiced this ideal with his heart and soul and created hundreds even thousands of art works in terms of art for art’s sake. It is important to differentiate Academician’s “Art for art’s sake” from the one practiced by the No Name artists. While former was a formalist slogan against “politics-in-command art,” the latter was an aesthetic pursuit as well as a stance of political resistance. The landscape “Lu Xun’s Hometown” (Fig. 3.28) was painted in 1979, when the debate on form and beauty of art took place. Lu Xun was a legendary figure of literature in the Republicanperiod China and became a cultural icon in the new China because of his leftist tendency under the Nationalists. Thus, this painting still has something to do with the ideology of the revolution, since the scene Wu Guanzhong depicted is Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, Lu Xun’s hometown. Except for this geographic connection with the cultural hero, this painting was simply a landscape, or townscape more accurately, of southern China. What the artist was really interested in was the beauty of this small town: its houses with their unique black-tile roofs and white wall flanking a nearly still river with its reflection of buildings, and a typical stone arch bridge in Zhejiang. The town, with its many canals, is called “Venice in the East” by the media, and its peace and harmony between humanity and the

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Fig. 3.28 Wu Guanzhong, “Lu Xun’s Hometown,” 1979, oil on canvas, 61  46 cm

Fig. 3.29 Wu Guanzhong, “Spring and Autumn,” 1986, ink, color and gouache on paper

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environment attracted the artist. He used very loose, relaxed brushwork and light coloration as watercolor, providing audience with a lyricism that Chinese, for decades, had seldom seen. Wu Guanzhong believed that artistic form was central to art and that the beauty of abstraction was the core of artistic form. He had explored a Chinese-version abstraction in his painting with both oil and ink, but in a piece entitled “Spring and Autumn” painted in 1986 (Fig. 3.29), he combined watercolor and ink technique to create a semi-abstraction. The whole composition consisted of several light ink washes, seemingly floating lines with yellow dots. Washes represented small plots with melting snow and lines represented slender trees. Wu Guanzhong loved to wander between figurative objects and non-figurative images in his painting starting in the late 1970s. Inspired by light music, he played with the linear skills of ink painting in this relaxed, carefree piece. The pursuit of artistic beauty by academic artists did not touch the relationship between aesthetics and the internal world of people in terms of psychology, sociology, and anthropology; instead, it was a reaction to stoicism and an attempt of reinterpretation of beauty as the universal. They were not aware that western Modernist painting was essentially not a revolution of form, but the one of conception or ideology. Because that ideological revolution had not

launched in China, these artists comprehended western modern art only from perspective of visual sensation. From this point of view, they believed that abstraction could be found in ancient Chinese art, and Chinese folk art. Accordingly, a manner of “Modernism plus folk elements” initiated in the Capital International Airport murals became popular. One could see it in wall painting, decorative art, and even other oil paintings and prints. “Art for art’s sake” for the No Name artists demonstrated a protest stance against art that was full of elements of official ideology; artists of this group were active in politics, for instance, they had participated with April Fifth Movement with great enthusiasm. Academician artists of this period, instead, held the banner of “Art for Art’s Sake” to escape ideologyoriented politics and art. Up to the middle of 1980s, academic art lost its progressive impulse, and the attention was shifted to marketing to produce some academic-kitsch works. Because of its apolitical and marketable features, it became a focus of opposition to the avant-garde art that emerged in the mid-1980s. At the time, though, it became nothing short of a pseudo-official art, especially reflected on the Sixth National Art Exhibition, held in the end of 1984, from which audiences could see the resurrection of themes and forms of the Cultural Revolution.

4

An Art Hurricane: The Avant-Garde Movement (1985–1989)

4.1

4.1.1

Cultural Fever and General Picture of Avant-Garde Movement Cultural Fever as the Discursive Context of Vanguard Art

The most amazing almost magic-realistic phenomenon in Chinese cultural life during the 1980s was the “Great Cultural Discussion,” dubbed “Cultural Fever” by the media and the academia. Without consideration of this context, the investigation of a topic from a new literary school to an individual writer’s short story, from reform of the press to a new layout of a newspaper might not be complete or comprehensible. This is the true cultural context of China’s avant-garde of the 1980s. This intense debate lasted about nine years, from May 1980, when a letter by Pan Xiao was published on Zhongguo Qingnian,1 to the middle of 1989. One of its most important features was that elite and grass-roots groups converged

1 A letter by Pan Xiao, a reader of the Zhongguo Qingnian (China Youth, a monthly magazine), titled “Why the Road of My Life Became Narrower?” was published in May 1980 in Zhongguo Qingnian. The letter discussed the nature and meaning of life through personal experience, especially the one she had during the Cultural Revolution, and received unexpected response from readers, with sixty-thousand responsive letters to the magazine. It is the beginning of nationwide discussion on philosophy and culture.

and shared ideas about the reform of Chinese culture. Participants ranged from celebrated university professors to college or even high school students, and from government officials to workers and soldiers. They joined this national discussion by expressing their opinions through all kinds of channels. Seminars and research groups appeared in metropolitan cities and small towns. New books, periodicals, lectures, and exhibitions concerned with the issue of culture attracted huge audiences. Hundreds of western works, particularly twentieth-century monographs on philosophy, social sciences, and humanities, were translated, published and made available to hungry readers found in urban areas, remote rural regions, and the frontier. Thanks to this large volume of translations and the introduction of western scholarly works, scholarly jargon such as information (xinxi), system (xitong), structure ( jiégou), construction ( jiangou) and deconstruction ( jiĕgou), etc. entered the vocabulary of the everyday life of these literates. Subsequently, it changed the structure of everyday Chinese language. For the first time in three decades, both intellectuals and ordinary Chinese could free themselves, to a high degree, from hegemonic ideology, absorb thoughts from various resources, and express – as individuals – their concerns and opinions on culture’s status quo, and even offer their own prescriptions for the cultural “disease.” It also had its long-term impact on almost every aspect of Chinese cultural life, including art. Conceptually, the pro-democracy

# Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020 Y. Zhou, A History of Contemporary Chinese Art, Chinese Contemporary Art Series, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-1141-7_4

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movement of 1989 could be seen as the most powerful by-product of the Great Cultural Discussion. The Cultural Fever of the 1980s can also be seen as a continuation of the May Fourth New Culture Movement of the early twentieth century. In this movement, extensive, heated debates concerning the cultural confrontation between the East and the West were initiated, generating a great impact on the Chinese political, cultural, and artistic life of the entire century. The debates proceeded in three stages: analyses of similarities and differences between China and the West; comparing the respective merits and flaws of Chinese and Western culture; and discussions of the future of Chinese and Western culture. The May Fourth New Culture Movement formed part of an incomplete project of China’s modernization, which started approximately after the end of the Opium Wars in the mid-nineteenth century. It was a direct consequence of the failure of an earlier attempt toward industrial and political modernization. When such industrialization did not prevent the nation from losing to Japanese and Western allied powers at the end of nineteenth century and when the Hundred Days Reform of 1898 (that aimed to improve the political system) failed, Chinese intellectuals attempted to reevaluate traditional culture that they believed led to that failure. The consensus was that the cultural backwardness of China was its greatest weakness and the most effective way to wake China up and strengthen her system was to undertake a cultural reform. This cultural consciousness (wenhua yishi) was essential to the ultimate project of modernity at the outset of the modern history of China. It was generally understood as a significant symbol of modernity that unified and transcended the industrial and political realms with the new slogan “science and democracy.” It is this legacy of the May Fourth Movement that has been considered as a model of the ultimate, total modernity. Up to the 1980s, the issue of culture was raised again; the notion of cultural consciousness re-surfaced. Modernization or the project of modernity was, for intellectuals, a project of culture, a synthesis of political structure, an

economic infrastructure, and an ideological and discursive system. To find the causes for China’s backwardness and prescribe solutions for it, intellectuals re-evaluated arguments and judgments addressed a half century ago for which new opinions were provided and debated. The discussion proceeded in three stages, as in the early twentieth century: an analysis of similarities and differences between China and the West; comparison considering the respective merits and flaws of Chinese and Western culture, and discussion concerning the future of Chinese and Western culture. Three opinion groups dominated the discussion: Futurologists, New Confucianism, and Hermeneutics.2 Chronologically, the Futurologist School was the first influential group who participated in the debate. It focused on the “value-free” domain of scientific knowledge and methods. Through a series of publications under the title, Toward the Future (started publication in 1984), this group attracted many followers in colleges, high schools, and the educated public. The editorial committee, led by Jin Guantao and Liu Qingfeng, became the headquarter of the Futurologist School, and about 80 books were published before the series was terminated in 1989. It stated that, while Chinese culture lacked “scientific methods” and a “manner of logical thinking,” modern science and technology, mostly imported from the West, could reduce the distance between China and the West, the backward present and the modern future. Spiritually, this group seemed to be the direct successor of the May Fourth New Culture Movement in its respect for science and scientific principles. In fact, there were slogans and strategies made by statesmen and intellectuals from the 1920s to 1940s that reflected these concepts: “save the nation through sciences” (kexue jiuguo) and “save the nation through industry and commerce” (shiye jiuguo). The difference is that, while the

2

Xudong Zhang classifies and discusses three opinion groups in his Chinese Modernism in the Era of Reforms: Cultural Fever, Avant-Garde Fiction, and the New Chinese Cinema, 1997, Durham and London: Duke University Press, pp. 37–70.

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early advocates of science concentrated on introducing various scientific disciplines, the Futurologist School of the 1980s thought this was not enough and sought to introduce and utilize what they called “scientific methods” and “the manner of logical thinking.” This was critical because sciences were considered not only at a practical and instrumental level, but also on an epistemological and spiritual level. New Confucianism seemed to act as a countermovement to the Futurologist School. With members who were mostly well-known college professors and/or researchers of humanities and social sciences, this school believed that China’s culture could step forward into its own modern stage. Advocates held two basic assumptions. First, Chinese civilization had the internal capability of assimilating foreign factors while keeping its own primary values and features intact (the best example is the cultural prosperity of the Tang dynasty from the seventh to tenth centuries). Second, as a temporal-spatial entity, Chinese culture with its five-thousand-year history could be a rival force against EuroAmerica-centered narratives thus its modernity could become an alternative to Euro-America’s modernity. Some younger-generation scholars (most born after 1949), under an organization named “the Editorial Committee for Twentieth-Century Western Scholarly Classics” founded in Beijing at the end of 1985 (the name of the committee was changed into “The Editorial Committee: Culture – China and the World” in 1987), formed the School of Hermeneutics, the third opinion group in the debate. These young scholars developed a different discursive space and cultural strategy while addressing issues of modernization and modernity. More theoretical than the previous schools, they tended to transform Chinese tradition through their hermeneutic effort based on western modern philosophy, humanities and social sciences, the so-called “western learning or scholarship” (xixue). While the Futurologist School was obsessed with “scientific methodology” and “logical thinking,” the Hermeneutics School focused on the introduction of western theoretical discourses, which it believed was

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pivotal for China’s cultural transformation. Its radical stance toward tradition made this school a significant rival to the New Confucianism. Its statements such as “suspending tradition” (xuanzhi chuantong) and “re-interpreting tradition” (chongxin quanshi chuantong) were, in effect, tactical slogans for the strategic goal of the critique and a subversion of tradition. These three schools dominated the debate on culture and had immense impact on Chinese artists, who, in turn, were active participants in the debate. That a debate, which for most outsiders sounded like a merely theoretical discussion within the academia, eventually went beyond the “ivory tower” and became a nationwide cultural mania, was a phenomenon requiring exploration and analysis. The position of the third opinion group was important because the Chinese avant-garde of the 1980s shared more ideas and strategies with this group than with the other two.3 Among the three opinion groups, the Hermeneutics School showed its distinctive independence from official ideology and hegemonic discourse, and argued a radical intellectual attitude toward tradition. It used an “opportunist” strategy – suspending tradition – to deemphasize the current mainstream as well as classical ideologies. This strategy enabled them to fulfill their mission: the subversion of existing traditions and their transformation into a modern type of culture. Born in the 1950s and 1960s, most of the Hermeneutics School members were in the first group of M.A. and Ph.D. recipients in philosophy, history, sociology, literature, or economics after the Cultural Revolution, sharing a background with many avant-garde artists of the 1980s. Trained and often intellectually immersed in western scholarship, their inclination to westernization seemed to be inherent. To any ideological group in current Chinese society, the hermeneutic faction was viewed as innovative or maybe even heretical. Spiritually, Chinese vanguard artists were natural allies of the Hermeneutics School. Many vanguard artists were close friends of key figures of the Hermeneutics School, such as Gan Yang, Liu Dong, and Zhou Guoping, just name a few. 3

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General Picture of the Avant-Garde Movement

The history of vanguard art grouping in China can be traced back to the 1920s and 1930s, when Modernist groups such as Storm Society, led by Pang Xunqin and Ni Yide, and the China Independent Art Association led by Zhao Shou and Liang Xihong, were founded. Since late 1970s, groups like the No Name Group, Stars Society, Beijing Oil Painting Research Group, and Same Generation Painting Society were assembled. However, many vanguard groups did not emerge until 1985, when nearly 80 avant-garde groups were established in more than 20 provinces as well as big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin. China’s avant-garde emerged during 1985 and 1986 as the Cultural Fever had reached high tide. Because of their frequent and intense interactions and similarities of spirit, we may consider the avant-garde an integral part of the Cultural Fever, or more accurately, the natural ally of the Hermeneutics School of the Great Cultural Discussion. It is by no means a coincidence that from the beginning of 1985, when the Great Cultural Discussion was on the upsurge, new and unofficial art groups mushroomed nationwide – a distinctive signal of the wave of China’s AvantGarde Movement or the ’85 Art Movement, as coined by Gao Minglu. If we consider modernist art of around the 1930s as a storm of modernism, the Avant-Garde Movement of the 1980s is like an art hurricane that swept the nation. When the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign started, but ended quickly in late 1983, avantgardism flourished across the arts: literature, dance, music, theater, visual art, and film, around 1985. In February, the China Writers Association held its fourth congress, denouncing conservatism and calling for freedom of art creation, an indicator of prosperity in arts in the middle of the 1980s. All over the country, these groups consisted of graduates or current students in art schools. Mostly were born before the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) and grew up during the revolution,

the generation closest to the members of the Hermeneutics School. In the 1980s, most vanguard artists affiliated with an artistic group, or at least participated in the activities of these groups. These groups were not only organizations of artists but became centers for spiritual convergence. Like fighting forces in the revolution, they were assembled by idealistic and spiritual consensus. There had been artists’ societies and associations in the 1930s, and in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and most were similar to Salons in the West, as loose gatherings or assemblies of artists for the exchange of ideas and opportunities for exhibition. The groups founded in the mid-1980s were organizations with clear ideas about modern art, or at least they believed so. The similarity or even identity of the concept of Modernism was the strong basis that held artists together. They wrote and published manifestoes, essays and artistic notes to communicate with other artists, critics, and the public. The idealism and passion for Chinese modern art acted as the super glue for these groups of individual artists. The elitism exemplified in their art, manifestoes, and activities showed that they considered themselves leading intellectuals of the Enlightenment in China. The Avant-Garde Movement could not be imagined without these avantgarde art groups, as seen in four aspects that reflect the ideals and spirit of the new utopia: The first aspect was activism. Like the avantgarde of the early twentieth century, Chinese artists of those groups believed in activism. They were tired of narcissism and sentimental expressionism, instead they were concerned themselves with issues in the social and cultural spheres. Although passionate for speculative activities, they believed that one action was more powerful than a thousand words. Their creative activities were held mostly in the public sphere rather than in studios, and they favored group events and interaction with the audiences. The second was detachment from mundane reality. They believed in elitism and were indifferent to trivial reality. They rejected personal style and self-expressionism. They attempted to attain their cultural and aesthetic identity from the process of artistic exchange instead of

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Cultural Fever and General Picture of Avant-Garde Movement

development of a personal style. This could be seen as transcendence over operation and manipulation at the level of technique, so that their art was usually neither delicate nor formally beautiful, instead, it was visually and spiritually powerful and, in many cases, possessed shocking effects. The third was antagonism. Denial or disdain of authority, conventions, and art boundaries was shared by these artists. Their conceptual art with an Anti-Art stance displayed an Eastern manner of antagonism in art, namely, a manner based on Chan Buddhism and Daoism, since these religious ideologies rivalled the mainstream ideology and social order based on Confucianism, as well as imported Marxism and Leninism. The antagonism was also reflected in Action Art,4 executed by vanguard artists. The fourth was consciousness of the tragedy or spirit of sacrifice. Though longing for success and victory, the vanguard artists were aware of the tragic destiny they might face, which they considered an ethical imperative for Chinese art and culture. At the same time, they saw their artworks as a manifestation of their cultural ideas and concepts, instead of the product of manual work which could trade for money or fortune. Most of artists featured in the historical exhibition China/ Avant-Garde in 1989 left their works behind when the show was over, since they believed that the exhibition provided them with an opportunity to expose their artistic and cultural thoughts, so the works completed their mission as the exhibition adjourned. Based on art ideology and characteristics, three tendencies can be found in the avant-garde movement: Rationalist Painting, the Current of

4

Chinese words xingwei yishu is different from or does not exclusively refer to the Western notion of “performance” or “Happening,” as “performance” usually needs an audience and a “Happening” refers, mostly, to accidentally occurred art activities. Xingwei yishu in concept and practice refers to an artistic action with or without audience, that deliberates carefully beforehand, is executed in either public or private space by following a plan, and usually carries a sense of ritual and introspective experience, thus the phrase “Action Art” instead of “performance” or “Happening” is used in this book.

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Life, and Anti-Art.5 Avant-garde artists had much in common. With idealism, they were determined to subvert tradition and to advocate for a discursive revolution in order to revive Chinese art and culture. In spontaneity, they fundraised on their own, unlike the official artists association that was sponsored by the state, and organized exhibitions, symposia and publication. With controversy, their radical art was mostly unacceptable to the officials and general public, thus causing controversy. Some exhibitions were even shut down by cultural authorities or the police either before or during their openings. These modern art groups appeared not only in Beijing, Jiangsu and Zhejiang, urban areas and coastal provinces, but also in remote areas, such as Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Ningxia, Tibet, and Qinghai.

4.1.2.1

Art Periodicals: Media as Resource and as Battle Field Some critics have noted with concern that China’s avant-garde was a movement in which concept came first and artistic creation followed. This revealed an interesting phenomenon, namely, that vanguard artists were more interested in a so-called “revolution of art concepts” than the “evolution of artistic form.” From this we can also see the alliance between the Hermeneutics School and the avant-garde: both concentrated on the issue of discourse, rather than the vehicle that carried it. The period of 1984–1989 is called the “age of theory/conception” by some critics. Without active involvement of art periodicals, however, it would be hard to imagine the theoretical and conceptual fervor of the art students and vanguard artists. These art periodicals, usually edited and run by young and middle-aged art critics, spurred debates, and pushed forward the avant-garde of the 1980s, and so became a new cultural 5

The division of Rationalist Painting, Current of Life and Anti-Art here follows the categorization of Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), co-authored by Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, and Tong Dian, Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991.

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phenomenon in the form of “scholar/critic-run periodicals.” They were both new resources for artists and battlefields for the new art movement.6 Since 1984, art researchers and faculty in theory at art academies, and recipients of master’s degree in art history and theory walked out of their studies and worked as editors of the art journals. The editors include Zhang Qiang, Liu Xiaochun, Tao Yongbai, Gao Minglu, Li Xianting, Ge Yan, Li Luming, and Wang Ruiyun, from the Research Institute of Fine Arts, Chinese National Academy of Arts; Yi Ying from the Central Academy of Fine Arts; Peng De, Pi Daojian and Yan Shanchun from Hubei; Fan Jingzhong from the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts; Yang Xiaoyan from Guangzhou; and Lu Fusheng from Shanghai, among others. Theorists and critics working as editors in this period might be a Chinese phenomenon. Compared with artists and art officials, critics and theorists found few job positions in art schools and academies, and their voices were rarely heard by the public. Their positions as editors provided them with opportunities to address the public. Some young artists called these editors “art sponsors,” because the publication of their artwork, especially experimental art, in periodicals was the major channel that made their art accessible to the audience at large. These editors possessed academic qualifications and held the strategic perspective of a theorist or critic, and thus were qualified to play a critical role in the Avant-Garde Movement. The dual role of editor and critic enabled art periodicals to act as advocates of new art movement and to form a unitary force of cooperation at the national level, which made visual art a pioneer in the world of Chinese culture. At the same time, these art journals had their special interests and characteristics: Zhongguo Meishubao (Fine Arts in China) reported and promptly reviewed art events, emerging artists and art groups, and raised a series of critical issues; Meishu (Fine Arts) attempted to deepen the debates on these issues, and reported new art periodically; Meishu Sichao (The Trend of Art The materials of “Art Periodicals” are from Ibid. pp. 495–515.

6

Thought) focused on criticism, theory and construction of new ideological trends; Meishu Yicong (Journal of Translated Art Scholarship) and Xin Meishu (New Arts) emphasized the academic pursuit for new theory and historiography of art; Jiangsu Huakan (Jiangsu Pictorial) and Huajia (Painters) published many images of artwork, making experimental art available to the general public; Shijie Meishu (World Art) mainly introduced international artists and art schools, especially Modernism and Post-Modernism, which attracted many art students and young artists. Meishu started publication in 1954, and is official journal of CAA, Chinese Artists Association. In the New Age (it stopped publication during the Cultural Revolution), Meishu reported and advanced several important journalistic events: a debate of the series picture book “Maples;” reports of the Beijing Spring Painting Exhibition, The Same Generation Painting Exhibition, and Stars exhibition; introducing and reviewing Scar Painting represented by artists from Sichuan Fine Arts Institute; and general debates on issues of content and form, self-expression, realism, nude art, the function of art, Chinese painting, and abstraction, etc. Meishu was also involved in the art revolution. Notably, it criticized the official Sixth National Art Exhibition held by CAA through a series of articles in early 1985. From the second half of 1985, it tracked closely new art trends, and tried to report and analyze the development of emerging vanguard art. In issue 7, Meishu reviewed Chinese Youth in Progress Art Exhibition via a series of artwork, critical articles and artists’ notes, and dedicated a new column to “Renewing Our Art Concept.” In the same issue, “Schools of Oil Painting of Recent Years” by Gao Minglu and “Notes on Current of Lives” by Yi Ying summarized the art of this period. In the following issues, it published works by current graduates of art academies and pertinent discussion that brought about development of AvantGarde Movement. By 1986, Meishu dedicated more space for the new art movement. The following are a list of

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Cultural Fever and General Picture of Avant-Garde Movement

some important articles, artworks and events, all related to the Avant-Garde Movement. Hong Zaixin “Bravely Sacrifice” Bao Jianfei “We and Our Creation” Shi Jiu (pen name of Zhang Peili) “The Audience’s Response to ’85 New Space” Artwork of the Exhibition ’85 New Space Artwork by Gu Wenda Luming (Li Luming) “Thoughts on the New Phase of ‘Spiritual Painting’” Shu Qun “Content Determines Form” Gao Minglu “On Rationalist Painting” Wu Shanzhuan “On Chinese Characters in Art” Report of ’85 Youth Art Wave Grand Slide Show and Conference Zhou Yan “Vision and Visual Art” Fangzhou (Jia Fangzhou) “Awakening of Criticism as Subjective Entity” Ding Fang “The Great Omen of New Culture” Reports of exhibitions New Figures from Yunnan and Shanghai, New Wildness from Nanjing, and Xuzhou Modern Art Exhibition from Xuzhou, Jiangsu Gemen (pen name of Gao Minglu) “Boundary of Art” Xutian (pen name of Zhu Qingsheng) “Principle of ‘Being Bewildered’” Zhou Mo (pen name of Zhou Yan) “Strata of Visual Stimulus” While advocating for a new art movement, Meishu also featured articles that disagreed with the new art so that readers could perceive comprehensively the status quo of Chinese art, especially its vanguard, which could lead to their own, independent perspective and interpretation. Meishu of the middle-1980s also introduced ideas of environmental art and the study of foreign art. New art and cultural issues were the focus of two issues of the Meishu in 1986. It was able to publish new art and introduce western modern art because it was run by a so-called “system of editor’s responsibility” in 1985 and 1986. This system let various editors take turns to edit issues and ensured that the editor made a proposal for that issue, and commissioned authors to write on given topics; he then simply had to get

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approval from the editor-in-chief before publication. Therefore, the magazine had distinct characteristics of editor’s ideas and thoughts in each issue. The pros were that it encouraged editors to work with enthusiasm and build a competitive environment, reflected in the diversified style seen in these two years. The cons, however, were that the magazine was inconsistent from issue to issue. Also, due to its nature as an official magazine, Meishu was vulnerable to shifting employment of editors. For instance, Li Xianting was dismissed and reassigned to another position because he edited a series of articles on the beauty of abstraction in 1983, in which He Rong, associate editor-in-chief, was implicated and eventually dismissed. Wang Xiaojian was suspended for his intensive introduction of modern art in issue 12, 1986. Gao Minglu, the editor working at Meishu from 1984 to 1989, was suspended in 1989 because of his critical role in organizing the exhibition China/Avant-Garde, in addition to his vanguard stance shown in his editing. The climate of political situation greatly affected the magazine in its editing and employment of editors. Zhongguo Meishubao (Fine Arts in China) started publication in July 1985, and was terminated at the end of 1989 after 229 issues were published. This weekly newspaper was published by the Research Institute of Fine Arts (RIFA), Chinese National Academy of Arts (CNAA). Although it engaged established, celebrated artists as consultants, the editors were composed of middle-aged and younger scholars, included Zhang Qiang, Liu Xiaochun, and Li Xianting. Their guideline was to make it “a journal with contending and scholarly information, and an experimental newspaper for exchange of knowledge.” The scholarly, the informative, the disputable, and the knowledgeable were its lifeline, and freedom of speech was its banner. When the Avant-Garde Movement was launched, Zhongguo Meishubao started publication. It provided sufficient space for this new art, both starting and ending at the same time – 1985 to 1989 – and both inspired by a similar mission and destiny. From the end of 1985 to the first half of 1986, it tracked and reported the new art by

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exposing controversies instead of hiding them. In the middle 1986, it started a special column, “Rumination,” for debates on a variety of vanguard art. From issue 18, 1985, Zhongguo Meishubao introduced nearly a hundred new art groups and their exhibitions. It provided the youth art movement a platform where artists could exchange information, ideas, and concepts, and became a critical force for the development of the Chinese avant-garde in the 1980s. This timely report of vanguard art in some areas stimulated activities in other areas, and the report and review of these developments reflected its recognition and affirmation of the value of the avant-garde.7 The debate on Chinese painting was one of the major subjects for Zhongguo Meishubao. It published the article “Chinese Painting Is Going to Its End” by Li Xiaoshan, in issue 14, 1985, followed by his “Fracture of Chinese Painting,” and a series of articles of support and opposition. This activated the previously inactive field of Chinese painting and expanded greatly the sphere of experiment in this traditional art. Another subject Zhongguo Meishubao focused on was environmental art and modern architecture. It launched a discussion on public sculpture in issue 5, 1985. One of important articles was “China’s Modern Architecture Needs (Henry) Moore and Calder” by Bu Zhengwei, in issue 12, 1985, followed by a series of articles on environmental art and a dispute on the issue of “fake antique in today’s architecture.” It also introduced with a full-page space the Salon of Contemporary Architectural Culture, a society of active architects, critics and artists. Reviewing western modern art was another feature of Zhongguo Meishubao. It used three full pages for American Pop artist Robert Rauschenberg’s exhibition in China, a critical catalyst for Chinese Anti-Art of the 1980s, in issue 22, 1985 (Fig. 4.1). it also reported upon

It was especially true when neither Internet nor WeChat – the most popular and powerful social medium in China in the 2010s – existed in the 1980s. The media with sympathy for vanguard art was the only source for those who were eager for information of new art from other areas.

an exhibition of French artists Henri Cueco and Ernest Pignon. The specialties of editors were different, which led to diversity of the journal. Liu Xiaochun, the chief-editor, wrote about this diversity in explaining the layout of Zhongguo Meishubao, that is, page one was given to “movements” and “changes” that were experimental, while the contents on page three were to be “stable,” and “normal,” and popular, which left pages two and four as flexible space for either. Chronologically, its focus veered between vanguard and non-vanguard. It would raise issues with supporting articles in one issue, then follow up with challenging opinions and confutation in the following issue, forming a comprehensive overview with multiple opinions and complementary arguments under a “dramatic” confrontation of opposites. Zhongguo Meishubao carried out a way of “running the journal by variety of editors with wisdom” (qunxian banbao) which provided editors and guest editors with great independence including the freedom to recruit writers, write reports and reviews, and collect information – both text and image – from emerging artists.8 In the middle-1980s, this manner of running a journal was conspicuous in the context of reform also occurring in China’s journalism. In 1987, when the Anti-Bourgeois Liberalization Campaign was launched, the journal made adjustments to avoid controversy by diluting its contending and experimental features. After the campaign approached its end, Zhongguo Meishubao returned to its regular track, until the end of 1989, when the Ministry of Culture ordered the termination of the journal. Zhongguo Meishubao also carried its mission beyond its regular function by becoming as an art institution. It hosted or sponsored several artistic events. One of the most important events in which Zhongguo Meishubao collaborated with Zhuhai Painting Academy, was the ’85 Youth Art Wave Grand Slide Show and Conference or

7

See Liu Xiaochun, “Dui Zhongguo Meishubao de Lishi Jishu” (Recording the History of Zhongguo Meishubao), 1994, see http://www.gsyart.com/publish_display.php? id¼874, consulted July 12, 2017.

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Fig. 4.1 Poster of International Travelling Show of Rauschenberg Art, organized by Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI), 1985

Zhuhai Conference, held in Zhuhai, Guangdong, on August 15–19, 1986. It also served as one of sponsors of historical exhibition China/AvantGarde, held at National Art Museum of China, from February 5–19, 1989.9 Its four and a half years of publication brought Zhongguo Meishubao great fame within art circles. Almost every vanguard artist subscribed to it, and college students became loyal readers. Many readers praised it for its experimental, explorative and informative features, and also its unique layout, a “black-white” scheme that illustrates a sense of reason, designed by Chen Weiwei, a woman designer working in Meishu. On April 1985, the first issue of Meishu Sichao (The Trend of Art Thought) was published by the Hubei Federation of Literary and Art Circles. The 9 Detailed discussion on Zhuhai Conference and China/ Avant-Garde can be found in Sect. 4.3.

editors, Peng De, Zhou Shaohua, Lu Muxun, Liu Gangji, Pi Daojian, and Yan Shanchun, in addition to guest editors Zhu Bin, Huang Zhuan, and Li Xianting, et al. all were well-known critics. A total of twenty-two issues was published before the journal was terminated in 1987. Meishu Sichao was a periodical dedicated to modern art theory and criticism. Its birth had a tremendous impact on the China’s art world which had hitherto looked down on theory. The magazine’s writers studied the status quo of Chinese art, predicted trends, promoted new art, and criticized drawbacks found in the art world. In the beginning, it was printed monthly to take advantage of a short period of publication “that enabled it to be the frontline unit of contemporary art theory.” As no article could exceed 5000 Chinese characters, each essay penetrated directly into the nature of its issue, rather as a sudden Chan

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Buddhist enlightenment or banghe10 in Chan Buddhism. In 1986 it changed to bimonthly and started publishing longer essays that might more profoundly explore theoretical issues on cultural or philosophical perspective. It became a free forum for theoretical discussion seldom seen before in China’s art world. As one of few free forums, it possessed three characteristics: contentious, youth-oriented, and philosophical in its approach. From the beginning, the editors tried to avoid publishing a journal without a definite pursuit, clear character, or unique expression. In the first issue, in the “Answers to Readers” section they stated “It is well known that there was an adverse reaction to art theory and criticism, and that people (referring to authorities and their propaganda officials – note by author) cracked down on dissent through their power rather than academic discussion. . . It’s the mission of a younger generation to terminate this abusive practice.”11 They chose the Sixth National Art Exhibition, just concluded months ago, as a topic for the first debate. In response to this CAA-run exhibition, the articles in the magazine criticized it severely, and the final essay, by Gao Minglu, “The Final Stage of An Age of Art,” when analyzing the show from a theoretical perspective, stated that it was the final stage of some out-of-date conceptions, such as those modes and notions seen in the art of the Cultural Revolution. Reviewing art by emerging artists and publishing writings by young theorists were other important features of the Meishu Sichao. “On the Third Generation of Painters,” written by Deng Pingxiang, in the first issue of 1985, stated that the third generation of painters, who emerged after the 1970s, was a group of energetic and promising artists during this time of revival in Chinese culture. The journal introduced to readers young artists Gu Wenda and Huang Yongping, 10 Banghe literally means a blow to the head. In Chan Buddhism, it is the way for an individual to attain enlightenment through a sudden rap on the head by the second party, usually his master. 11 “Da Duzhe” (Answers to Readers), Meishu Sichao, issue 1, 1985. This is a sense-for-sense translation to make sure an easy comprehension to English readers.

who would become well known on the international art stage in the 1990s. A special issue for young artist groups was edited, in which groups such as Red • Journey, Pond Society, Red Humor, New Figurative Art, New Wildness and the Northern Art Group, as well as the event Hubei Youth Art Festival, were introduced and discussed. About two-third of writers who contributed to Meishu Sichao were young. Peng De, the chief editor, said, “In the art world, young artists and critics found no space. In traditional media, they had to make a choice between catering to the mainstream or forfeiting their opportunity to publish. Lots of art youth with great energy, wisdom, courage and insight were either neglected or alienated.”12 Therefore youthoriented Meishu Sichao periodical was about to change this. The philosophical approach was related to its emphasis on conveying a cultural spirit. In the third issue of 1986, a group of articles on Huang Yongping’s “Non-Expressive Painting” touched on issues of art, non-art, and Anti-Art in terms of art ontology, the pioneer of the philosophical approach and modern hermeneutics, in art periodicals in China. Its special issue on “Architectural Culture” (issue 3, 1987) published Martin Heidegger’s “Building, Dwelling, Thinking,” and a group of articles that analyzed architectural culture on a philosophical level, exceeding most magazines in depth of the theory on architecture and art. In particular, the dialogue “Culture and Art, and Art and Culture” between Gao Minglu and Liu Xiaochun, two leading critics, elaborated the cultural spirit of modern art. While emphasizing contention and its youth orientation was common in newly published periodicals during this time, the philosophical approach was unique. Ironically, even some philosophical magazines of the time did not reflect the true spirit of philosophy Meishu Sichao possessed, presenting only dogmatic discussions with no independent speculation. Noticeably, the philosophy reflected in Meishu Sichao was not a philosophy with strong analytic components, but Peng De, “Muran Huishou Shuo Sichao” (The Trend of Art Thought in Retrospect), Meishu Sichao, issue 6, 1987.

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rather a kind of poetic philosophy, which had a relationship with traditional Chinese culture combined with its empirical characteristics, philosophy, and epistemology. Due to financial and ideological pressures, Meishu Sichao stopped publication at the end of 1987. Peng De, the editor-in-chief, wrote “The Trend of Art Thought in Retrospect” in its last issue stating “There are usually two kinds of magazines: one is for external, passive, and professional needs, another, in pursuit of a just cause. The former runs a magazine for the magazine’s sake, thus it could be a body with few thoughts and little soul, while the latter is a forum with a clear goal and a passionate sense of mission. The dream of editors of this kind of magazine, no doubt, was to edit a first-class journal.”13 Although they had a dream of editing a firstclass journal, Meishu Sichao could not survive. Those magazines with little academic or artistic value, even those simply illustrating the clichéd ideology, however, survived happily, an irony of the reality of the 1980s’ China. Jiangsu Huakan (Jiangsu Pictorial), which started publication in Nanjing, Jiangsu, 1974, was a bimonthly aimed at art lovers and amateurs. In 1985, it changed to a monthly, whereupon the focus on the popular and the local was replaced by the scholarly, with a national and modern orientation as its guiding principle. Editors summarized these principles as standing at the junction of contemporary times, facing middle aged and young artists, but walking toward the future, by publishing scholarly discussion on contemporary art and its creation. This change attracted more readers from the Chinese art world. From issue 7, 1985 to the issue 12, 1986, the journal published tens of articles which debated Chinese painting, most triggered by Li Xiaoshan’s “Chinese Painting Is Going to Its End.” Dubbed the “Li Xiaoshan Tempest” (li xiaoshan fengbo) by the art media, Li’s article touched a sensitive nerve in the Chinese painting. The editors, used to have “neutral” or even conservative stance, were now supporting the debate and promoted its discussion outside of 13

Ibid.

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the journal. For example, it introduced the work of youth art groups in 1985 and 1986 and received a great response. These artists, groups and events included Gu Wenda, Ding Fang, Huang Yongping, Zhu Xinjian, Huang Qiuyuan, Zhejiang ’85 New Space, Jiangsu Youth Art Week – Modern Art Exhibition, Exhibition of Middle-Aged Artists’ Painting, First Shanghai Youth Art Exhibition, etc. It appears that the new art wave launched in 1985 occupied most of space in the magazine outside of the active debate on Chinese painting. Therefore, Jiangsu Huakan actively participated with the two major subjects of Chinese art from 1985 to 1986 – the Avant-Garde Movement and Debate on Chinese painting. Liu Dianzhang, editor-in-chief of Jiangsu Huakan, believed that “A unique magazine could not please all readers. A magazine that is attentive in every way would be mediocre, while being non-mediocre could be risky. We have chosen new wave art as a major subject for introduction and review, which is to us, no doubt, a hard nut to crack and we were flooded with reproaches and high pressure to change. The decrease in number of prints threatened the survival of magazine, and deficit due to increasing costs haunted us. However, we persistently introduced and supported emerging artists and their art. Although not mature, they appeared as trailblazers with an aroma of soil on their feet.”14 It is with this idealistic belief they overcame a variety of difficulties and retained their unique niche and scholarly quality. Huajia (Painters) produced five issues from 1985 to 1987, printed by Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House. Its first issue acquired warm, positive responses from many art circles, because it published Gu Wenda’s art as part of focus on new-wave art, bringing hope for the continuation of this new trend. The third issue featured comprehensive study of Huang Yongping’s work in an article by Fan Di-an. Huajia also reviewed the

Liu Dianzhang, “Jiannan de Tansuo Zhilu – Jiangsu Huakan Bankan Deshi de Sikao” (A Difficult Journey of Exploration – Thoughts on Gain and Loss of Jiangsu Huakan,” Meishu Sichao, issue 6, 1987.

14

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art of Li Shan, Zhang Jianjun, Zha Li, Cao Li, and Shang Yang, promising, young avant-garde or acclaimed middle-aged artists. The theoretical and critical essays in Huajia were also insightful, including “New Blast Shock Wave – on Chinese Youth in Progress Art Exhibition” by Deng Pingxiang, “Emerging New Painting” by Li Luming, “Idea, the Generational Gap, and Nationalization – Art Trends since 1985” by Gao Minglu, “Psychological Structure, Process and Environment – Different Orientation in Psychology of Visual Art in the West” by Zhou Yan, etc. While introducing and reviewing emerging artists from various areas, Huajia preferred the art of Current of Life that concentrated on desire, intuition, and the sub-consciousness of human beings. Compared to other art periodicals, Huajia’s focus on individual vanguard artists was unique. as Meishu published less on new art in most of its issues, Zhongguo Meishubao (as a weekly newspaper) had limited space for the topic, Meishu Sichao concentrated on criticism and theory, and Jiangsu Huakan seldom introduced individual artists. The editors of Huajia, Li Luming, Tan Liqing, Yuan Qingyi, and He Shan, et al, overcame numerous difficulties, from opposition within the Hunan art community to difficulty in marketing their particular point of view. Both Meishu Yicong (Journal of Translated Art Scholarship) and Xin Meishu (New Arts) were run by the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, and both kept their distance from the current art trends by concentrating on art theory and history. While Xin Meishu published research papers written mostly by young scholars, Meishu Yicong introduced copious amounts of western scholarship on art and the history of art, all of which was made possible mainly by Fan Jingzhong, editor-in-chief of both journals. Changing title from Guowai Meishu Ziliao (Art Resources from Foreign Publications) to Meishu Yicong in 1980, the journal focused on international art, artists, and art schools during its first couple of years. When Fan Jingzhong took the editor-in-chief position in 1984, he gradually shifted the focus to the translation of western scholarship on art and art history, mainly the

work of revered figures Erwin Panofsky, Ernst Gombrich and Heinrich Wölfflin. In issue 2, 1984, the introduction of Wölfflin’s Principles of Art History was the central piece of the journal. For the first time, Chinese readers became acquainted with the ideas of this important art historian, especially his research on artists’ styles. His five pairs of opposed or contrary precepts – linear vs. painterly, planar vs. recession, closed form vs. open form, multiplicity vs. unity, and absolute clarity vs. relative clarity – were introduced to readers who might have started their journey toward the methodology of western art historiography from this point. Panofsky was the second important art historian that Meishu Yicong brought to Chinese readers. As the founder of the study of iconography, Panofsky established his new method of art historiography in his Studies in Iconology. Selected essays in Meishu Yicong were mainly taken from his Meaning in the Visual Arts, including “Introduction: The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline,” “Iconography and Iconology: An Introduction to the Study of Renaissance Art,” “Et in Arcadia Ego: Poussin and the Elegiac Tradition,” “Epilogue: Three Decades of Art History in the United States – Impressions of a Transplanted European,” plus two essays on Albrecht Dürer and the Renaissance art respectively. These texts covered Panofsky’s thoughts of three strata of subject matter or meaning (primary or natural, secondary or conventional – iconography, intrinsic meaning or content – iconology); content, methods, and case studies of iconology, which were the core of Panofsky’s contribution to art historiography. Ernst Gombrich was the third figure presented by Meishu Yicong when, from 1984 to 1986, it published about thirty essays by or about Gombrich, including a special issue devoted to him. As a leading figure of the Warburg School, Gombrich studied visual art under a cultural system. It was related to iconology that he was adept in, because iconology could be seen as a cultural interpretation of visual art as Fan Jingzhong wrote, “From iconology on, the task of study of art has become the one that people utilize all knowledge

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and means of human culture to assist the study.” The translated Gombrich’s texts that had been published in Meishu Yicong are from his main monographs, Art and Illusion (8 pieces), Studies in the Art of the Renaissance (9), Ideals and Idols (4), Tributes: Interpreters of our Cultural Tradition (4), Meditations on a Hobbyhorse and other Essays on the Theory of Art (3), The Story of Art (2), The Image and the Eye: Further Studies in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation (1). Meishu Yicong also introduced its readers to Max Dvořák, representative of the Vienna School of Art History, Kenneth Clark, British art historian and critic, and Lionello Venturi, Italian art historian. The goal – providing materials from the West that could benefit the construction of art theory and art historiography in China – as set by Fan Jingzhong had been generally reached. This was welcomed and accepted by the art theory and history community in China, especially young theorists and historians. Meishu Yicong introduced, systematically and comprehensively, western historiography and methodologies of art history in professional and fluent translations, which played an important role in the Cultural Fever. Xin Meishu started publication in 1980. As a college journal, it focused on the art, art education, and study of art by faculty and students of the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts. While Fan Jingzhong worked as editor-in-chief in 1985, the journal kept its original character, but expanded its contribution circle to include other art academies and institutions, and many young writers contributed their research papers written with new methods. For the portion dedicated to the art by students of the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, its issue 4, 1985, drew broad attention with a series of articles on the Graduation Exhibition of Class 1981 including works which caused controversy within the academy.15 In particular, it focused on the “cold” appearance and the expression of a dream world in these seniors’ work. These two 15 In China, the beginning year of study rather than the year of graduation in an educational institution, from elementary school to college or university, is denoted, thus, the Class 1981 here graduated in 1985.

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trends could be seen in the Avant-Garde Movement nationwide, but the controversy indicates the difference in art conception, ways of thinking, pedagogy, issues concerned, and structure of knowledge between two generations, namely the students and their teachers, in an environment of art academy. The abstracts of graduation theses published in this issue, contributed by graduating seniors Liu Dahong, Song Haidong, Wang Qiang, Zhang Keduan, Wei Xiaolin, Geng Jianyi and Sun Baoguo, among others, presented students’ broad vision, energy, and new perspective. At the same time, Xin Meishu asked for contributions from young theorists, whose writing showed new research perspectives and a good grasp of both Chinese and western scholarship. The articles by Fan Jingzhong, Qiu Zhenzhong, Hong Zaixin, Yang Xiaoyan, Shao Hong, and Yan Shanchun were good examples which covered methodology of art study, new conceptions of art history, art psychology, and thoughts of Gombrich – all creative application of western scholarship into China’s academic sphere of art. As Meishu Yicong, Shijie Meishu (World Art), run by Central Academy of Fine Arts from 1979, also introduced foreign art, but it introduced mainly artists and art schools, rather than produced historical research on them, main objective of Meishu Yicong. Therefore, it was more popular in the art community, and was particularly welcomed by artists. Shijie Meishu started its publication in 1979, when China re-opened its door to the outside world. The artists and art schools Shijie Meishu introduced from late 1970s to 1980s include Vincent van Gogh, Kathe Kollwitz, Frans Masereel, Auguste Rodin, Amedeo Modigliani, Gustav Klimt, Andrew Wyeth, Edward Munch, Marc Chagall, Alex Colville, Salvador Dali, Wassily Kandinsky, and schools of Impressionism, Art Nouveau, Bauhaus, Futurism, Metaphysical School, Dada, German Expressionism, and Neo-Expressionism, among others. It is not difficult to see the relationship between these artists, art schools, and China’s avant-garde movement, since vanguard artists learned from them the most during the 1980s. Therefore, Shijie Meishu and China’s avant-garde shared an

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important interaction in terms of information and inspiration during this period.

4.1.2.2

Art Academies: Cradle of New Art There were eight art academies in the 1980s that to art youth were art palaces for their dream of becoming an artist. They are the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (ZAFA), Sichuan Fine Arts Institute (SFAI), Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts (TAFA), Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts (GAFA), Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts (XAFA), Luxun Academy of Fine Arts (LAFA, in Shenyang, Liaoning), and Hubei Institute of Fine Arts (HIFA).16 However, these academies had applied, since the 1950s, a singular curriculum and pedagogy that were based on Socialist Realism and the Chistyakov Drawing Pedagogy.17 Ironically, though the curriculum and pedagogy had changed little, art academies played a very important role in the new art and the vanguard movement of the 1980s. In the post-Cultural Revolution period, first of all, the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Chongqing (SFAI), Sichuan province,18 was “headquarters” of Scar Painting and Rustic Realism, since most of the painters of these two schools, Cheng Conglin, Luo Zhongli, He Duoling, Gao Xiaohua, Qin Ming, and Wang Chuan, to name a few, were from SFAI. Up to the mid-1980s, Ye Yongqing and Zhang Xiaogang, two leading members of influential vanguard group, Southwest Art Research Group that based in Sichuan, graduated from SFAI. 16 Unlike the period of the 1990s to 2000s, when art schools and departments had mushroomed nationwide, even colleges of technology or agriculture opened schools or departments of art, as art academies expanded their student body from hundreds to thousands, art academies before the 1990s were elite institutions of art education with small student bodies, e.g. there were only about one hundred undergraduate and graduate students in CAFA in the 1980s. Also, Hubei Institute of Fine Arts was founded in 1985, expanded from the Department of Fine Arts, Hubei Academy of Arts. 17 As for the Chistyakov Drawing Pedagogy, see footnote 21, Chap. 1. 18 Chongqing became municipality directly under the Central Government, as did Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin, in 1997.

Similarly, CAFA provided a matrix for avantgarde artists, including Meng Luding, Ma Lu, as well as Xu Bing and Lü Shengzhong, who became well-known in late 1980s. The most influential art academy for the generation of the Avant-Garde Movement, however, was Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (ZAFA) in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, which bred some of the most important vanguard artists of the 1980s, and thus could be called “the cradle of China’s Modernist movement.” An art academy, the former National Hangzhou Art College (NHAC), built on the modern art legacy initiated by Lin Fengmian, the first president of the college (1928–1937), kept a more open view toward modern art, and at the same time, paid equal attention to traditional Chinese culture and philosophy. One fact that had been taken delight in talking about in art circle is the ZAFA’s purchase of all books of art, art history and art theory from the International Book Fair, held at Beijing Exhibition Center in 1985. Xiao Feng, the president of ZAFA, decided to make this purchase with the budget that was supposed to buy cars for the school. This brilliant decision enabled ZAFA to build a library with the richest resources of western art scholarship in China in the 1980s. Based on this collection, Fan Jingzhong, an art historian and editor-inchief of Xin Meishu and Meishu Yicong in ZAFA, and his colleagues launched a campaign to introduce western art historiography, including the Warburg School, Panofsky’s iconology and iconography, as well as Gombrich’s cultural and psychological approach to the study of art. Not only for art history students and art historians, this collection provided art students and artists with great nourishment in the 1980s. It is especially significant because it had been extremely rare for them to have access to western scholarship, Modernism and post-Modernism in particular, since the 1950s. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this collection enriched greatly ZAFA students and faculty and stimulated their creativity in China’s Modernist art movement, as reflected by Wang Guangyi, Gu Wenda, Zhang Peili, Huang Yongping, Wu Shanzhuan and Geng Jianyi, all of whom

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Fig. 4.2 Zhang Keduan, “The Steppe in Winter,” 1985, plaster, 210  50  120 cm, picture taken at the show ’85 and an Art Academy, National Art Museum of China, Beijing, 2013

graduated from ZAFA and were leading figures of the Avant-Garde Movement. Besides learning from books, students also learned from young teachers and their classmates. For instance, Fan Jingzhong taught a series of classes on Chan Buddhism, a course few colleges offered. The direct influence, combined with a Dada spirit, can be seen in the art of Huang Yongping, Gu Wenda, Wu Shanhuan and Song Haidong, graduate or undergraduate students at ZAFA. The other source of stimulation came from the open educational environment fostered by the academy’s general policies. The best example was the senior exhibition in 1985. The show drew national attention and an intense controversy, because many works shown were experimental, expressing different individual conceptions and styles. During this year, the academy changed the rule that seniors must follow their instructors’ favored subject matter, style, and technique, and allowed students to create a single work in any freely chosen subject, issue or style as their diploma work. Moreover, under the new policy, students could choose different conceptual or stylistic approaches that allowed the creation of multipart series. One of the representative works was Zhang Keduan’s plaster sculpture “The Steppe in

Winter” (Fig. 4.2) showing a “cold” characteristic seen in many exhibited works. As a wrangler, seemingly one from the Mongolian Steppe (the artist is from Inner Mongolia), this herdsman looks in lassitude, because of severe cold weather or exhausted fight against storm, or probably both. Instead of adding energy to the herdsman, the long lasso-pole under his right arm reinforces stability and inertia, reflected on the stiff bodies of him and his horse, which were about to crush the horse’s slim legs. Usually horsemen appear energetic and dynamic, as heroic images of soldiers or militiamen, especially in the art of Socialist Realism. Zhang Keduan created an entirely different herdsman, exhausted, stiff, less energetic, less dynamic, and inert, thus anti-heroic. It is a denial of the hypocritical heroism common in Socialist Realism on the one hand, and an attempt to reveal the psychological truth of real life, on the other, that is, the solitude that a herdsman on a boundless stretch of steppe feels under the vast sky. This mindset led to a popular feature in the generation of artists born in the 1960s, the meditative or the contemplative. Geng Jianyi, a senior in the oil painting department of ZAFA and later one of the leading figures of the ’85 New Space and Pond Society, showed his graduation piece entitled “Two People under the Lamplight” (Fig. 4.3). In this work, two

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Fig. 4.3 Geng Jianyi, “Two People under the Lamplight,” 1985, oil on canvas, 119  159 cm

youngsters sit stiff at a desk and face the viewer, with a cup on the table, under the mysterious “lamplight,” a light seen in some Rationalist Painting of the vanguard movement. With no indication of personal emotion and reduction of gender attribute, they look like humans in general rather than specific individuals, such as schoolmates, lovers or artists. This generalization is a strategy that was applied in Rationalist Painting to speculate upon man as a general spiritual entity, rather than an individual creature in a mundane world. Instead of a realistically portrayed natural or artificial illumination in an interior space, the light provides the scene with a mysterious even absurd atmosphere to generate a sense of solitude caused by alienation in modern society. This feature did not only embody the ZAFA senior art show, but also reflected on a national art exhibition, Chinese Youth in Progress Art Exhibition, with featured artists who were mostly art students in various art academies, including those in Zhejiang, Beijing and Sichuan, held at the National Art Museum of China in May 1985. Rather than retreating to the outdated countryside and taking the world of “the other” as a theme, as the Rustic Realists did, the artists featured in this show chose to directly comment on Chinese

modernity through the depiction of their own life, and expression of their own feelings, sentiments and ideas. In a featured work “Studio 140” (Fig. 4.4), Li Guijun, a freshman at CAFA, attempted to get rid of the narrative element common in the art of Socialist Realism as well as Scar Painting, and depicted three art students from CAFA, all identifiable (from left to right, Zhu Jia, Teng Fei and Li Guijun, the painter of this piece), who immersed themselves in their own world with no interaction at all. The atmosphere in the studio seems to have nothing to do with art, rather, contemplation. Yuan Qingyi, a Hunan artist who graduated from the Central Academy of Drama, Beijing, created “The Spring Is Coming” (Fig. 4.5), another work that drew a lot of attention in the show. A young man, a contemplator, gazes back to another room and longs for the unknown but hopeful future. A sentiment popular in the 1980s, people felt that they had passed through difficult years and now were about to embrace a new period. They were not absolutely certain what was next, but they longed for and contemplated it. This time, they were not like what Wang Keping’s wooden sculpture “Silence” depicted, who could not see, hear, speak and think on his own (Fig. 3.16). They thought and meditated on

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Fig. 4.4 Li Guijun, “Studio 140,” 1985, oil on canvas

the past, the present and the future on their own, an indicator of an enlightened new generation. Artistic inspiration for these artists might be from Andrew Wyeth, the American painter, and Alex Colville, a Canadian painter, both having tranquility and quietude in their painting that

Fig. 4.5 Yuan Qingyi, “The Spring Is Coming,” 1985, oil on canvas

fascinated the Chinese artists who were immersed in their own spiritual world. Comparing this work with a 1981 piece with a similar title “Spring Breezes Have Arrived” (Fig. 3.24) by He Duoling, a Rustic Realist, we may find a crucial difference between these two

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Fig. 4.6 Zhang Qun and Meng Luding, “In the New Era: Revelation of Adam and Eve,” 1985, oil on canvas, 197  165 cm

narratives about the “coming spring.” In He’s painting, a village girl sits in a field facing the viewer with uncertainty. Spring to her is a hope that she seeks but with a helpless, perplexed state of mind. In Yuan’s piece, however, the young man is a contemplator, who tries to find out what the spring is on his own, an individualistic stance that is seldom seen in Rustic Realism. The most remarkable works in the show Chinese Youth in Progress Art Exhibition combined Neo-realism and western Sur-realism, an approach typified, for instance, by a work executed by Zhang Qun and Meng Luding, two senior students of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. While the object of meditation in “The Steppe in Winter,” “Studio 140” and “Spring Is Coming” is somehow uncertain or ambiguous, “In the New Era: Revelation of Adam and Eve” (Fig. 4.6) is a result of contemplation on a cultural crisis, a popular mindset of many vanguard artists of the 1980s.

Influenced by the composition of surrealism, the painting depicts two nudes in large scale standing on either side with an apple, a biblical symbol of original sin, in their hands, a Chinese version of “Adam and Eve.” A young woman in front view broke a series of frames in the center and walked towards the viewer. On the bottom right sat a young man, who seems to be saying something about the broken plate on the table. The plate was decorated with Taijitu, a scheme of Yin and Yang of Chinese traditional philosophy, Daoism particularly. Behind them are two open doors of the Forbidden City, and image of Dunhuang caves on bottom left, symbols of traditional culture and art respectively. It was not difficult to read the message of this painting. Inspired by the story of Adam and Eve, the younger generation of Chinese was going to eat the “forbidden fruit,” breaking through those frames, symbols of the framework of traditional Chinese culture. Although it looks like an illustration of a

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concept, this painting opened a new approach to Chinese modern art – the expression of the artist’s own understanding of and commentary on society, reality and culture. And most importantly, a concern for the crisis of culture, popular in this generation, was articulated for the first time in contemporary art. As we can see, this concern was intensified and its artistic solution in a more radical manner was offered later. Compared with the Stars Society and Scar Painting artists, younger artists like Meng Luding and Zhang Qun sought a meditative approach to their idea of Enlightenment. They broadened their perspective from reflection on truth, virtue and beauty to a speculation on China’s cultural crises. The nudes they painted in a more realistic manner than Yuan Yunsheng did in his airport mural “Ode to Life: The Water-Splashing Festival” (Fig. 3.27) played role of both breakthrough of artistic confinement and destruction of cultural taboo. Ironically, the skill of painting the human body, acquired from a four-year training in the academy, was applied to an Enlightenment project that was essentially about to question and even dismantle Socialist Realism, the ideological base of the academy’s curriculum and pedagogy. In addition, the artists of the Avant-Garde Movement rebelled against the academies that spawned them, as they embraced a social direction that was boldly articulated in opposition to individual style and self-indulgence as pursued by the academicians. As a cradle for new art, art academies prepared artists for the new art movement. Artworks featured in various graduation shows and Chinese Youth in Progress Art Exhibition in 1985, created mostly by senior students of these academies, occupied a transitional position in the development of Chinese art in the 1980s, that is, they were transition from pursuit of truth, virtue and beauty, represented by Critical Realism, Rustic Realism and Academician Art, to Modernist art movement, launched by vanguard artists. The transition reflects on the rationalization of subject matter and the treatment of formal factors. The rationalizing tendency was a distinct

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characteristic shared by many young artists of the time. Tired of traditional ways of training in art and treatment of subject and form, young artists tried to find an art that could express their own ideas of art, reality and society. They thought that art of the Stars Society and Scar Painting was nothing but another version of politics-oriented art characteristic of the mainstream art. As for those who called for a return of virtue or love in art, they believed that these artists were more concerned with the lives of others than their own, while academic art for them was merely a play of form pleasing only the eyes of audiences as well as the artists themselves. The true artist, these young radicals contended, should take a more individualist stance by following their own feelings, emotions and thoughts. Therefore, these artists stressed rational elements and emphasized individual meditation and contemplation in their promotion of self-expression. However, the works discussed above focused primarily on meditation and contemplation without a spirit of critique and religious passion, characteristic of Rationalist Painting in the Avant-Garde Movement. This, as we will see later, was an important step that would lead to a move toward the discursive level, a process – from critique of reality to critique of value, thus critique of culture – completed in the avant-garde campaign.

4.1.2.3 Art Groups: Ideas and Functions Grouping was a special phenomenon in the Avant-Garde Movement of the 1980s. It was the result of the new Enlightenment launched by intellectuals including those of the Hermeneutics School and other cultural fields. This was a collective project that needed groups of fighters. As allies of the Hermeneutics School, vanguard artists were the most passionate warriors in the new Enlightenment. The new Enlightenment was a cultural campaign and the Avant-Garde Movement was the integral part of it. Like movements in history, organized fighting forces are necessary, which converge under a spiritual orientation, the Avant-Garde Movement consisted of about 80 groups of artists and fought for construction of China’s contemporary art. Although divided

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into three blocs, Rationalist Painting, the Current of Life and Anti-Art, these vanguard groups fought for a discursive revolution and replacement of the obsolete Socialist Realism and traditional art with contemporary art with core of Chinese modernism. Rationalist Painting may be the bloc that is the closest to the Hermeneutics School in terms of stance, attitude and strategy relating to culture. So-called “Rationalist Painting” (lixing huihua in Chinese) refers to painting that had or intended to carry some philosophical implications. The word li xing was usually translated as “reason” in philosophical terms. Although there was lixue, referring to the new Confucianism of the Song and Ming dynasties in the legacy of Chinese philosophy that emphasizes social and ethical order and harmony based on strict social hierarchy, lixing as reason for most vanguard artists and critics was a western notion. Chen Zhen, a Shanghai artist, was provoked to study philosophy by a comment made by a western art historian, “there is no modern art in the East because there is no modern philosophy there.”19 The modern philosophy here should include “reason,” a critical concept to vanguard artists. From the avant-garde’s understanding of “reason,” we can see the intention of their discursive revolution, a further and critical step from the point of meditation and contemplation. A representative manifesto, presented by the Northern Art Group, based in northeastern China, articulated the attitude of those Rationalist Painting artists: Our painting is not “art!” It is just the means of conveying our thoughts, and it must be part of all our thoughts. We resolutely oppose those clichés of purifying art language and giving full play to art media in the name of autonomy. Our criteria of a valuable painting is that it has to embody true ideas, namely, it must reveal the power of human

19

Quoted from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, p.186.

intelligence and nobility, and the sublime ideal of human beings.20

This statement is rather abstract, but its aim is obvious: these artists believed that formalism or autonomy in art should be discouraged because it lacked spiritual significance. After decades of domination by Socialist Realism, Academic artists searched for art that would transcend ideological realism through a “purifying art language.” The avant-garde artists proclaimed, however, that the problem of Socialist Realism was not the absence of beautiful form or pure language; rather, it was the hegemonic discourse reflected in it that should be the object of critique and subversion. To them, art was just a vehicle that carried the human spirit, including human wisdom, nobility, and ideals. Compared to Rationalist Painting, which introduced the concept “reason” to shake the basis of hegemonic discourse in art, the Current of Life was a direct reaction to a decade-long suppression of the awareness of life through stoicism and asceticism in hegemonic discourse. This awareness of life included concepts such as intuition, unconsciousness, sexuality, and desire. Further, the artists of this school believed that there was a tradition of asceticism in Chinese culture. The typical evidence was the famous tenet, keeping heavenly principles and eliminating man’s desire, propounded by Zhu Xi (1130–1200), Confucianist and leader of the School of Principle (lixue) of the Song Dynasty. The principles here were Confucianist ideology and ethics, in effect stating that in order to carry out Confucianist norms and codes people had to suppress their natural desire. One of the results for women in obeying the Confucian moral codes was the requirement that they should remain chaste and faithful to their husband or betrothed, even after his death, thus women who became widows even at a young age should keep their widow status throughout their life. This tenet became one of the most stressful shackles for women as well as men. For the artists, current asceticism in official ideology represented the See Shu Qun, “Beifang Yishu Qunti de Jingshen" (The Spirit of Northern Art Group), Zhongguo Meishubao. Issue 18, 1985.

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continuation and radicalization of ancient tradition. It should not only be “suspended,” as the Hermeneutics School’s strategy urged, but needed to be destroyed. Also, unlike Rationalist Painting artists who advocated collective consciousness, philosophical critique, metaphysical contemplation and religious meditation, the artists of the Current of Life School embraced individualism, sub-consciousness, awareness of nature, and physical intuition. Some artists claimed that they wanted to explore the so-called “animal side of human beings.” The artists of the Current of Life School viewed life as an individual existence and looked for the transcendence of individuals in the process of experiencing this existence. If we could say that the Rationalist Painting artists looked for the upward power of life, then the Current of Life group examined and experienced the downward power of life. It is a metaphoric usage of “upward” and “downward” power here. Rationalist Painting and Current of Life, two different or even opposite schools in the Avant-Garde Movement, emphasized two aspects of human spirit respectively, the metaphysical and the physical. As metaphysical pursuit would lead people upward to a high sphere, like heaven, god or the like, the physical, the subconscious, the instinct, etc. namely leading them down to human’s deep, personal sphere, or what they called “animal side” of human beings. In the final analysis, the basic layer of life was instinctive for these artists. As one of the artists stated: The original motive of everything lies in the soil, while the original motive of human beings is in their corporeality. It comes from and goes back to the origin. Without this circulation, life would be total nihility.21

While some believed that life in art should be the “coordination of social and biological elements of human beings,” others claimed that

21

Quoted from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, p.230.

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the realization of life needed not only recognition of individual life but also transcendence of it. The consciousness of life of these artists usually derived from their conception of nature. They considered nature as a symbol of life, or as a vehicle of the unity of man and society, as well as man and the universe. Therefore, the fictional scenery of nature or personified regional landscape were represented in their painting to show this unity. Compared to literati shanshui, which was saturated with traditional ethical implications and poetic elements, this type of painting was characterized by intimacy, individual sensibility and sentiment. Compared to the other two, the Anti-Art group probably was the most radical bloc of the avantgarde of the 1980s in terms of its resistance to traditions of art and culture. On the one hand, it pushed the meta-art trend of 1985 to the extreme. The so-called “meta-art” here referred to non-traditional art means, particularly some Action Art in the former two blocs in which artists executed occasional Action Art or environmental pieces. On the other hand, Anti-Art opposed the metaphysical approach of the Rationalist Painting, believing it was isolated from real life. The revolution in ideas of the Avant-Garde Movement was an important part of the overall project of the cultural avant-garde, reflected mostly in the conceptual approach of the AntiArt bloc. This revolution intended two things. One was to take the most destructive and radical avant-garde concepts from Dadaism as a model to destroy the conventional notion of art in the Chinese context and to merge with the international contemporary art world. The other affected the cultural avant-garde. Artists such as Huang Yongping, also devoted to traditional philosophy, saw the revolution in ideas as a model that could go beyond art per se into a broader world context. Huang’s practice in the 1980s was one of the most philosophical approaches of the ideological revolution. Among those who experienced a similar destructive/constructive mentality, he was the most interested in how to break down the boundary between life and art. The external factors that prompted Anti-Art can be found in the introduction of Postmodernism.

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Introduced first in the field of architecture, Postmodernism with its ambiguous and controversial tendencies was mainly considered by Chinese as a kind of pluralism against the monism of Modernism, a counterpart of Rationalist Painting in a sense. Roman Verostko, artist, historian, and emeritus professor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, gave a six-week series of lectures at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in March and April 1985. He stated that Futurism, Dada, New Dada, Happening, Pop art, and Conceptual art, all contained Postmodernist elements. This seemed to be the first contact, though indirectly, between Postmodernism and Chinese art circles. Fredric Jameson, well-known Postmodernist thinker and professor at Duke University, offered a course “Postmodernism and Cultural Theory” at Peking University from September to December 1985. According to the Chinese version of the transcript, Jameson’s course consisted of seven sections, Introduction Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Appendix

Culture and the Period of Cultures Culture – The Way of Production Culture – Religion Culture – Ideology Cultural Study – Analysis of Narrative Postmodernist Culture Various Ideological Theories 22

Focused on the cultural characteristics of late capitalism, Jameson systematically introduced his theories of culture and Postmodernism on the basis of New Marxism. The fifth chapter, “Postmodernist Culture,” used architecture, art, literature and music to illustrate his concepts of Postmodernism, one of the most interesting parts for vanguard artists. As Xudong Zhang claims, “. . .his lectures, later published in Chinese, were vital in turning the Chinese discussion of Postmodernism as a jargon used in literary 22

See Houxiandai Zhuyi yu Wenhua Lilun: Fo Jiemuxun Jiaoshou Jiangyanlu (Postmodernism and the Theory of Culture: Lectures by F. Jameson), Tang Xiaobing translated, based on the tape-recording of the lectures, Xi’an: Shaanxi Normal University Press, 1986. The English headlines are translated from Chinese by Zhou Yan, thus may not be exactly the same as the original.

criticism into a cultural reflection on postmodernity vis-à-vis the modern.”23 This course, no doubt, had introduced Postmodernism into China systematically. While some vanguard artists considered returning to convention as a stance close to Postmodernism, Anti-Art artists were more interested in blurring the distinction between art and life in Postmodernism. American Pop artist Robert Rauschenberg held a significant, perhaps historical, exhibition in the National Art Museum of China in November 1985. From this exhibition, Chinese vanguard artists found a new weapon for their art, Anti-Art particularly. Compared to Andy Warhol, Rauschenberg’s Pop art seemed more refined and graceful. However, it was still a big shock to Chinese audiences and a great inspiration to China’s avant-garde in the mid-1980s. His use of ready-made materials and everyday motifs reinforced the thinking of the Anti-Art artists who believed that the boundary between art and life could be blurred effectively or even removed.24 Not every avant-garde group or individual artist identified themselves as the ally of the Hermeneutics School. However, these groups and artists were close in spirit to that school. Several similarities in concerns and possible solutions could be seen here. First, China’s problem was defined as the one at the discursive level, instead of at the level of technique and operation. Thus, secondly, re-interpretation or even subversion of Chinese tradition became imperative and critical. Third, spiritually, they both borrowed weapons from the western arsenals to fight 23

Xudong Zhang, Chinese Modernism in the Era of Reforms: Cultural Fever, Avant-Garde Fiction, and the New Chinese Cinema, Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1997, p. 95. 24 Interestingly, Andy Warhol visited China in 1982, three years earlier than Rauschenberg, but few in China’s art circle knew it, not mention any influence. The reason could be twofold. First, Warhol visited for his own art project with no exhibition in China, thus, instead of influence on Chinese art, his visit had in fact great impact on his own art. Second, the Chinese art world was not ready to accept and absorb Pop Art yet in 1982 when even Western Modernism was new to most of the Chinese artists and art students.

4.1

Cultural Fever and General Picture of Avant-Garde Movement

stubborn traditional culture. The weapons included western philosophy, social sciences and humanities, including art theory and criticism, particularly for the avant-garde. Finally, because they sought solutions at the discursive level, avant-garde artists believed that art would be in a crucial place and become a critical fighting force in this revolution. Accordingly, they considered themselves the major group in re-generating culture, and their art would be an incarnation of ideas and conceptions of this cause. The grouping of China’s vanguard movement is a special phenomenon. Avant-garde in the West is essentially a movement that was founded on an ideology or philosophy of individualism. In China, however, a collective approach seems more feasible thus reasonable. According to Gao Minglu, there are three functions of art grouping in the 1980s: the defensive, realization of individual value, and economic reason. The first function was defensive. The dangers facing a solitary artist creating avant-garde art, and thus attacking society, or even criticizing the art establishment are obvious. In the face of past governmental suppression, the artists saw the need to form a stronger united force. For instance, when criticism or castigation was addressed to a group, the group naturally felt an obligation to protect every member and not to let an individual artist bear his or her hardship alone. Better defense is for better offense. The collective could empower its members with courage, or inspire risk-taking and attempts at resistance, because the collective would assume ultimate responsibility. When a group came under tremendous pressure from the outside, the freedom of individuals would not be sacrificed. Instead, the collective helped to release the psychological oppression of the individuals. Conceptually speaking, individuals were thus able to come forward with more radical ideas. It was exactly the collective nature of the Avant-Garde Movement that strengthened its anti-conservative and anti-authoritarian power. The second function of grouping was that an artist could find individual value in participating in her or his group. Usually one thinks of groups as suppressing the identity of the individual, but

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in the special circumstances of China during the 1980s they provided individuals with opportunities to vent what would otherwise have been suppressed. Because members of a group felt less concern for their reputation than each might alone. The structure permitted them to overcome their artistic and social inhibitions. The group became more powerful than the individual. Moreover, members came to believe that they could collectively overcome failure. Perhaps more significantly, the risks of failure were lessened, for the group sheltered its members from a sense of individual responsibility for a negative result. Group activities, besides the collective power, enabled vanguard artists to attain visibility and popularity among critics and sympathetic cultural officials. The group identity helped by giving the artists the confidence to persist in the face of obstacles. The third important function of grouping was economic. The avant-garde groups were organized by the artists themselves, not by the government, and had no commercial foundation, thus they bore the burden of renting exhibition space, purchasing materials, and paying for transportation as well as public relation with the media. A group was better able to raise such funds than an individual. The most important activity of the avant-garde groups was organizing exhibitions, because it was almost impossible for a single young artist, usually non-CAA member, working through official channels to have a solo show in China, as no commercial galleries existed in the 1980s.25 The Avant-Garde Movement is not an art school in any sense. It announced the birth of Chinese contemporary art and constructed the foundation for Chinese contemporary art in the 1990s and the twenty-first century. New phenomena, schools, aesthetic concepts, developed in the following three decades, such as Apartment Art, Maximalism, Action Art, video art, and feminine art, can be traced back to the Avant-Garde Movement in terms of conception, prototype, and way 25

See Gao Minglu, Total Modernity and the Avant-Garde in Twentieth-Century Chinese Art, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2011, pp. 135–136.

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of art making, although art grouping was replaced by individualist fight.

4.2 4.2.1

The Avant-Garde Movement Rationalist Painting: Metaphysical and Spiritual Approach

Not many vanguard artists were purely “conceptual” artists who usually used non-traditional means, as we saw in Huang Yongping’s case. Most of them still used traditional means – oil painting, ink painting, sculpture, etc. – to attack tradition, a significant phenomenon of the AvantGarde Movement of the 1980s. On the one hand, from the perspective of their technical training, it was natural for them to utilize those skills with which they were most familiar. On the other hand, from the artists’ viewpoint, the discursive revolution was a revolution in the spiritual sphere, not in the formal field, so art media mattered little as long as they could express and convey their thoughts. Rationalist Painting and Current of Life were two trends mostly composed of easel painting. A term created by Gao Minglu, “Rationalist Painting” includes several well-known and influential groups and individual artists.26 They are the Northern Art Group from the Northeast China, Red • Journey from Nanjing, Jiangsu, ’85 New Space (Pond Society later) and Red Humor from Zhejiang, plus extraordinary individual Shanghai artists Li Shan, Zhang Jianjun, Chen Zhen, Yu Youhan and Gu Wenda.

Nan, Kasang, Wang Yalin, and Wang Haiyan joined the group at the same time or later. These artists believed in “Northern Civilization,” a culture they defined as a cold, solemn, sublime, and metaphysics-oriented one, opposite to what they called “Southern Civilization,” the one with warm, pleasant, mundane, and Confucianism-oriented features. A typically utopian in the Avant-Garde Movement, the idea of “Northern Civilization/Culture” became the core of their art.27 The artists of Northern Art Group used the frigid northwestern China as both a background for their paintings and a projection of their spirits. In their paintings, orderly, identical figures faced the future and were only seen from behind (Fig. 4.7). Wang Guangyi, the founding member of the Northern Art Group, wrote about their concepts in one of his essays, I am very sensitive to the first signs of the ups and downs of a culture, for my life began in the cold and pure land of the north. The scene of tragedy generated by the solid images of the northern land, a purely spiritual land, made me feel the restlessness and horror of life in front of hostile and less tender nature. Therefore, I instinctively transformed my restlessness and confusion to a status that transcended me . . . My own art forms, no doubt, also serve as paradigms. The solid, polar region in the north, one of my early forms, expresses a bright yet serious rationality of life’s expansion.28

Reduction of human physical features to a minimum, including extreme simplification, merely grey tone or black-and-white coloration, human back with no facial features and expression, and stable even stiff posture without 27

4.2.1.1

Northern Art Group: Northern Culture This is a Northeast-based group that was founded in Harbin, Heilongjiang, on September 15, 1984. The founding members are Shu Qun and Wang Guangyi; Ren Jian, Liu Yan, Ni Qi, Lin Wei, Lu Gao Minglu created the term “Rationalist Painting” and discussed it in detail in his “Guanyu Lixing Huihua” (On Rationalist Painting), Meishu, issue 8, 1986, pp. 41–47.

26

Titles of articles written by Northern Art Group artists such as “Birth of a New Civilization” (Shu Qun), “Speculation on Northern Civilization” (Shu Qun), “Formation of Post-Frigid-Zone Culture” (Shu Qun), “On Significance of New Civilization” (Shu Qun), “Northern Culture’s Requirements on Painting” (Wang Guangyi), and “Painters in Northern China” (Wang Guangyi) reflect their fascination with and passion for this idealistic and utopian idea. 28 Wang Guangyi, “Ziwo Kending de Chensi” (Meditation on Self-Confirmation), see Gao Minlu, edited, ’85 Meishu Yundong: Lishi Ziliao Huibian (The ‘85 Movement: an Anthology of Historical Sources), Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press, 2008, p.114.

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Fig. 4.7 Wang Guangyi, “Frozen North Pole: The Last Judgment,” 1985, oil on canvas, 150  200 cm

Fig. 4.8 Wang Guangyi, “Post-Classical Series – Marat • the Ultimate No.2,” 1986, oil on canvas, 200  150 cm

movement, are characteristics seen in Wang Guangyi’s “Frozen North Pole: the Last Judgment,” a symbol of spiritual entity rather than a human living in a mundane world. The image of the human back posits the audience in the place of meditation, a visual strategy of Enlightenment. Wang Guangyi painted a series of “PostClassics” in 1986 that further exemplified the

spirituality the group sought. In this series, the artist reinterpreted classic masterpieces but tried to keep what he believed was the classicist spirit. For instance, one of the serial paintings was his version of Jacques-Louis David’s “Death of Marat” (1793) – “Post-Classics – Marat • the Ultimate No.2” (Fig. 4.8). For Wang and his comrades, European art from the Renaissance to

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Fig. 4.9 Shu Qun, “The Absolute Principle,” 1984, oil on canvas, 160  200 cm

Romanticism was considered “classical.” This art exemplified, they believed, the humanist spirit currently lacking and desperately needed in China’s culture. Here his heart beats in harmony with this spirit – martyrdom for a just cause presented with solemnity, quietude, and sense of solitude through extreme simplification, cold and grey tone, sharp contrasts of light and darkness, and a symmetric composition. Notably there is a mysterious lighting in this piece. Neither natural nor artificial illumination, this light can be considered light of metaphysics or reason, though with an aura of the supernatural. Zhou Yan wrote an article to review Wang Guangyi’s “Post-Classics Series,” and claimed that it was a “healthy” art of metaphysics and humanism with “cold” emotion. It was not only an artistic but also a cultural mode that tended to carry people from the mundane “this shore” to the spiritual “other shore.” In Wang’s series, images of Jesus, Marat, and Matthew were symbols of human wisdom, who suffered and endured physical and mental pain for human beings.29 In the Zhou Yan, “Yishu, Zhexue, Wenhua: Lun Wang Guangyi ‘Hou Gudian Xilie’ de Yishu Tushi” (Art, Philosophy, and Culture: on Wang Guangyi’s Art Scheme of “Post-Classics Series”), Xiongshi Meishu, issue 5, 1988, pp. 111–116.

29

Northern Art Group, a religious passion rather than a specific religious faith was popular because the artists enthusiastically sought emancipation and spiritual enlightenment, instead of guidance from Christianity or Buddhism. Shu Qun played a role that was more like a spokesman of the group instead of an artist. He drafted a manifesto and wrote articles to advocate what he called the spirit of “Northern Culture.” In his “Absolute Principle,” he constructed a Rationalist structure (Fig. 4.9). A brick hemisphere introduces the audience, ideally a spiritual entity, into a metaphysical space. It looks like topography of the moon, where three crosses float in the air. Time stops, and space is infinite. Far from mundane world, the spirit ascended and approached the “Absolute Principle,” a supreme existence. Crosses are symbols of martyrdom, as in Christianity, leading sacrificial “pilgrims” to their final and sublime destination. Again, the mysterious light of metaphysics illuminates the stable, symmetrical and constructed space. Ren Jian, one of few avant-garde artists with a Master’s degree in guohua,30 devoted himself to exploring and presenting Eastern ontologies. He 30 Another artist in the vanguard movement who received a Master’s degree in guohua is Gu Wenda.

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Fig. 4.10 (a–c) Ren Jian, “Evolution from Genesis,” (b, c), detail, 1984, ink on terylene, 3000  150 cm

created semi-abstract and semi-figurative forms and images based on Chinese concepts about the genesis of the universe, in combination with western science like the Big Bang theory. The epic work “Evolution from Genesis” (Fig. 4.10a–c),31 thirty meters in length, gave form to this philosophical reconfiguration of the universe. He contrived various symbols and signs, which grow, initiate, produce, integrate, move, rotate, revolute, merge, integrate, diverge, converge, ascend, descend, and die, with references from the Yijing, Book of Changes, a Daoist text. In addition, he included creatures running, gathering and assembling in a special order in a certain direction, indicating a process from chaos to order. We can see how the Big Bang generates the universe or a Black Hole that absorbs everything. “Taiji Concept in Plastic Art,” an essay Ren Jian wrote in 1987, tends to elucidate the way of balance and unification of two opposite forces, and the role of this concept in visual art.32 As Taiji is the central concept in Daoist ontology and dialectics, it could be the

The Chinese title “Yuanhua” consists of two characters, yuan and hua. As yuan means literally genesis, origin, essence, hua refers to change, transformation, conversion or evolution. The title was translated as either “Primeval Chaos” or “Incarnation of Essence” in different texts, but I translated it into “Evolution from Genesis” to convey its original meaning, that is, the process of development from the beginning. Note, the word “Genesis” here is not the one in Christianity, rather, it is a term of Chinese ontology. 32 Ren Jian, “Zaoxing Zhong de Taiji Guannian” (Taiji Concept in Plastic Art), see Gao Minlu edited, ’85 Meishu Yundong: Lishi Ziliao Huibian (The ‘85 Movement: An Anthology of Historical Sources), Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press, 2008, pp. 115–119. 31

principle guiding artmaking, the artist proclaimed. The painting was made in a modified form of the traditional ink-and-wash and handscroll format but with no calligraphic lines and cunfa, traditional texture methods. The artist wrote an essay entitled “An Introduction to the ‘Evolution from Genesis’,” to elaborate the concepts in this work, in which he constructed and envisioned the ontological structure of the universe in movement and evolution through his contemplation and imagination.33 Because of his philosophic speculation, scientific research and construction of a grand narrative in art, Ren Jian has been admired by critics as a “scholar-type” artist, in addition, his way of ink art reflected on the “Evolution from Genesis” was named “current of universe.”

4.2.1.2 Red • Journey: Seriousness Red • Journey is a group of nine Jiangsu artists.34 In September 1986, Ding Fang, Yang Zhilin, Ren Jian, “Wode Zuopin Yuanhua Daoyan” (An Introduction to My Work “Evolution from Genesis”), Zhongguo Meishubao, No.1, 1988, issue 1, paraphrased from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, pp.115–116. 34 Hongse Lü, Chinese name of Red Journey, is the same as Chinese name of Red Brigades, an Italian left-wing paramilitary organization of 1970s and 1980s, while Chinese character lü 旅 means literally either brigade or journey. Although inspired by the name of this organization, the artists added a circular dot between characters hongse and lü to differentiate it from the Italian terrorist organization, and emphasized “journey” instead of “brigade” in meaning of lü 旅, to avoid confusion or trouble. 33

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Fig. 4.11 Zhu Xinjian, “Inspiration by Ouyang Yongshu’s Poem,” 1985, ink on paper

Shen Qin, Xu Lei, Guan Ce, Chai Xiaogang, Cao Xiaodong and Xu Yihui founded the group in Nanjing, capital city of Jiangsu province. Yang Yingsheng joined it in October. Against the literati art tradition which had dominated for centuries, this group’s main principle – seriousness – was a unique, critical rejection of playful and pleasant elements in literati art. Wenrenhua, literati painting, had a solemn and meditative tone through history. A playful element, in both theme and brushworks, entered literati art as a form of cultural escapism in late Qing dynasty. It reemerged in New Literati Painting, represented by Zhu Xinjian of Nanjing, in the early 1980s. This time the intention was relaxation and entertainment, both needed after a long period of ideological suppression. A good example is Zhu Xinjian’s “Inspiration by Ouyang Yongshu’s Poem” (Fig. 4.11). Here a traditional Chinese beauty is transformed into a philistine woman who is nearly naked and reclines in flowers, with an undergarment covering her chest and abdomen. This transformation reinforced the playful aspect of literati painting.35 35

New Literati Painting had a special position in the 1980s, since it cannot be classified as either Critical Realism nor Academic Art. With only few practitioners, it tended to retrieve literati elements but inject the contemporary sentiments of cynicism as opposed to the asceticism

For the Red • Journey artists, this represented degeneration from the noblesse oblige of traditional literati work to kitsch, another form of cultural escapism. The Red • Journey artists’ attitude to this escapism was absolute resistance. They explained their concept of “seriousness” based on four criteria: We’ve found a common fulcrum in the seriousness of our devotion. We are craving for regeneration of internal life. We will reach the sublime in the journey toward the other shore. We feel sacredness of vocation as approaching the eternal.36

This is what they understood as the consciousness of tragedy, a call from the heart in response to the suppression of an ideal, and a pursuit not unlike that of devoted religious disciples. The stronger the suppression is, the more resounding the call will be.

of first three decades of PRC. In history, Jiangsu, along with Zhejiang and Shanghai, were centers of literati art. 36 Quoted from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, p. 135.

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Fig. 4.12 Ding Fang, “Enclosed Castle,” 1985, oil on canvas

Ding Fang, a leading figure of the group, is an artist with a strong awareness of tragedy. His early work was marked by strict structure and a sense of order. Then he became influenced by Mexican Muralism and Georges Rouault, a French Fauvist. In the “Enclosed Castle” (Fig. 4.12), Ding Fang illustrated his thoughts on the long history of Chinese civilization. The dark-tone enclosure consisted of heavy and thick walls, obviously a symbol of China or its heritage. Isolated from the outside world for decades, China’s self-contained agricultural society became a barrier to modernization for him. The ghost-like figure standing in the center, reminiscent of German painter Casper Friedrich’s lonely figures, may be read as a spirit who cannot walk out of this maze and will eventually expire. To Ding Fang, and to many avant-garde artists as well, this civilization was too old to lead the Chinese into the modern world. China needed regeneration, like a phoenix arising from the ashes. In his other paintings, he depicted bronzecolored earth that was always a sign of the age-old culture and its heavy burden on people. At the same time, his paintings were a symbol of tenaciousness and stamina. His manifesto-like statements expressed his anxiety about the regeneration of Chinese culture, as well as his quasireligious passion. He wrote in the mid-1980s: In fact, the destiny of a culture is not survival between war and peace; rather, it is either victory or extinction. To win, there must be “victorious” sacrifice. The rule is made by and for the power.

We must experience and comprehend thoroughly the most profound pain of our time. This pain is closely bound up with the fate of our culture, and it is a link in the chain of human’s eternal spirit. The pain we experience cannot be confined within the personal sphere; rather, it should be sublimated to a universal, eternal and metaphysical level. This universal pain originated from specific suffering and accordingly reach of stature of eternal tragedy is the destination we struggle for.37

For the Red • Journey artist, rethinking and re-interpreting Chinese culture was an imperative; otherwise, this culture might follow the destiny of the once powerful but now extinct civilizations, such as ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire. Yang Zhilin is another leading figure of the Red • Journey. Fascinated by Western learning, he found the concept of paradox or the dilemma of the human conditions from Ludwig Wittgenstein, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, and Jorge Luis Borges.38 He realized a fact that 37

Ibid. pp. 138–139. Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), an Austrian-British philosopher working mainly in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language; Franz Kafka (1883–1924), a Czech-born, German-language novelist and short-story writer, explored themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absur dity in his best known novel The Metamorphosis and other works; Albert Camus (1913–1960), a French philosopher, author and journalist, best known for his philosophy of absurdism; and Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986), an Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator, was a key figure in Spanish-language literature and considered representative of magic realism. 38

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Fig. 4.13 Yang Zhilin, “Humans Evolve from Fish – Humans Like Eating Fish,” 1985, oil on canvas

because of human’s paradox they cannot rescue themselves, which reflects on his painting “Humans Evolve from Fish – Humans Like Eating Fish” (Fig. 4.13). With minimalist manner in composition, image and color, the painting incarnates a profound paradox, that is, humans must rescue themselves but are unable to do so because of their nature. On the left a minnow swims toward the hook, as a personified fish with a human face seems to eye it covetously in the dark. Yang Yingsheng joined the group as an overseas member in October 1986, when he was a student at Wimbledon College of Art, UK. He painted typically Rationalist pieces that appropriated Surrealist’s composition but injected his perplexity on modernity into them. Many Rationalist Painters applied Dali’s composition of three horizontal layers, namely, beach, ocean, and sky, as seen in his “The Persistence of Memory” and “Premonition of Civil War.” However, unlike Dali who contrived either a dreamland or world of nightmare, Rationalist Painting artists imagined three spheres close to the concept of Buddhism, that is, this shore, sea of bitterness, and another shore. They reconfigured the Buddhist concept of shipping human from mundane and miserable world to the paradise into a space where the ocean became an approach from world of phenomena towards the one of spirit, or sky became the object or space of meditation, as we

can see from Wang Guangyi, Zhang Jianjun, and Yang Yingsheng here. Yang Yingsheng painted several Rationalist works in this period, including “Wheels” and “Pigeons Screened by Backs and the Magic Cube That Is Floating Away” (Fig. 4.14). In the magic cube piece, two young men sit on a beach with their backs to the audience as one’s hand weirdly holds another’s head, painted in realistic and evenly-painted ways respectively, which added sense of mystery to the figures, against any reading in common sense. As the title suggested, two pigeons, along with a goblet, were screened, with no reason, by the backs. In the sky, the space for spirit or metaphysical flight in many Rationalist paintings, a disintegrated Rubik’s cube with glutinous drippings floats away. The artist asserted that this painting originated from “perplexity on knowledge and action in our life.” He felt that people loved to recollect the past because it was safe and did not threaten you, while the present was worrisome, “to avoid this worry, people left their hope with the future, but the future itself was evanescent, as castle in the air.”39 The future could be better or worse than your imagination but could also be 39 Yang Yingsheng, “Nanyi Yuliao de Weilai he Nanyi Wangque de Guoqu” (the Future That Is Hard to Predict and the Past That Is Hard to Forget), Zhongguo Meishubao, issue 23, 1985.

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Fig. 4.14 Yang Yingsheng, “Pigeons Screened by Backs and the Magic Cube That Is Floating Away,” 1985, oil on canvas

Fig. 4.15 Shen Qin, “Mountain Series #1,” 1985, ink on paper, 176  280 cm

nothing. Thus, the cube consisted of three interlocking layers of the past, present and future, and floated in the air, which dazed and baffled the viewer. The sky here functions as a space carrying the perplexity and being an object of contemplation. Shen Qin is an artist with a temperament for introspection, thus, lives as a lonely hiker in a world of spirit. Trained as an ink painter, Shen Qin applied his xieyi and gongbi on works of theme of life and death in early 1980s. He painted

“Silk Road Series” in acrylic on rice paper in which one can feel a lonely soul wandering between sky and earth as Friedrich-like meditators sit and face an expanse of open country. In his “Mountain Series” made in 1985 (Fig. 4.15), he returned to a traditional blackand-white world, seen in literati painting. The mountain he depicted seems to be like a moving hurricane rather than a still solid entity. A strong contrast of black and white, hard-edge divisions between components, large areas of washes with

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Fig. 4.16 Scene of ’85 New Space exhibition, 1985, Zhenjiang Academy of Fine Arts, Hangzhou, Zhejiang

few linear brush strokes, and cold and ethereal lighting, all contributed to a spiritual hurricane, which could be seen as a symbol of a modern artistic or ideological movement in 1980s’ China.

’85 New Space and Pond Society: Alienation and Rule of Play Unlike the Northern Art Group and Red • Journey, which focused on the past, present, and future of culture in a rather abstract way, ’85 New Space defined its spirituality with a contemporary urban state of mind. ’85 New Space was the title of an exhibition held in the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, December 1985 (Fig. 4.16). In the first exhibition of the group, coldness and indifference were the tone of the show. Twelve artists, most of whom were graduates of the academy, contributed fiftythree works to the exhibition. In May 1986, six participants, Zhang Peili, Geng Jianyi, Song Ling, Bao Jianfei, Wang Qiang and Guan Ying, founded the Pond Society group. Born and/or living in the coastal city, Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, these artists focused on industrial civilization and its aftermath. They were tired of both the melancholic, pretentious style and expressive, sensational tendencies. They chose a very “cold” manner to comment on urban 4.2.1.3

life and the mechanized world. Their approach tended to be objective, neutral and detached. Their paintings resemble those of Charles Sheeler, American cubist painter and a representative of Precisionism, an American Modernist school of the early twentieth century, although these young artists might not have known Sheeler and Precisionism in the mid-1980s. The difference was that while Sheeler applauded precision, accuracy and efficiency brought about by industrialization, ’85 New Space artists, a half century later, tended to stress the alienation of human beings by mechanization and urbanization, the result of modern industrialization, they believed. To oppose the notion that art should function to bring happiness and pleasure to the public, they employed different styles, materials, and rules making the audience uneasy. They also created conceptual traps that would imitate or even intensify what they considered insensitive reality. By exploring certain numb images or mandatory but boring rules, they hoped to stimulate people to engage with their art. Zhang Peili, a major organizer of the exhibition ’85 New Space and founding member of the Pool Society, painted a series of works with expressionless and stiff figures in cool tones. One of them was titled “Please Enjoy Jazz” (Fig. 4.17). Jazz is usually energetic, dynamic and cheerful music, but we see in this triangularly

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Fig. 4.17 Zhang Peili, “Please Enjoy Jazz,” 1985, oil on canvas

composed painting stiff postures and indifferent facial expressions on the standing drummer and sitting trumpeter in a dark gray, empty, and unspecified background. Again, the light is mysterious or ethereal. It is too cold to be an illumination of a performing space; rather, it seems to be unworldly or from “outer space.” Different from the metaphysical light seen in Wang Guangyi and Shu Qun, it makes the scene more alienated instead of sublime. The viewers feel no sense of the liveliness of the music. The artist explained his reason for making such a “cold” painting: A serious, orderly and tensional art is helpful for the redemption of scattered souls, and also good for the elimination of “genteel,” mincing petit bourgeois culture. . . . The art I made rejects, first of all, peoples’ demand for pleasurable and sensuous art, . . . It should be like a long whip or club that lashes the inertia so that man can face directly his deficiencies.40

The sense of estrangement in Zhang’s painting is not difficult to see. It can be understood as a metaphor for urban relationship: close to each Zhang Peili, “Wode Yishu Taidu” (My Attitude of Art), quoted from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, pp. 153–54.

40

other physically, but indifferent and far to each other psychologically. Zhang Peili furthered his pictorial lash in a series called “X?” (Fig. 4.18). The primary images in this series are clinical chairs and gloves. He created strict even severe rules to deal with the issues of making and reception of his art. Thus, before started to paint, the artist set a series of phases with step-by-step instructions, which he needed to strictly follow. These phases included photographing objects, copying the photographic images onto a canvas on pre-regulated formats (e.g. a pair of horizontal gloves, or a single vertical one, etc.), reproducing more pieces, and finally displaying the works to the public. Every phase had special instructions, such as the dimensions of the canvas, the font, the placement and color of numbers that pointed to special parts of the objects on canvas, etc. The “X? Series” exemplified these rules of artmaking, thus, unreasonable numbers appear on the pieces of clinical gloves, illuminated by a light of coldness and absurdity. Severe, even irrational rules controlled the reception of these exhibited pieces. For example, only audiences who were between 130 and 173 cm in height were allowed to enter the exhibition space, and all viewers must stay in the space for 23–33 minutes, not less or more; nobody who wore red or yellow were allowed,

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Fig. 4.18 Zhang Peili, “X? Series, #1,” 1986, oil on canvas

the lovers or spouses could only enter separately. In this series, his punitive attitude toward viewers was believed to be a reaction to a previous public apathy expressed in his early public art projects. The rules, impossible to implement, were meant to “lash those with inertia,” and they could also be considered as an early critique of art institutions through pushing such rules to the extreme. Zhang Peili’s projects constructed harsh, rigid rules governing artmaking, exhibiting and viewing dramatized this communicational reality. A project called “Art Plan #2” was created to continue this endeavor. Dating from 1987, it was a twenty-page list of instructions. According to the artist, this instructional plan concerned talking and peeping. The whole plan included eight parts: (1) Talking, peeping, the right of talking and the right of peeping; (2) The nature, rights, duties and numbers of talkers, peepers, and supervisors; (3) Procedures to select talkers, peepers, and supervisors; (4) A description of the talking room and the peeping room; (5) A description of the talking procedure; (6) Rules for talking and peeping; (7) Prohibitions; (8) Directions. In each part of the plan, Zhang Peili specified in minutes and tedious detail conditions under which people should be admitted to an art exhibition. For instance, visitors

must be again between 130 to 173 cm in height; they should not speak, and they were required to follow a marked route with mathematical precision. Although making serious pieces as “Two People under the Lamplight” (Fig. 4.3), other paintings made by Geng Jianyi in the mid-1980s possess elements of humor definitively marked by a cynical tone. With a descriptive but humorous title, “The First Shaven Head in the Summer of 1985” (Fig. 4.19), his “Haircut” series froze an everyday activity so that alienation from regular appreciation was represented and reinforced. Instead of a barbershop, the head shaving was performed as if in a cosmic space. Tube-like torsos and limbs, hard-edge contour and particularly ethereal lighting, all removed the scene from this world. Reacting to an inevitable, but unfamiliar, urban modernization and the consequent dissimilation among people, Geng Jianyi, as Zhang Peili, contrived a decontextualized frozen moment when everyone became alienated from his peers, neighbors, classmates, colleagues, as well as his surroundings. The Pond Society, led by Zhang Peili and Geng Jianyi, was founded on May 27, 1986, with Song Ling, Bao Jianfei, Wang Qiang and Guan Ying as members. The name “Pond” is a

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Fig. 4.19 Geng Jianyi, “The First Shaven Head in the Summer of 1985,” 1985, oil on canvas

metaphor of enlightenment, a situation of intermixture and spiritual immersion. The manifesto proclaimed, Art is a pond. Our life relies on carbohydrates. Not because we want to be this way, But because we have to be this way. Our bodies are covered by dust. Is art profitable? Does art feast one’s eyes on? We are avid for a proper purification. Our thinking is an obscure stream of consciousness. We strive to tap our potentials. The alienation of art is pedantic and mechanic, or a repetitive production determined by utilitarian goals. We long for the sublime moment at which we are exhausted but enchanted. It is important to “immerse.” Has anyone ever seen a rational impulse? The moment of “immersion” makes us intoxicated, and we will reach the supreme enlightenment at the moment of sober-up. We pay “serious attention” to rules through a “high-level observance.”

The result is less important, while seeds keep sprouting. Truth is unspeakable.41

Though somehow perplexed, it announced the mission of the group to return to the art itself, to contemplate the nature of art, to seek art autonomy, and to focus on human’s spiritual health. The keyword “immersion” recollects baptism; thus, “pond” is close to baptistery. Nevertheless, these artists are not disciples of a given religion. What they strove for was to approach the “unspeakable truth,” or “the supreme enlightenment,” in a state of immersion, through their experience of life and art in the pond of the spirit. The group’s first activity was named “Yang’s Taiji Series” (Fig. 4.20). Twelve three-meter-high

41 Gao Minlu edited, ’85 Meishu Yundong: Lishi Ziliao Huibian (The ‘85 Movement: an Anthology of Historical Sources), Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press, 2008, p.198, translated by Zhou Yan.

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Fig. 4.20 The Pond Society, “Yang’s Taiji Series,” 1986, papercuts on the wall

paper-cutouts representing different programs of Yang style Taiji, a slow-motion boxing, were posted on a wall, sixty meters in length, on Nanshan Road, near the West Lake and Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, Hangzhou. Zhang Peili believed that it was an honest and natural dialogue between the artists and the passers-by, while Geng Jianyi claimed that the artists attempted to create something strong and obviously strange enough to amuse and stimulate the audience. The interaction between artists, artwork and the public rather than museumgoers was made on the street and excited the artists. Several months later, a similar project, entitled “Walkers in a Green Space,” was completed by the group (Fig. 4.21). Nine paper-cutout diagrams of Yang Style Taiji, like ghosts this time, were hung on trees in a forest, again, near the West Lake. While the images appeared outdoors, their sense of humor remained, but without an audience except for the artists. The action “King and Queen,” executed by Geng Jianyi and Song Ling, paid homage to Henry Moore, the British sculptor. They wrapped themselves with newspaper, and

posed many positions, including sitting like Moore’s famous sculpture, “King and Queen” (Fig. 4.22). Wrapped as robots, the artists tried to experience isolation and seclusion in a state of mechanical entity. In 1987, Geng Jianyi painted a set of large oils entitled “Second State” (Fig. 4.23), an extremely exaggerated representation of human insanity. Each painting portrayed faces of Sun Baoguo, his friend and a vanguard artist who taught at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts. With a shaved head, a mysterious lighting, and a cold tone, this boisterous guffaw created a horrifying and stunning effect. An exaggerated image of Sun’s visage in different moments of laughing shows complete hysteria, not presenting an excessive but natural emotion, caused by fear or panic, rather, contriving an artificial, manipulated, thus highly cynical state. It could explain the title that as a natural facial expression is the first state of reaction to objects, people or an event, the second state could be unnatural, either mechanical or insane response to the reality.

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Fig. 4.21 The Pond Society, “Walkers in a Green Space,” 1986, hanging papercuts

Fig. 4.22 Geng Jianyi and Song Ling, “King and Queen,” 1986, Action Art

In Geng’s statement written on August 20, 1987, he raised four major points to explain paintings by Pond Society artists: the principle of thriftiness in using color; directness; no comments; and repetitious function. Accordingly, he provided reasons for them: simple colors or even monochrome brought about spirituality and an approach to metaphysics; art’s direct relationship with the audience could generate a real reaction which was from her/his internal world rather than her/his knowledge; “no comments” meant that the artists’ only concern was authenticity and accuracy of reality reflected in art; no single or independent artwork existed thus repetition became necessary, similar to a religious ritual, which the artists believed was a means for pure art.42 Apparently a piece of Gray Humor, this piece was created based on the rules Geng Jianyi set, which, opposed to those accepted rules of life, art and culture, was subversive. From 1987, Geng Jianyi started to play games which followed rules he set beforehand. The “Waterworks: An Installation for Mutual Peep” structured an alternative relationship between the audience and those involved as part of his work (Fig. 4.24). The artist built, in a classroom, a 42 See Geng Jianyi, “Chishe de Jinqi Huihua” (On Recent Paintings of Pond Society), ibid. pp. 203–204.

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Fig. 4.23 Geng Jianyi, “Second State,” 1987, oil on canvas, 170  132 cm each

Fig. 4.24 Geng Jianyi, “Waterworks: An Installation for Mutual Peep,” 1987, action

walled space with frames as seen on the walls of a gallery. While frames did not enclose a painting, but assigned students or friends instead, participants could play role of either the viewers or “sitters” in the frames who were viewed. The title provided a hint to understand its flow and changing positions of the audience and the object of appreciation might be a metaphor for the cycle of water moving in a waterworks. Peeping at each other in a public space blurred the boundary between the public and the private. When rules of creation and reception in art, and relationship of subject and object, as well as of the public and the private, were dealt in a traditional mode of spectatorship, Geng Jianyi touched the issue of art

institution, as what Huang Yongping and Xiamen Dada artists did in the Event Occurred in the Fujian Provincial Art Museum, December 1986 (Fig. 4.82). The difference is that as Huang and his comrades challenged the nature of artwork and art space through moving building materials into the museum, Geng questioned the relationship between art making and reception, subject and object, and the boundary of public activity and private behavior, via peepshow installation.

4.2.1.4

Red Humor: Written Language and Meaning The group Red Humor led by Wu Shanzhuan is the least serious group in the Rationalist Painting

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Fig. 4.25 Red Humor group, “Red 70%, Black 25%, and White 5%,” 1976, installation, at Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts

but addresses one of the most important issues of culture – written language and its role in the discursive context. Born in 1960 and trained at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, Wu Shanzhuan began his Cultural Revolutioninspired pop art practice in 1986, when the Red Humor series was initiated, be a possible precursor of the Political Pop that flourished in the early 1990s. In February 1986, seven senior students of the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, Wu Shanzhuan, Ni Haifeng, Huang Jian, Zhang Haizhou, Lü Haizhou, Luo Xianyue, and Song Chenghua, founded the group Red Humor. The exhibition titled Red 70%, Black 25%, White 5%, also the work’s title, opened in the academy, but for internal visit only, during May and June (Fig. 4.25). The work consisted of seventy-six pieces of square, rectangular and circular wooden boards on which bold Chinese characters were written in red, black and white paint. It is not hard to imagine the great shock viewers experienced when they entered the red-color-dominated exhibition room in dim light. The boards with white characters on red ground, black on red, red on black, white on black, or black on white created a mixed atmosphere of solemnity, gravity, oppression, suffocation, jocularity, and absurdity. It was obvious for those audiences who had experienced the Cultural Revolution that the utilization and

appropriation of red, black, and white colors was inspired by the propaganda art of the revolution. The unique effect of this work, most importantly, came from the creative use of Chinese characters. First, the boldface type of Chinese characters rejected the traditional beauty of Chinese calligraphic work with literati taste. Secondly, the complex content of writing on the boards, including words, phrases, and sentences from advertisement, newspaper, classic poetry, religion, politics, and the discourse of everyday life, produced new meaning or nonsense in startling ways, which, at the same time, subverted tradition at the discursive level. The ratio of colors specified in the title sounds like a random joke, but it could be reminiscent of China’s politics of color, particularly those of the Cultural Revolution, with red representing revolutionaries, black, enemies of the people, and white, the nonaligned. There are four methods or strategies of this serious play of language. First, a new context is created by conflict symbols. The most typical example is juxtaposition of 垃圾 (garbage) and 涅槃 (nirvana). A pile of characters “garbage” with a word “nirvana” on the top celebrates conflict between the holiest and the filthiest, the sacred and the profane, the religious and the secular, and the spiritual and the

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Fig. 4.26 Red Humor group, “Red 70%, Black 25%, and White 5%,” detail, “Nirvana and Garbage (niepan and laji)”

material. In this new context, each symbol may have new meaning, which provides readers room for their own interpretation (Fig. 4.26). Second, everyday (spoken and commercial) language and journalistic language in a solemn ground raise new meaning. In the temple-like setting, we see 白菜三分钱一斤 (Chinese cabbage – one jin for three cents43), 火 车正点到达宁波 (the train arrives at Ningbo on time), 油漆未干 (Wet paint!), or Chinese New Year’s antithetical couplet-like device with contents that has little to do with the New Year, such as 多吃益肚皮, 少吃少滋味 (the more one eats, the better for the stomach; the less one eats, the less one can taste), along with a horizontal scroll, 一百个人一百张嘴 (a hundred people have a hundred mouths, literally meaning everyone has different food preference and taste). All would make the viewer feel amusing and then think about their possible implication. In this new context, the serious becomes amusing, while everyday language appears solemn. Third, Chan allegorical language makes complex meaning.44 Chan should be everywhere, 43

Jin, Chinese weight measurement, equals 0.5 kg. 禅 was translated to Zen based on Japanese pronunciation, and it is Chan in Chinese Pinyin system. 44

according to Chan Buddhism, but the statement 喝茶里面没有禅 (there is no Chan in tea drinking) contradicted that, which, in fact, might make the audience think about Chan when s/he drinks tea. The following poem-like structure is another re-interpretation of Chan, 庄子的蝴蝶是一把剪刀 (Zhuangzi’s butterfly is a pair of scissors) 什么地方要什么地方买 (You can buy one wherever you need it) 什么时候要什么时候买 (You can buy one whenever you need it) 男女老少要男女老少买 (Any one, man or woman, the old or the young, can buy one whoever needs it)

This profane treatment of Chan is to combat Chan with Chan, so that it is closer to real Chan. Chan put Buddha everywhere, and everybody can be self-enlightened in everyday life. At the same time, it is the most ambiguous discipline. The Red Humor artists tried to reveal Chan Buddhism’s dual nature of the sacred and the mundane. Fourth, tedious repetition baffles reading. This repetition appears mostly on those small circular boards (see discs on floor in Fig. 4.25), such as 丝 袜 . . .. . .(silk socks. . .. . .), 老酒 . . .. . . (rice wine. . .. . .), 理光. . .. . . (RICOH. . .. . .), 丰田 . . .. . . (Toyota. . .. . .), 凤凰. . .. . .

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Fig. 4.27 Wu Shanzhuan, “Red Characters: Big-Character Posters,” 1987, installation

(Phoenix. . .. . .45), 三洋. . .. . . (Sanyo. . .. . .), 蝴 蝶. . .. . . (butterfly. . .. . .), 美能达 . . .. . . (Meronta. . .. . .), and 香烟 (cigarettes. . .. . .). Because of repetition their original meaning becomes lost and strange implications may raise. Does this reflect our baffling experience when facing ever-changing popular culture? And when a Chinese audience sees the repetition of “compass, paper-making, art of printing, and gunpowder,” the four great inventions by the Chinese, in their textbooks, official TVs, radios, and newspapers, what will be their reaction? Pride, burden, encouragement, or indifference? This tactic of repetition is also poignant to Chinese pride, because in official ideology this Chinese pride has been repeated and the result is a strong contrast of bright past and dim present in China’s science and technology. Chinese written language has been an object of critique and reinterpretation since the mid-1980s. For those artists who focused on Chinese written language, the critique of language was the most critical step in the subversion of hegemonic discourse, leading to a critique of culture. It is not a coincidence that several Chinese artists rethought and reinterpreted Chinese written language or 45 凤凰 (Phoenix) is a famous Chinese bike brand since the 1950s.

characters. Gu Wenda launched his critique of culture through his deconstructive and reconstructive Chinese characters (Fig. 4.36), as Xu Bing created a meaningless text in monumental dimension through a two-year effort of creating thousands of fake characters (Fig. 4.109). These efforts at the discursive level point to a goal shared with the Hermeneutics School of the “Great Cultural Discussion.” After “Red 70 %, Black 25 %, White 5 %,” Wu Shanzhuan, the leader of the Red Humor, continued his Pop-style experiment on Chinese written language, and made “Red Characters: Big-Character Posters,” “Red Seals,” and “Fluttering Red Flags,” which comprised the “Red Humor” series. “Red Characters: Big-Character Posters,” installed at the artist’s studio in 1987, a simulacrum of a chaotic scene from the Cultural Revolution. Made of poster paper, rice paper, ink and gouache by the artist, his friends and passers-by, the room, 2.8 meters in height, was covered from floor to ceiling, layer by layer, with all kinds of messages or simply nonsense (Fig. 4.27). The messages included political slogans like those from the Mao period, such as “Promote physical culture and build up the people’s health,” or partially covered “. . .patriotic campaign for better sanitation,” as well as public notices, restaurant

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Fig. 4.28 Anonymous, “Big-Character Posters,” c. 1966, Beijing

menus, weather forecasts, court bulletins, or personal notes, such as “Mr. Wang, I’ve left for home.” On the floor, he wrote an altered fourcharacter idiom, 胡说八道 hu (wu) shuobadao, with pronunciation-changed first character, and awkwardly simplified last one, originally meaning “sheer nonsense,” and implying the absurd nature of all texts on the wall.46 The “big-character poster” was a vehicle for “mass criticism and repudiation” and glorification of proletarians and their leader, Mao Zedong, in the Cultural Revolution (Fig. 4.28). Its contents were “revolutionary,” but it was written in traditional Chinese calligraphy on regular printing paper rather than rice paper. The spontaneity of execution, randomness of words, syntax and

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Wu Shanzhuan collected and translated most of the meaningful or meaningless phrases and sentences, such as “wet paint,” “the movement of birth control,” “we are parasites,” “watch shore ahead,” “box for complaints,” “it is selfish,” “24 pieces,” “propaganda letter #87,” “fighting selfishness and criticizing revisionism,” “The Last Supper,” “no water today,” “Chinese cabbage: one jin for three cents,” “pissing forbidden,” “pills for fatties,” “dating for marriage,” “Gone with Wind,” “stop the damn endless rain,” “seeking some erotic writing,” and “famous foreign nude paintings,” etc.

grammar, and high frequency of wrongly written characters, all could be inspirational to Wu Shanzhuan and his comrades. When reducing or even getting rid of its political connotation, this metamorphosis would become a formal source for their experiment. Creating both lexical and symbolic confusion, the work “Red Characters: Big-Character Posters” produced an absurd image of abnormal reality, exposing a cultural deficiency that one would recollect Mao’s failed utopian project. In 1987, he also finished two more sections of the “Red Humor” series, “Red Seals” and “Fluttering Red Flags.” The “Red Seals” consisted of two different types of seals: large ones simulated official seals but consisted of fake and nonsensical names of organizations or institutions. These pseudo-official seals, such as “Revolutionary Committee of Red Characters” and “Office of Creation of Construction of Characters,” were painted on one-square-meter pieces of rice paper and hung on the wall along with red flags and nonsensical characters (Fig. 4.29); and some individual, private seals modeled after actual personal seals of his friends, classmates, and relatives. These signifiers were not new to the Chinese, because they just

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Fig. 4.29 Wu Shanzhuan, “Red Seals,” 1987, red paint on walls, red flags

witnessed or immersed the red ocean of the Cultural Revolution several years ago. Both official and personal seals have been very important in the lives of Chinese. While any official document must bear the stamp of a seal to show its authority, a personal seal, long employed in tradition, remains the most authentic identification for individuals. “Red Seals” thus generated ambiguous and multifaceted meanings when the official and the personal, the public and the private, the fake and the authentic were juxtaposed and blended. The project of action and installation, “Fluttering Red Flags,” included many smallscale revolutionary objects. For instance, as part of action, Wu “checked” and wrote “I’ve read” on an official announcement. In another action, he pretended to be a new CCP member in a mock oath-taking ceremony under a red flag, against a wall on which many nonsense characters were hung. From multiple approaches, Wu Shanzhuan questioned the language and discursive system through a mockery of ideological paperwork and ritual. What Wu Shanzhuan attempted to do is to separate the signifier from the signified, and to treat it as an independent and self-contained entity. This art became what he called “quiet sea,” which he describes like this, It is a still and formless empty box – presumably taking what anyone provides, never full but

powerless. It doesn’t have power that can restrain itself, and never disappears.47

There is no meaning in the “quiet sea” thus it is possible for it to contain myriad meanings. The arbitrary nature of the sign, namely the formation of a sign’s form and sound as arbitrary to the object or the signified, as posed by de Saussure, was overturned by Wu Shanzhuan. He claimed that a sign’s form and sound is an existential object and can be independent, thus there is an infinite potential for us to vest it with a variety of meaning.

4.2.1.5 Individual Artists: Eastern Spirit There were avant-garde artists in the mid-1980s who had not assembled into groups, rather, they kept their individual status in the AvantGarde Movement. Interestingly, most influential individual vanguard artists were from Shanghai. Shanghai is a city with strong characteristic of tradition and modernity in modern times. It is a place full of literati circles and heritage, but at the same time, a frontier where the frequent cultural confrontation and integration between the East and the West occurred. It was the birthplace of Chinese modern art – the Storm Society ( juelan she), a well-known Modernist group led by Pang Xunqin and Ni Yide, founded in this metropolis in 1932. Under the background of wealthy tradition of literati and intelligentsia, the experimental 47 Wu Shanzhuan, “Women de Huihua” (About Our Paintings), Meishu Sichao, issue 1, 1987.

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art in Shanghai in the mid-1980s appeared more scholarly or even pedantic, rather than aggressive with the smell of gunpowder. The vanguard artists in Shanghai seemed to have been aware of rationalist idea, though expressed by individual artists instead of manifestoes of art groups. They tended to revolutionize their art through embracing both the Western Modernist legacy and Eastern cultural – philosophical in particular – heritage. Many collective exhibitions of modern art were held in Shanghai during the AvantGarde Movement.48 Two exhibitions, Twelve Artists Exhibition in 1979 and ‘83 Phase • Painting Experiment Exhibition in 1983 demonstrated an early exploration of Chinese modern art. From late 1984 to 1987, more than ten shows and art events generated a great impact on the Shanghai art circle. The following is an incomplete list of these shows and events (including two held in other cities). Friends of Art Circle: A Salon Show, Xuhui District Cultural Center, Dec. 1984 Corner of Graphic Art, Shanghai Art Museum, Dec. 1984 to Jan. 1985 Modern Painting: Show of Six Artists, Fudan University, March 1985 Exhibition of Youth Art of Fujian and Shanghai, Yushan Art Museum, Fuzhou, Fujian, June 1985 Graphic Art of Four Artists, Xuhui District Cultural Center, Jan. 1986 First Shanghai Youth Art Exhibition, Shanghai Art Museum, April 1986 Black-White-Black, Xuhui District Cultural Center, May 1986 Sea Horizon • ‘86 Painting Exhibition, June 1986 Non-Figurative Art Show, June 1986 Art Exhibition I, Shanghai Theater Academy, June 1986 Opening Exhibition of (New) Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai Art Museum, Oct. 1986 ‘86 Concave vs. Convex, Xuhui District Cultural Center, Nov. 1986 48

The only short-lived modernist group in Shanghai in this period is M Art Group, a loose group focusing on actions in late 1986 and early 1987.

Shanghai Painting • Chinese Art in Evolution, Hongkong Art Centre, April 1987 Though lot of modern art exhibitions and activities appeared in Shanghai around 1985 and 1986, vanguard artists immersed themselves in individual research, thinking and practice in their studios, creating artworks with deep deliberation which carried usually feature of scholartype art. Li Shan was not young when he was involved with the avant-garde movement in the 1980s when he was in his forties, as a faculty member in the Shanghai Theater Academy. He believed that “a great artist should be an explorer and huntsman,” and his exploration concentrated on life in microcosm. This is not speculation of philosophy of life, but symbolic implication of unknown origin and status of life. His series of life consists of three sections, Origin, Expansion and Order. In the “Origin,” he painted primitive human in nature to show the integral unity of human life and nature. His “Expansion” section is mostly downy and hairy “circles” or “spheres” floating on unknown space, which became his unique symbol of life (Fig. 4.30). This symbol is not only a microscopic depiction of genesis and the development of life, but also a macroscopic abstraction, namely an embryo, gene, or even the origin of culture, all embedded in these still, mysterious and intangible circles. In his “order” section, we can see the order and disorder of life, in which analytic elements appeared. Conceptually modern, in its linear evolution, the imaginal invention is more Eastern, which is reminiscent of concepts that being and non-being born from each other, and move in cycles. Some individual artists explored history, civilization and culture on their own, like Zhang Jianjun, an oil painter from Shanghai. His scholarly temperament reflects on his Eastern comprehension and perception of the issue of civilization and culture. The “Human Beings and Their Clock” (Fig. 4.31) shows his contemplation on human beings, relationship between man and universe. Various races and ages of people from different times are posited in a surreal space.

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Fig. 4.30 Li Shan, “Expansion Series, No.1,” 1984, oil on canvas

Fig. 4.31 Zhang Jianjun, “Human Beings and Their Clock,” 1985, oil on canvas

They look up, stare at the sky or simply close their eyes, all seemingly questioning the existence of human beings, the temporal process or the unknown. The desire for exploration and a state of perplexity coexist. The oval sphere with Roman numerals, III, V, VII, IX, rising from the sea in the distance, the clock as the title suggested, might indicate the coincidence and

difference between clocks of human and universe. The tone is cold grey, and brushwork is loose and spontaneous. The figures were painted relatively freely, surrounded by misty atmosphere and diffusive light that reinforced the sense of mystery and meditation. Zhang Jianjun also painted a series entitled “You” (you literally means “to have,” “there is,”

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Fig. 4.32 Zhang Jianjun, “You, No.96,” 1986, oil, sand, and gravel on canvas

“to exist,” “being”), which shifted the perception of human beings and the universe into a meditation on ontological issue, and from figurative depiction into abstraction. Since any figurative language is not suitable to the subject of existence, he applied abstraction with his superempirical intuition. In those strips of fragmented circles and squares, simple but subtle colors, brushwork combining meticulous and sweeping strokes, bumpy and coarse texture with sand, glass bits and gravels, audience may perceive a kind of existence – substances, nature, or cosmos (Fig. 4.32). Zhou Yan made reference to Daoism as reading his “You” Series, Are these close to the essence alleged in Dao De Jing that can’t be seen and grasped, and is seamless, image without an image, no beginning and end, infinite and eternally present?49

Chen Zhen died at age of forty-five, but in his short life he left us a great amount of invaluable works. Like Zhang Jianjun’s “You” series, his Zhou Yan, “Zhang Jian-jun: Visual Inquiry into Existence, Temporality and History,” in bilingual exhibition catalogue Zhang Jianjun, Shanghai: Shanghai Jingxiu Wenzhang Press, 2012, p.16.

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“Movement of Qi” series made in the 1980s became another representative of Eastern ontological exploration in an abstract manner. Chen Zhen was extremely interested in both Chinese and Western philosophy and tended to demonstrate his interpretation of the genesis and development of the universe. He was encouraged to study philosophy by a comment made by a western art historian, “there is no modern art in the East because there is no modern philosophy there.” Looking at his “Movement of Qi” (Fig. 4.33), we may find a unique abstraction that is neither “cold” as Mondrian or Malevich, nor “hot” as Kandinsky or De Kooning. Qi (pronounce as “chi”) is a Chinese concept with philosophical and martial art connotation. It refers literally to air, but is extended to breath, energy or spirit. To Chen Zhen, Qi is a flowing substance that moves through life, space and heart in a temporal dimension. He said, In my mind, “primal Qi” is “current of life,” the “temporal-spatial” is “current of development,” while heart and mind are “current of real sentiments.” The “figurative momentum” of the universe, infinity, movement and human feeling is linear, which is the “split-second” or “passage” of

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continuous and flowing entity. This linear scheme flows from within and without the frame, and it is not a structured object, rather, it is the trace of an entity’s movement. He used dots, sweeping brushstrokes to suggest motions in what he called “movements of Qi.” It moves between a macro universe in nature and a micro one in man’s mind. It is moving, changing, growing and dying. In this perception and experience of process Chen Zhen displayed his Eastern spirit and wisdom. Yu Youhan is another artist who attempted to create a non-figurative visualization of something ontological based on his comprehension of Chinese philosophy. He started from study of structure in Modernism, as seen in Cezanne, Miro, and Color-Field Painting. With his Eastern wisdom, Daoist state of mind, he sought an internal spirit of the natural, the inactive, the tranquil, and the flexible in his painting. This is motion in still status, a tranquility with facility and ease. As did Li Shan, he found the “circle” as a simple symbol with rich significance. When Li Shan used the circle as a sign of life, the circle in Yu Youhan’s painting connected with the Dao, a central concept of Daoist philosophy (Fig. 4.34). He wrote, The circle with stability represents beginning and end of material world, at same time stands for no beginning and no end of this world. It is a symbol of movement of endless cycles. . . . The internality and externality of the circle possess autonomy and grandeur with ease, conveying silently sense of tranquility of “the transient” and “the eternal.”51

Fig. 4.33 Chen Zhen, “Movements of Qi: The Gate,” 1984, oil on canvas eternity. They flow beyond the painting and extend to infinity.50

Therefore, from this primal Qi that rises, falls, intertwines, spreads, flows, fluctuates, diffuses, condenses, revolves, idles, we may perceive a Chen Zhen, “Yishu Shouzha” (Notes on Art), quoted from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, p.187.

50

This is close to the Qi Chen Zhen understood. While Chen Zhen concentrated on movement of Qi, Yu Youhan placed his focus on its still status with movement within, that could be read either microcosmically or macrocosmically. Appling acrylic paints on rice paper, he painted circles and ovals in ink technique that floated in a silent and serene space. Circles referred to circulation without beginning or end, perfection or supremacy in Chinese philosophy, especially Daoism. The most characteristic feature in his “Circle” series is those mysterious dots. They move in

Yu Youhan, “Chuangzuo Shouji” (Notes of Artmaking), quoted from ibid. p.189.

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Fig. 4.34 Yu Youhan, “Circle Series, No.1,” 1984, acrylic on paper, 250  250 cm

different directions but are arranged in order, showing a neat structure. Some apparent, others obscure. They are floating, dripping, protruding or recessing to constitute an orderly microcosmic structure, like biological cells or fingerprints, or in the macrocosmic world, like un-deciphered mystic codes of the unknown space. Seemingly moving but still, free and easy, it presents scenery of both the micro- and macro-universe that originates and circulates. This series shows the artist’s unique perception of existence and his pursuit at a human psyche that can communicate with spirit of the universe. Gu Wenda, born in Shanghai, was M.F.A. recipient in Chinese painting from the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, and became the primary representative of the vanguard ink-and-

wash painting. His form of unworldly landscape was rather a representation of the human spirit or served his idea of deconstruction of Chinese written language, as seen in his “Changshen” (Fig. 4.35). Two characters, 畅, chang, meaning “free or unimpeded,” “pleasure,” “accessibility,” and “joy,” and 神, shen, “spirit,” “god,” “vivification,” are blended and become subject to various or divergent interpretations. The word 畅神, changshen, was a notion created by Zong Bing (373–443), a painter of the Six Dynasties, meaning that Chinese shanshui can be an approach toward god of nature. To ordinary audiences the most likely reading is “to let one’s mind go freely,” or “let one’s spirit ride with a loose rein,” which is particularly true when looking at the shanshui on the bottom. This is the conclusion

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Fig. 4.35 Gu Wenda, “Changshen,” 1984, ink on rice paper, one of three hanging scrolls

of the reader whose eye shifts from one character to another, which we might call a “semantic reading.” However, when read from left to right, as we do in modern Chinese printing, it could be read as 神易, shen yi, or 示畅 shi chang, depending on giving 申, shen, to the left or the right. Nevertheless, when read from right to left separately, as in the traditional way of Chinese printing, it becomes 畅示, chang shi or 易神, yi shen. Both readings, which we might call “compositional reading,” make little sense in Chinese since there are no such words. The ambiguity of this compositional reading – should we read from left to right or vice versa – complicates the meaning of this piece. Furthermore, the conflict instead

of agreement between the semantic and compositional readings subverted the foundation on which the Chinese written language and calligraphy are based and make the work a representative of Gu’s deconstruction and reconstruction of written Chinese. The ideographic or semantic meanings of the original characters were deconstructed along with the fragmentation of their structure. The integration of those character fragments could produce new meaning or nonsense, which cannot be found in a regular dictionary. In his “Tang Poem in My Calligraphy – Wrongly Written, Missed, Reversed, Artistically Calligraphic, Song-Dynasty-Type-Faced, Meaningless, Upside-down, and Homonymous

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An Art Hurricane: The Avant-Garde Movement (1985–1989) 烟笼寒水月笼沙, 夜泊秦淮近酒家. 商女不知亡国恨, 隔江犹唱后庭花. Mist veils the cold stream, and moonlight the sand, As I moor in the shadow of a river-tavern, Where girls, with no thoughts of a perished kingdom, Gaily echo “A Song of Courtyard Flowers.”53

Fig. 4.36 Gu Wenda, “Tang Poem in My Calligraphy – Wrongly Written, Missed, Reversed, Artistically Calligraphic, Song-Dynasty-Type-faced, Meaningless, Upside-down, and Homonymous Characters,” 1986, ink on paper, 290.2  178.2 cm

Characters” (Fig. 4.36), Gu Wenda launched an even more radical attack on the Chinese written language. Traditionally, calligraphy is a vehicle of meaning as well as an object of aesthetic appreciation. Gu turned the structure of Chinese characters into meaningless fragments and then reshaped them in random combinations. The poem in this “calligraphy” work is “Moor at the Qinhuai Canal,” written by Tang Poet Du Mu. The original poem is in qijue format,52

52 Qijue is a four-line poem with seven characters to a line, which has a strict tonal pattern and rhyme scheme.

An analysis of the mood of this poem reveals further significance of Gu’s intention. “A Song of Courtyard Flowers” mentioned in the poem is a sensual and alluring piece written by Chen Shubao (best known as Chen Houzhu), the last emperor of the weak Chen Dynasty (reign 583–589). Although this song celebrates the beauties of the royal court, his advisors sensed the decadence and the impending destruction of the dynasty. Chen was exterminated by the Sui Dynasty several years later. Two and half centuries later, Du Mu wrote his “Moor at the Qinhuai Canal” when the Tang Dynasty was suffering from its own crisis. In the ears of the poet, this song was reminiscent of the decadence and destruction of a dynasty and caused anxiety and worry for the present. The selection Gu made is significant because this poem carries an awareness of crisis and warns of the immediate danger of a dynasty, or at a culture in crisis. This artistic destruction of the character’s calligraphic and poetic structures implied a “forecast of destruction” and reinforced the power of the critique of culture. This was an experiment in the aesthetic sphere as well as the semantic sphere. The work provides us with a new type of abstraction, an abstraction with a somewhat distorted poetic meaning. For those who know this poem, it is still significant in terms of poetry reading, while another audience might only see several Chinese characters with various styles and non-traditional structures. The destruction is three-fold. First, the characters are destructed, re-constructed, or 53 Witter Bynner translated, The Jade Mountain: A Chinese Anthology – Being Three Hundred Poems of the T’ang Dynasty (618–906), New York: Alfred A Knopf, Inc. published, 1929, eighth printing, 1960, p. 176.

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simply re-positioned. Second, the format of calligraphy is subverted through inconsistent types of characters and accidental ink blots. Finally, the poem itself becomes hardly readable because of various treatments of characters. In fact, three characters were intentionally skipped or missed.

4.2.2

Current of Life: Physical and Subconscious Approach

As Rationalist Painting artists tended to approach the metaphysical or spiritual sphere with an upward power, artists of the Current of Life went inward to their subconscious world. Rather than aspiring for “reason,” the irrational became critical to understand their pursuit of art. Stylistically, they utilized an expressive manner to vent their anxiety, desire, suppression, suffocation, and illusion, or created primitive scenarios to show their fascination with mother nature, ancient civilization or native, folk culture. It is noticeable that there were more Current of Life artists and groups than Rationalist Painting ones, in other words, the Current of Life was the most popular trend in the Avant-Garde Movement.

4.2.2.1

Southwest Art Research Group: Fervent Land The Southwest Art Research Group was the most representative and influential group in the Current of Life trend in terms of theory, art style, and activities. After the exhibition, New Figurative Art, held in Shanghai and Nanjing in 1985, several participants became members of Southwest Art Research Group. Originally there were thirteen members, including Mao Xunhui, Ye Yongqing, Zhang Xiaogang, Pan Dehai, Zhang Long, Zhai Wei, Su Jianghua, Yang Huangli, Sun Guojuan, Zhang Xiaping, Deng Qiyao, Mao Jie and Ding Defu, in addition to nine artists who joined them later.54 All members were either born in Yunnan or Sichuan, two southwest provinces, or were graduates of art schools there, e.g. Sichuan Fine Arts Institute. This group of 54 Hou Wenyi, a woman artist, featured in the show New Figurative Art, then left to study in the US.

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artists approached its critique of culture through a search for basics: digging into man’s natural level – the sub-consciousness, desire, and intuition – and man’s origin, nature. The main propositions of the Southwest Art Research Group were anti-formalism, action as the top priority, and respect for intuitive life and nature. The following statement summarizes the ideas of this group: The artists incubated from the fervent land55 have an instinctive urge in their blood that longs for melting into an entity with vast universe and great life . . . . The mysterious dimness covers time and space, blurs boundaries between religion and history, vision and phantom, life and soul, and implies an endless macrocosmic eternity. Even the holy water of reason poured here would become hot and enigmatic steam. Only in the chaos of everything interacting, and one single entity of heaven and earth, only in the mutual infiltration and combination of vision and insight, physical images and virtual ones, fantasy and reality, the perceptual and the rational, ego and superego, can we be inspired and intuit the boundless, limitless precinct.56

Such a manifesto may sound like Greek to ordinary domain, but it is a genuine expression of serious thoughts after its authors’ long-term physical and spiritual suffering. In traditional culture, the quest of individuals for free expression of man’s nature had been suffocated with increasing intensity after 1949. The manifesto was a protest to this systematic suffocation. Obsessed with their homeland, the soil on which they lived, and protective of their deep-seated instinct, these artists were loyal only to nature and their own true life. Images of fervent land became a visual trope of their depressed thus sizzling, explosive desire

55

Soil color of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, where most members of the “Southwest Art Study Group” were born and live, is primarily red, brown or dark red/brown, which looks warm or even hot to the artists, thus, is called retu, fervent land. 56 Southwest Art Research Group, “Laizi Zhijue de Ganwu” (Enlightenment from Our Intuition), quoted from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, p.249.

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Fig. 4.37 Mao Xuhui, “Nudes in a Concrete Room,” 1986, oil on canvas

and sentimental bond to their homeland in which they injected their pantheist passion. Mao Xuhui is the leading figure of the Southwest Art Research Group. His art revealed a series of severe conflicts between sub-consciousness and consciousness, the physical and the psychological, non-reason and reason, life and ethics, need and norm, and individual and society. The “Nudes in a Concrete Room” (Fig. 4.37) is a good example of these conflicts. It depicted four nudes. Their twisted, skinny and distorted bodies walk, lie, recline or even float upside-down. All are struggling to keep their intense desire from exploding. The concrete room became a symbol of a stifling prison where people’s sexuality had been confined for decades. After a long period of pent-up natural desire, a pictorial protest here lays bare the confrontation deep in man’s physicality and mentality. This profound predicament was not easy to surmount. In 1985, he wrote, When I put into the magic bucket of artistic form the things in life that disturb people, that are irrational, that are disorderly, and that have a strong presence even though they are indefinable, then I

feel delight, or freed . . . Driven by primitive desire and impulse, I am always about to, in a violent way, break my inner world, blow off my head, my soul, and all my secrets with a completely vented open mind. After harshly beating all these monsters on the gallows, I cheerfully walk away.57

The “Mt. Gui Series” and “Mother of Red Soil Series” he painted in this period were related to the area where native Yunnan people lived and was full of intuitive expression. In the “Red Soil as the Mother, #3” (Fig. 4.38), the red and fervent land functions as both womb for new lives and sources for living creatures. With few traces of civilization, this world is portrayed as a primitive, primeval, chaotic but harmonious world where there is no division between sky and earth, through warm, curved or rounded, yellow-brown toned and expressive brushwork. Ye Yongqing is another leading artist of the group. A painter with a meditative character, sharp intuition, and melancholic temperament,

57 Mao Xuhui, “Yishu Biji (Notes on Art), unpublished, quoted ibid. p.254.

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Fig. 4.38 Mao Xuhui, “Red Soil as the Mother, #3,” 1986, oil on canvas

Ye focused on two themes in the 1980s. He first expressed the spiritual relationship between man and nature, including cultivated nature by a primitive manner, such as “A Reclined Girl Waiting for Clouds to Float in,” “Two Dai Woman Bathers,”58 “A Plantain Plantation,” “Quiet Waters in Autumn;” “She Whom Is Peeped at by a Horse Outside and Us Whom were Gazed at by Her.” In the painting with the second theme, dense dots and gossamer lines knitted into webs to describe his subtle psychological experiences, either dream world or phantasm, including “Spring Awakening Brumal Sleeper,” “Balcony, Man and Horse Going Upstairs,” “Impression of Jungles,” “Who Will Come to Play a Summer Music?” “Men and Women Playing against Background with Trees,” “A Wolf and Little Sister,” “Autumn Wind Blowing off Summer Flowers,” “Sound in A Summer Night.”59 In his “A Reclined Girl Waiting for 58

The Dai people are one of several ethnic groups living in Yunnan, and Yuan Yunsheng painted a mural to celebrate their life and culture in an academic manner in 1979 (Fig. 3.27). 59 Like many vanguard artists in the 1980s, Ye Yongqing deliberately composed titles for his painting. When a lot of titles in this period carried philosophical, mysterious, absurd, or profane meaning, Ye’s painting titles, as we

Clouds to Float in,” the woman reclines awkwardly, because she is neither reclining on the ground nor floating above it (Fig. 4.39). The point here is not, in fact, the articulation of a physical relationship between her body and the ground, but her natural bond with the red earth or ferment soil, like the matrix of people who were born and live in this plateau. The sky, the earth and human beings exist together peacefully and interact with each other harmoniously, a metaphor of natural idealism. His “Spring Awakening Brumal Sleeper” addresses dream imagery (Fig. 4.40). In the 1980s, Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) in particular, had a great impact on Chinese intelligentsia, including art circle. The relationship of dreams and subconsciousness or sexuality in Freud’s theory inspired vanguard artists, especially those of Current of Life. Ye Yongqing contrived a fantastic scenery where the dreamer, or “brumal sleeper” as the title suggested, was juxtaposed with his dreamscape. A naked female, the brumal

see here, were mainly descriptive, but he always integrated either poetic, or subjective elements into the title, so that the descriptive became somehow the personal or the allegorical.

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Fig. 4.39 Ye Yongqing, “A Reclined Girl Waiting for Clouds to Float in,” 1985, oil on canvas, 50  60 cm

Fig. 4.40 Ye Yongqing, “Spring Awakening Brumal Sleeper,” 1985, oil on board

sleeper, laid prone on the bed, which was set in a surreal room, where all objects and living things were posited unrealistically, thus the only explanation would be that it was a description of a

daydream or fantasy. In fact, it is a semi-reality and semi-dreamland, just like the dreamer who consists of a body half real on left and half “virtual” on the right. Outside the window, the spring

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Fig. 4.41 Zhang Xiaogang, “Age-to-Age Love,” 1987, triptych, oil on canvas

sun shines, as a dreamworld inside looks grotesque and bizarre. A pair of jeans and a window curtain float or fly, as exteriors of various buildings line up in the background. The bed where the dreamer lies on his chest is about to overturn and next to the bed is a spider web and a dying-out heating stove. The big bird on the windowsill might play the role of mediator or messenger between the real world and dreamland. The subject of “spring,” we saw in He Duoling (Fig. 3.24) and Yuan Qingyi (Fig. 4.5), appeared again. Rather than a metaphor of ideological emancipation as in He’s painting, “spring” in Yuan’s work refers to a bright future. To Ye, “spring” might imply the rational enlightenment, awakening both consciousness and subconsciousness that had been suppressed for decades. The dense little dots, and gossamer curves and straight lines, made the dreamscape sensitive and vulnerable, a metaphorical representation of an adolescent dream. Though slightly melancholic, the tone of the painting was optimistic. The light color and refined lines created an atmosphere of spring, which would awaken the sleeper, symbol of sleeping desire, sub-consciousness, or intuition. When Zhang Xiaogang was trapped in the hospital because of his alcoholism and smoking after a disillusionment with his life and career in the early 1980s, he painted a series of pieces that

either expressed fear of death or the will to live, or the conflict between these two opposite forces. In the mid-1980s he attempted to transcend personal agony and shifted his focus from the theme of death and dream, or nightmare more accurately, to the relationship between man and nature in ancient civilization through glorifying the pastoral and primitive life. This transition can be seen as a process from a small “id” as an individual creature to a big “ego” as a collective or societal entity, using terms of psychoanalysis. His triptych “Ageto-Age Love” (Fig. 4.41) is a piece with a strong flavor of primitivism, not Henri Rousseau’s, but one with rich Chinese elements instead. Painted in 1987, it portrayed various ritual-like scenarios. All creatures live as if in a tribe, a harmonious land, where human beings, animals and plants live peacefully, and life and death coexist. We can see a baby on a big leaf, various generations of humans sitting with legs crossed (a prototype of the “lotus position” in Buddhism, perhaps), standing, laying on a “land bed,” even face to face within a huge leaf on top of a tree, a humble goat gazing at nothing, a turkey running, a pheasant walking, and a snake crawling. A couple of human or goat heads are placed mystically on the ground, in a cage, or even craning its neck to look around from a hole on the ground. This is a world where everything reconciles with each other, without conflict, interval, or boundary, the only thing

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Fig. 4.42 Pan Dehai, “Broken-off Corncobs Series: Mountain-back,” 1989, oil on canvas, 120  270 cm

that exists between all creatures is eternal love, indicated by the title. Therefore, this triptych created a utopia, an arcadia or Shangri-La, an ideal sphere in the artist’s mind. If we say this is a dreamland, it was contrived with deliberate fabrication; or we may call it imaginative enriched with knowledge of folklore, primitive art, and cultural anthropology. A great bond with the artist’s native land, Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, made it a comprehensive assembly of history, culture, art, and humanity on this fervent land. Pan Dehai is not a native Yunnan artist, but was born in northeastern China. He was assigned to teach art at a middle school in Kunming, Yunnan, after graduation from the Northeastern Normal University, Changchun, Jilin. In his works of the early 1980s, wildness, passion, and power were dynamics that generated a sense of violence and disorderliness, because he wanted to “throw out the hidden shocking power from deepest level of life, and then receive the revelation from above in a meditative status.”60 He concentrated on sexuality or what we called “worship of reproduction” in his “Broken-off Corncobs Series” (Fig. 4.42). In this Pan Dehai, “Linghun Qiyi de Liliang” (The Wonderful Power of the Soul),” unpublished, quoted from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, p.259. 60

series, the fervent land in Mao Xuhui, Zhang Xiaogang and Ye Yongqing was transformed into an extremely sophisticated web of corncobs, a symbol of female sexual organ. This delicate and elegant description of the sexual organ might have association with the “worship of reproduction,” a primitive religious belief that sanctified female fertility or human reproduction, perhaps derived from the “worship of a mother goddess,” common in a matriarchal society. Yunnan has been considered by anthropologists and archaeologists as the cradle of China’s ancient matrilineal civilization. In fact, there are still some ethnic groups in Yunnan, such as Mosuo and Naxi (or Nakhi), which have kept the societal state and lifestyle of matriarchal culture till today. The land of nature in Pan’s art was embodied in a matrix of human reproduction in which women stand in the center of fertility of both human beings and their civilization. This series could be the artist’s homage to this unique and enigmatic culture, or a license for him to shake off his alienated status, a non-native southwesterner, and create a cultural bond with this fervent land. Unlike most of the other vanguard groups that had dismantled in the late 1980s, members of Southwest Art Research Group maintained their personal connection until the present day. The major figures of the group, Mao Xuhui, Ye Yongqing and Zhang Xiaogang, have been

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continuously active on the stage of China’s contemporary art for decades.

4.2.2.2

Activities in Beijing, Tianjin and Jiangsu: Nightmare and Wildness Beijing is the national center of politics and culture that has the privilege to possess exclusively of financial, cultural, human, educational and political resources. It played a very important role in disseminating information on the AvantGarde Movement nationwide, because many critics lived there, as a number of major art magazines were published in Beijing. It is also the most politically sensitive place, which made avant-garde practice and challenges to authority or censorship more controversial and sensational than anywhere else in the country. For instance, two influential national art journals, Meishu and Zhongguo Meishubao, were targeted in every political campaign, launched by government, in the 1980s. It is also very easy to make an art activity into some kind of political event. The best example was the China/Avant-Garde exhibition held at the National Art Museum of China in 1989, which was closed twice by the authorities because of Action Art connected with it.61 Like Shanghai, there were few vanguard groups in metropolises such as Beijing and Tianjin. Rather, exhibitions with Modernist tendencies took place in these big cities, organized by Salon-like organizations. Dreams, or more accurately, nightmares appeared in many artworks in these exhibitions, an expressive reflection of a traumatic reality, such as the collective or personal memory of, say, the Cultural Revolution, or other tragedies. November Painting Exhibition was held at the Palace Museum in November 1985. Featuring ten artists from Beijing, this exhibition was one of the most influential avant-garde activities in the Avant-Garde Movement. Among them, Xia Xiaowan and Ma Lu contributed Current of Life pieces, an inferno scene and a Neo-Expressionist work respectively. 61

The exhibition China/Avant-Garde is discussed in Sect. 4.3.

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Xia Xiaowan is an artist full of fantasy, grotesquery, whimsy, and eccentric ideas in his mind and art. Born in Beijing, he graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1982, and began teaching at the Central Academy of Drama, Beijing in 1984. Assimilating literal and artistic sources from China and the West, such as Shan Hai Jing or Classic of Mountains and Seas, Liaozhai Zhiyi or Strange Tales of Liaozhai, Romanticism, Magic-Realism, and Sur-realism, Xia Xiaowan painted what he titled “Wilderness Series.” An inferno-like scene seen in his “Untitled” provides audiences with a horrifying picture of a nightmare (Fig. 4.43). An out-of-proportion infant with wrinkles on his chest flies weirdly in his wings, and stares at a distorted, skinny, and flying rooster or phoenix, as another humanbodied bird loses energy and falls between them. At the top left, two human-bats hang on the ceiling of the hell, when other bats fly underneath. In addition, a person seems to be able to counter gravity and sits upside-down in the top center. A toddler-like person with a huge monstrous head that seems to be practicing Taijiquan, an internal Chinese martial art, on the bottom left. Another metamorphosed toddler walks or runs in an awkward way on the bottom right, as two fetuses lay inconceivably on separate wombs of one single body. The creatures that fly, fall, hang, sit, walk or run in a seemingly burning hell are similar to Marc Chagall’s gravity-resistant figures. Chagall, however, painted a fantastic and somehow amusing scenes to demonstrate his faith in Christianity, while Xia Xiaowan fabricated a horrifying inferno, reinforced by eyes staring with tremendous dread, either a picture of a nightmare or an innuendo of, say, the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. The fantastic imagination of the artist might have derived from his versatile sources, as well as his artistic intuition, critical to most of Current of Life artists. Ma Lu graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1982, then studied at Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg (Hamburg University of Fine Arts), West Germany, for two years. In Germany, he studied Modernism and PostModernism, Neo-Expressionism in particular, an unusual opportunity for young Chinese artists in

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Fig. 4.43 Xia Xiaowan, “Untitled,” c. 1985, oil on canvas

the early 1980s. “A Drama Is Just a Drama” (Fig. 4.44) is one of a four-piece series he painted after he returned to China. One of paintings that

Fig. 4.44 Ma Lu, “A Drama is Just A Drama,” 1985, oil on canvas

struck audiences the most in the November Painting Exhibition shows a half-white and half-red head, two pairs of fists with handcuffs, a large area of red background, plus a white cross in forceful strokes, which together generated a sense of bloody slaughter. Influenced by German Neo-Expressionism, an art school that emerged in the late 1970s, Ma Lu was fascinated by those artworks with a rough and violently emotional manner, and vivid color, especially the art of Georg Baselitz. Similarities can be seen from his ax-cut-like brushwork and upside-down “portrait” manner. However, Ma Lu attempted to inject those symbols – cross, fists, handcuffs, upside-down images – with strong or even explosive emotional elements, such as agony and desperation caused by violence, suppression and bloodiness, which inevitably brought about a political reading. This violent nightmare alluded to a reality that prosecuted intellectuals and other ordinary Chinese in the Cultural Revolution, or an expressive protest to societal suppression in general.

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Tianjin has been a metropolis where the East and the West met and integrated since the early twentieth century. Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts (TAFA) is one of eight art academies in China, which has been shadowed by the CAFA, Beijing, because of its geographical proximity (about one hundred thirty kilometers, or eighty miles apart) and the overwhelming resources it possesses. Nevertheless, there were still vanguard activities and exhibitions in Tianjin in the mid-1980s that drew great attention by art circle and the general public as well due to their visual and ideological impact. The Scenic Tibet Painting Exhibition held at the Gallery of Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts in January 1986 was one of the most influential shows in this period. Featured four artists, Sun Jianping, Li Jin, Yan Binghui and Lü Peihuan, all faculty of TAFA who went Tibet and taught there for a short period except for Yan Binghui, this exhibition did not display works of Tibetan landscape or lives, rather, the featured paintings demonstrated mainly spiritual experience that artists had in Tibet. It was criticized as “struggle with drunkenness” by some audience, because of wildness, mystery, primitiveness shown in featured works. In front of Li Jin’s works, . . . I felt that human and nature, soul and flesh, life and death, all are simple but miraculous, and cruel but beautiful process in time and space. He displayed, without modification, mystery and devoutness in temples, brutality and sacredness in sky burial,62 primitive nature of human and other creatures. Though a bit unrefined, they are full of strong vitality that makes us feel hot. Yan Binghui seems to be reconstructing something. His “Sun Series” praises nature, force, powerful soul, not unlike a roar from deep heart of a creature who returns to nature after longtime confinement and suppression.63

62

Sky burial is a funeral practice in Tibet and other western provinces in China, as well as Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia and part of India, in which a human corpse is placed on a mountaintop to decompose to be eaten by eagles. 63 Wang Xiangfeng, “Dangdai Yishi yu Guohua Xinchao – Jianping Xizang Fengqing Huazhan” (Awareness of Contemporaneity and New Trend of Guohua – Review on the Scenic Tibet Painting Exhibition), quoted from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art:

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Tibet with its unique culture has fascinated artists of many generations. In the 1950s and 1960s, Dong Xiwen and his fellow artists painted the happy life of Tibetan in new China, such as “Spring Coming to Tibet” (1954) and “The Uncultivated Land of Thousands of Years Was Turned Up” (1963), Chen Danqing showed his obsession with the Tibetan exotic lifestyle, mysterious customs and religious faith, as well as a sturdiness and monumentality of the topography and people in his “Tibet Series” around 1980 (Figs. 3.25, 3.26). To the generation of the vanguard artists of the mid-1980s, what Tibet amazed and stunned them the most was the state of tianren heyi, nature and human in one,64 in Tibetan’s everyday life. Li Jin’s “Impression of Tibet Series” impressed the audiences through its treatment of animal’s personification and human’s animalization. This reciprocity of morphology reflected the artist’s comprehension of Tibetan culture, Tibetan Buddhism in particular. When he saw the harmonious state of creatures – human beings, animals, plants – in the Tibetan Plateau, he seemed to have found something consistent among all creatures. Therefore, he saw personalities, like endurance, docility and diligence in cows and yaks, and animal features, such as wildness, strength, introversion in Tibetan men and women. In the “Impression of Tibet, #1,” we see a woman with a yak’s thick mane, robust build and concentrated facial features who gazed at the audience as if she were a domesticated animal, with a slender horse face in front view with braid-like ears next to her (Fig. 4.45). Traditional xieyi style of ink art reinforced the wild nature of the primeval state of the unity between human and nature, rarely seen in industrialized inland China.

1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, p.274. 64 Tianren heyi, literally “heaven and human integrate into one,” a tenet of Chinese philosophy, or an ideal of relationship between human and nature in ancient China.

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Fig. 4.45 Li Jin, “Impression of Tibet Series, #1,” 1985, ink on paper

Fig. 4.46 Yan Binghui, “Suite of Sun, #1,” 1985, ink on paper

Yan Binghui painted a sun with thick ink on dry brush in his “Suite of Sun” (Fig. 4.46). The sun, the creatures, and the topography were

rendered as an integrated whole. They are wild and full of energy, vitality and power. Rather than showing the subtlety of ink brushwork, he used

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an oil-like technique in an extremely expressive manner. The sun, all the creatures, and mountains shine, agitate, and roar, in either a state of genesis or the end of the world. His imagination captured the Tibetan Plateau, the closest place to the sun on the earth,65 or simply expressed an image from his subconsciousness, as the artist told the author.66 Jiangsu is a province that has a long history and wealthy legacy of literati art. Against this tradition, the Red • Journey group launched attacks as warriors of the Rationalist Painting camp, as more avant-guard artists chose to subvert it through the Current of Life approach. The New Wildness, Nanjing Artists, Sunday Painting Society, Rhinoceros Painting Society, Society of Red-Yellow-Blue Art, Black-White Creation Society are Modernist art groups, mainly in Nanjing and Xuzhou, Jiangsu. They sought to fight the genteel and playful attitudes shown in literati art with their unrestrained, powerful and mostly expressive art. Wildness became the theme of their art and an idealistic destiny for their restless heart and soul. Fan Bo, a member of the New Wildness group, was a theorist and one of the organizers of the group. As a student of Political Science, he had been interested in theory and criticism. He received an M.A. in Aesthetics, at Peking University, Beijing, in 1991, and attained his Ph.D. degree, again, in Aesthetics, from China Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing, in 2003. Among articles he wrote in the mid-1980s include “Founding and Art Views of the New Wildness Group,” “Emergence of New Barbarianism,” and “Evolution of Conception of the New Wildness Group.” As a self-taught artist, Fan Bo painted a series of ink pieces to express his nostalgia for the wilderness human beings had lost for a long time. 65 With an average elevation exceeding 4500 meters (14,800 ft), the Tibetan Plateau, also known as QinghaiTibet Plateau in China, is called “the Roof of the World” and is the world’s highest and largest plateau, 66 To check the fact, the author communicated with Yan Binghui via WeChat on August 18, 2017. He said he did not go to Tibet, like the other three participants did, and the suns in his series were from his imagination or “imagery from my subconsciousness.”

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Fig. 4.47 Fan Bo, “Ashiti Archipelagos Disappeared,” 1985, ink on paper

A jungle scene in violent ink brushwork, his “Ashiti Archipelagos Disappeared” was injected with his deep reminiscence of lost or dying primitive nature and culture (Fig. 4.47).67 Without much application of traditional gufa and cunfa (calligraphic brushwork and texture methods in ink painting respectively), the painting is full of expressive oil-like brushwork to contrive a jungle of old trees with twisted roots and gnarled trunks Ashiti, 阿希提, is a name of an island coined by the artist, which was close to Tahiti in the southern Pacific Ocean. The artist was either paying homage to Paul Gaugin who painted Tahitian women or was suggesting a utopian wildness where nature and human is one. 67

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Fig. 4.48 Qu Yan, “All Had Been Sinners before I Came,” oil on canvas, triptych, 1985

and branches, among which we can see the eyes or even faces of unidentified creatures. In Xuzhou, Jiangsu, Xuzhou Modern Art Exhibition, held in May 1986, was an extremely violent show organized by several avant-garde groups, including the Sunday Painting Society, the Rhinoceros Panting Society, the Red-YellowBlue Painting Society, and the Black-White Creation Society. The aggressive and provocative works in the show drew criticism that derided the artists as “animals,” “ugly and wild,” “psychotic with bipolar disorder,” and so on. In the manifesto of the show, the artists wrote, We were told one morning that God is dead. Various icons have been marked with a ‘cross’ in blood-red color. How can we rescue our restless souls? There are two Chinese characters for “destruction” written on the unsteady banner of the show. While we are relentlessly pushed by some incomprehensible desire to go forward, we are seeking a new God, touch his beautiful face – and then open fire to kill him.68

68

Quoted from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, p.286.

Audience might relate three parts of Qu Yan’s triptych, “All Had Been Sinners before I Came” (Fig. 4.48), one of the most impressive works in the Xuzhou Modern Art Exhibition, to Daoism, Buddhism and Christianity. Though the title implied its Christian source, this painting didn’t tend to signify or refer to any specific religion. Rather, it pointed to a primitive status of humankind, namely, a status in which human was still non-separated part of nature or universe. Except for the monk-like figure in central piece, “I” in the title, or the representative of culture, all figures were naturally naked and appeared dull red, a color perhaps close to the earth in its chaotic phase. The style could be inspired by Mexican mural, but most likely, by Henry Rousseau. The “sin” could refer to the pre-ethics phase, when no sense of shame existed. Although in a style close to the Current of Life, and not as “destructive” as the manifesto claimed, this triptych expressed the artist’s concern about nature and culture, religion and civilization, issues dealt with by most of Rationalist Painting artists, but in manner of Primitivism, plus Post-Impressionism. In addition, the title implied sense of elitism, as vanguard artists, natural ally of the Hermeneutics School, considered themselves of major force of the

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Fig. 4.49 Wu Pingren, “A Portrait of Two People,” 1986, oil on canvas

Enlightenment that had a mission to be a Savior of people’s spirit. Wu Pingren is one of major organizers of the Xuzhou Modern Art Exhibition and a leading figure of the Sunday Painting Society. He was the practitioner of the group’s principle of “destruction.” He painted “A Portrait of Two People” to demonstrate his understanding of wilderness (Fig. 4.49). Except for legs, two images have little to do with “portraiture.” Like assemblages of some kinds of metal parts, the top body of the two people are reminiscent of robots mixed with characteristics of kind of bio-physical creatures. The wildness to the artist is not primeval status of nature, rather, it is likely an unrestrained mechanical power which is hidden in subconsciousness and integral to human beings. If this is not destructive enough, Wu Pingren went further, and made his Pop art, inspired by Robert Rauschenberg who had a solo

show at the National Art Museum of China in November 1985.69 In his “History • Friction Series,” collage, ready-made, graffiti were randomly posited on and beyond the canvases, in which Duchamp’s image of Mona Lisa with mustache, a classic bust with blood on the face and a hole on forehead, and an electric power switch, wires, and broken buckets were juxtaposed at discretion. Overstepping traditional media, meaning painting and sculpture, then utilizing Pop art materials and methods showed an antagonist stance with destructive power in the middle 1980s’ China.

69

Robert Rauschenberg’s show had great impact on China’s avant-garde of the 1980s, especially the Anti-art trend, which is discussed in Sect. 4.2.3.1.

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Fig. 4.50 Wang Huanqing, “A Story of the Twelfth Lunar Month,” 1986, oil on canvas

4.2.2.3

Miyang Studio and Groups of Central China: Folk-Art as a Source and Absurdity in Life For some Current of Life School artists, folk art offered “research value” because of its origin, spirit and artistic features, and provided them with a potential approach to modern art through its antagonism to literati art. This stance was interesting because folk art had been in the mainstream for decades and was part of the tradition vanguard artists were about to attack. In fact, folk art, called “peasant art” in official ideology, played an awkward role in mainstream art in the Mao era. It had been used as a supplementary means in Socialist Realism to show multiple sources and the proletarian nature of official art as defined by propaganda officials. This utilization of folk art did not necessarily explore the essence of folk art; rather, it modified folk art for purposes of propaganda. In this case, folk art was not an object of research and exploration;

instead, it was more like an object of exploitation.70 Inspired by Matisse, Picasso and other western Modernists, artists from central China, mostly provinces of the Yellow River valley, found folklore a gold mine. In Hebei, three young artists, Duan Xiucang, Qiao Xiaoguang, and Wang Huanqing, organized a group called Miyang Studio,71 who resisted traditional literati culture through a return to primitive and folk-art traditions while searching for the root of the “wild freedom” of humankind, as Wang Huanqing explained. They tried to explore 70

Huxian Peasant Painting from Shaanxi, for instance, was a typical product of ideology-remolding during the Cultural Revolution. The painting made in this period carried basically propaganda content as the style of traditional folk painting was modified into a more “professional” manner through training by dispatched professional artists. 71 Miyang means ants in local dialect, thus here referring to, perhaps, humble grassroots who may achieve greatly as they are united and work together.

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Fig. 4.51 Qiao Xiaoguang, “Corn Field,” 1985, oil on canvas

the unique features in folk art in order to build their own art with the primitive power of life. Their first show, entitled New Works of the Miyang Studio, opened in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province, in January 1986, and was comprised 180 works of oils, ink paintings, papercuts, graphic arts and sculpture. Wang Huanqing’s “A Story of the Twelfth Lunar Month,” for example, absorbed great deal from peasant genre painting, such as the busy composition, bright coloration, and multiple vanishing point, to display a festive atmosphere in preparation for the Chinese New Year (Fig. 4.50). “Corn Field” by Qiao Xiaoguang exemplified this artistic objective: to blend all kinds of folk-art elements under a Modernist orientation (Fig. 4.51). He considered his study of folk-art serious research and scholarship. “Folk-art” to him had a very broad definition, though an art critic might not agree with him: northern Shaanxi and Henan’s paper-cuts, peasant painting, ancient cliff painting, totem images, Buddhist statues, stone reliefs of the Han Dynasty, and illustrations of the Song and Yuan Dynasties are all included in his database. The “Corn Field” is filled with

golden yellow corn, clumsy human figures and livestock, distorted toy-like houses and trees, producing a Chinese folklore type of pastoral. The perspective he used – linear one-point perspective on the top combined with a bird’s-eye view but flattening treatment for the rest – reinforces a sense of primitiveness, a manner common in many Chinese folk paintings. The so-called tianren heyi, nature and human in one, the highest spiritual realm in traditional Chinese philosophy, seems to have been realized in this primitive scenery. Duan Xiucang might not be a big fan of folk art but created a hybrid of Rationalist Painting and Current of Life instead. Looking at “A Clearing White Night” of 1985, audience might sense both the metaphysical and the primitive at the same time (Fig. 4.52). Painted with ink on paper, this is by no means traditional shanshui although it appears as such. The surface appears more like on outer space, reminiscent of Shu Qun’s “The Absolute Principle” (Fig. 4.9), illuminated by the mysterious and cold light of metaphysics, thus associated with an unworldly sphere. However, the foreground consists of a

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Fig. 4.52 Duan Xiucang, “A Clearing White Night,” 1985, ink on paper

cone-like peak surrounded by several lower round hills, seemingly a sterile land of primordial times. A textured raindrop and fiber-hemp cunfa were applied to these mountains, providing a sense of desolateness and bleakness, much more primitive than the fervent land in Southwest Art Research Group artists (see Figs. 4.38, 4.39, 4.41), because few traces of cultivation can be found here. Young artists from Anhui seemed to be more interested in absurdity in everyday life, a philosophical category new to Chinese avant-garde artists in mid-1980s. When Existentialism appeared in China, Jean-Paul Sartre became one of most-discussed western philosophers. Albert Camus’s Absurdism, considered as an integral part of Existentialism by many researchers,

however, remained in coterie of academia. To vanguard artists, instead of a theoretical conception, the absurdity might be the sentiment they acquired from their everyday life. Anhui artist Chen Yufei, for instance, tended to explore the essence of human life in his acrylic piece “Life” (Fig. 4.53), an effort that could be in vain but worth doing, as with Sisyphus,72 according to Camus. The backs of two persons with uncertain or ambiguous gender, race, and age, are intertwined in a surrealistic way. The most

72 Sisyphus was the king of Corinth in Greek mythology. He was forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, repeating this action as a punishment when the stone would continue to roll down for eternity.

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Fig. 4.53 Chen Yufei, “Life,” 1985, acrylic

striking part is the texture of their bodies, their skin in particular, which looks either carved stone, petrified mummies, or even standing corpses. Rather than two vital lives, they might suggest two entities that reveal the relationship between life and death, the temporal and the eternal. Ling Huitao, an active artist who assisted with the preparation, organization and sponsorship of the Mt. Huang Conference and exhibition China/ Avant-Garde (see Sect. 4.3.2), is the artist who understood absurdity in art the best and incarnated it with a highly intriguing manner. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? This is a century-long inquiry that relates to essence of life. In his “People on Another Side of the Wall Discussing Which Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?” he threw the question to another side of the wall (Fig. 4.54). In a blue tone, the artist painted an unimaginably queer scene. A blind woman sits on a chair and sells popsicles, the only part in the painting that is logical or “normal.” A boy and a dog lay on their backs on the ground in a weird way. A hand, an unidentified animal (a yellow weasel perhaps), a mouse, a goblet and a toy drum (probably) float to the right of the woman, as a camera flies to the left.

On the bottom right is a straw hat on a giant pair of chopsticks, next to a wooden lunch box. After careful looking, one can find out even weirder images on her head. They are neither a hat or a headdress, but a head of an old man and a skull instead! There are various kinds of unidentified figures and objects that are mounted onto or protrude from the wall behind. They sit on top of the fragmented wall as specters. The last eerie part is the huge glass tube between the woman and the wall in which a girl stands facing the wall. What do all these grotesque figures and objects have to do with the question – which one comes first, the chicken or the egg – that is discussed on another side of the wall? As we saw in Ye Yongqing’s painting, specific titles are characteristic of Avant-Garde Movement.73 In many cases, the title became an integral and unique part of the artwork, such as, Yang Yingsheng, “Pigeons Screened by Backs and the Magic Cube That Is Floating Away” (Fig. 4.14) Yang Zhilin, “Humans Evolve from Fish – Humans Like Eating Fish” (Fig. 4.13) Guan Ce, “Solace from the Interior” Geng Jianyi, “The First Shaven Head in the Summer of 1985” (Fig. 4.19) 73

See footnote 59 in this chapter.

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Fig. 4.54 Ling Huitao, “People on Another Side of the Wall Discussing Which Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?” 1985, oil on canvas

Wang Qiang, “The Adagietto in the Beginning of Second Movement, the Fifth Symphony” Zhang Peili, “X? Series” (Fig. 4.18) Yang Hui, “The Thing It Emerges of Itself and Perished of Itself in China’s Qingming Festival” Red Humor Group, “Red 70 %, Black 25 %, White 5 %” (Fig. 4.25) Gu Wenda, “Tang Poem in My Calligraphy – Wrongly Written, Missed, Reversed, Artistically Calligraphic, Song-Dynasty-Type-Faced, Meaningless, Upside-down, and Homonymous Characters” (Fig. 4.36) Ye Yongqing, “She Whom Is Peeped at by a Horse Outside and Us Whom were Gazed at by Her” Ma Lu, “A Drama Is Just a Drama” (Fig. 4.44) Qu Yan, “All Had Been Sinners before I Came” (Fig. 4.48) Huang Yongping, “A History of Chinese Painting and A Concise History of Modern Painting Washed in a Washing Machine for Two Minutes” (Fig. 4.84)

Jiang Zhusong, “The Ultimate Inquiry ¼ Illusion and Nihility” Cao Xiaodong, “The Thing Has Been Done This Way” Yu Ping, “The Bulb Is Broken,” “The Bulb Is Broken Again” Jiao Yaoming, “Either Water or Fish” Ren Jian, “Sky, Earth and Underworld: Man As King Within” Qu Yan, “An Extremely Beautiful Computer Simulation of the Nervous System of Painter’s Wife”

These titles describe artworks in a specific way, with humor, cynicism, or merely descriptive (in the cases of Yang Yingsheng, Yang Zhilin, Geng Jianyi, Red Humor Group, Gu Wenda, Ye Yongqing, and Huang Yongping), or they might have nothing to do with the artwork (in the cases of Guan Ce, Wang Qiang, Zhang

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Peili, Yang Hui, and Ma Lu). It might make lukewarm relationship with the work (as in Qu Yan’s case), as some titles sound like aphorisms or epigrams (see in the cases of Yang Zhilin, Ma Lu and Qu Yan). The tendency that created special titles for certain purposes should be considered under the conceptual context of the vanguard art of the 1980s. The sources and interpretation could be possibly found in philosophical speculation, stream of consciousness, Neo-realism and profanity of the sacred. Ling Huitao applied similar tactics. Apparently, the title has little to do with the painting. Nevertheless, he claimed that the work was the result of a combination of three components. First, he heard the debate between his grandpa and others several times when he was a child; second, he even argued it with someone in his dream; finally, he saw a blind woman who told fortunes to passers-by when selling popsicles. He even said that two clouds seen from the hole on the wall are symbols of the chicken and the egg.74 This logic might not be easy for audience to comprehend who felt the irrelevance between the title and the picture, which became the source of sense of absurdity. There are the ridiculous, the preposterous, the absurd in life and art. While an unreasonable thing, words or event can be called “the ridiculous,” “the preposterous” may refer to the illogical thing, mostly words. The absurd, however, possesses philosophical significance. It is the irrational, opposite to the rational and the serious, and contains the unreasonable, the illogical, but with profound meaning. In Existentialism, absurdity is defined as a futile effort to seek meaning in a meaningless and objectiveless world. Thomas Nagel, an American philosopher, encourages people seeking the absurd to find irony. “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” could be a meaningless question which has been debated for generations. When Ling Huitao painted all kinds of unreasonable, illogical and irrational things and objects in a “realistic” Ling Huitao, “Qianyishi yu Lixing Huihua” (Subconsciousness and Rationalist Painting), Meishu, issue 5, 1988.

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manner and threw the question to another side of the wall, a sense of absurdity wells up in the audience’s mind. The irony here is, at least, the mockery of the “realism” that had dominated China’s art for decades, because what realism or socialist realism rendered was actually unreal or fabricated, thus absurd.

4.2.2.4

Groups of Inland Provinces and Tibet: Subconsciousness and Sense of Mystery The avant-garde in the area of inland China and remote Tibet were scattered in a variety of cities, with varied tendencies and approaches. The vanguard artists in this area, however, primarily concentrated on intuition and subconsciousness in life and art, as many Current of Life did. In the Avant-Garde Movement, the southwest was the most active area in inland China, parallel to the avant-garde of the east coast. The Southwest Art Research Group, as discussed above, has been one of the most influential groups in the nation. The most active part of southwest China was Sichuan province, where Scar Painting and Rustic Realism appeared in late 1970s, and many avant-garde groups were organized across the province, in cities such as Chongqing, Chengdu, and Fuling, in the mid-1980s. In the remote provinces of southwest China where the largest concentration of ethnic minorities lives, such as Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi, and even Tibet, some avant-garde groups and exhibitions also emerged. Three influential exhibitions were organized by three avant-garde groups. The first was the China Anonymous Painters Society, found in Chongqing, Sichuan, by Yan Xiaohua and Zhao Runfan in 1982. Like a guerrilla force capable of fighting anywhere, the group held exhibitions and various activities from Sichuan to Beijing. Their first nationwide exhibition, the First National Exhibition of the China Anonymous Painters Society, opened in Nanquan Park Gallery in Chongqing in October 1985. There was no dominant or hegemonic orientation among the works displayed, but rather a common thread of seeking free experimentation, “To pursue freedom is absolutely the first priority for our artists. The

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refusal of any art doctrines and criteria is our principle. What we admire is that art is a completely irrational action,” wrote the artists in the exhibition catalogue.75 Another amateur artist group existed in Fuling, Sichuan, where it organized a show entitled First Perspective Painting Exhibition, bring a fresh breath of modern art to the public in this small city. The largest unofficial exhibition in Sichuan in the 1980s was the Sichuan Youth Red, Yellow, Blue Modern Painting Exhibition, organized and financed by about seventy young artists. It took place in the largest exhibition space, Sichuan Provincial Exhibition Center, Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, from June 21 to July 6, 1986. The show resulted in the founding of the group Sichuan Red, Yellow, Blue Painting Society on December 7, 1986. In Guangxi, a province with mainly minority people known as Zhuang, there was also an avantgarde exhibition titled Ether Painting Exhibition, which took place at the July First Amphitheater from April 27 to May 1, 1986. The unprecedented exhibition attracted an audience at about forty thousand and was said to be the most sensational event ever held in Guangxi in decades. In Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, and of Tang China from the seventh to tenth centuries, after a four-year silence in the art world caused by the authorities’ shutdown of the Xi’an First Modern Art Exhibition, organized by nine students of Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts (XAFA) and seven students of Xi’an College of Foreign Languages in 1981, a new wave of avant-garde art suddenly flourished in 1985. In October, ten young artists organized Exhibition of Painting of Vitality, in which they displayed about one hundred pieces of modern sculpture and painting. The exhibition, like the most avant-garde group exhibitions elsewhere in the Avant-Garde Movement, demanded a response from the audience. A Visitors’ Book was placed in the exhibition space to collect the Zhao Runfan and Yan Xiaohua, “Yishujia yu Yishu” (Artists and Art), 1985, unpublished, quoted from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, p.315. 75

audiences’ opinions. The artists demonstrated their aspiration for freedom in the catalogue preface, “For art, there is no rule, no criteria, no sample, no model, no success, no perfection, no number one, no eternity; but there are, in art, thought, emotion, consciousness, pain, loneliness, shout, laughing out loud or cry, obsession or insanity, Bohemia, and boundless sea of tribulation. The law of art is one word, change.”76 In November 1986, the Cape of Good Hope Modern Art Exhibition was organized by fifteen young faculty members of Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts and about eighty works were exhibited. In December 1986, two more experimental shows opened in Xi’an, including Modern Design and Travelling and Exchanging Show of Modern Art. About twenty artists founded a group, Qinghai Youth Art Society, in Qinghai on October 12, 1986, and held a self-financed exhibition in Qinghai Provincial Art Museum, titled Cold Dew Painting Exhibition.77 The artists said humbly, “Even in a marginal area like Qinghai, we can also experience the impact of ’85 Art Movement. Although our works may not be able to catch up with the tendency of the movement, what we want is to express our restless emotions and feelings.”78 In northwest China, the most active avant-garde activities were found in Gansu province, and the vanguard artists of Gansu should be proud that one of the earliest avant-garde exhibitions in the Avant-Garde Movement took place in Lanzhou, the provincial capital. Avant-garde experimental art practices can be traced back to the late 1970s, just after the end of the Cultural Revolution, when a few amateur artists were involved in exploring Zhang Guangrong, “Zhanlan Qianyan” (Preface of the Exhibition), see ibid. pp. 303–304. 77 “Cold Dew” (hanlu) is the seventeenth of twenty-four solar terms in traditional East Asian, Chinese in particular, lunisolar calendars that matches a particular astronomical event or signifies some natural phenomenon, falling usually in the period between October 8 to 24, when cold dew can be seen on plants in the early morning. The artists applied the term to either simply give a hint of time period or implication of humbleness of their art, or both. 78 Qian Zhengkun, “Qingqingshe ji Hanlu Huazhan” (Qinghai Youth Art Society and its Cold Dew Painting Exhibition),” Zhongguo Meishubao, issue 46, 1986. 76

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modern individual styles. Their effort initiated the later avant-garde movement of Lanzhou. In 1981, several artists, including Cao Yong and Cheng Li, organized a modern art exhibition, Innovative Painting Exhibition, which opened in Five-Springs Mountain Park in April 1981. Having absorbed various western modern art forms, their artwork featured “art for art’s sake” and expressed the artists’ goal of breaking out of the old ideological barriers. Between 1981 and 1984, self-organized group shows were strictly banned nationwide, and experimental art could be only executed underground, at home. For instance, Cao Yong and Cheng Li held solo shows at their homes and secretly invited a small circle of writers and artists to visit. In 1983, when Cao Yong, Cheng Li and other artists were disappointed by the conservative organizational approach of the Sixth National Art Exhibition, they didn’t apply to participate in this official show, but decided instead to organize an oppositional exhibition in Gansu at the same time. Unfortunately, it didn’t take place due to the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign, launched by the government. After the official national exhibition closed in 1984, the artists started to set up their exhibition in a very secret way and for a very

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short time – one day and two nights. On December 20, 1984, the exhibition Exploration, Discovery and Expression opened at the Lanzhou Workers’ Cultural Center to show the works of five artists led by Cao Yong. The exhibition caused a sensation and a controversy. Because of its provocative tone and the overwhelming reaction from the public, it was said to be another Stars exhibition in Gansu and was called even more radical than the Stars activities in Beijing in 1979. This exhibition inspired many young artists to join the five-man group, later enlarged to fifteen. In August 1985, seventy-nine works by these fifteen artists were displayed in another avant-garde exhibition, titled August 85 New Art in Lanzhou. The approach of this avant-garde art group was very similar to that of other Current of Life artists, who advocated an anti-urban pastoralism or regionalism, along with the exploration of individual desire, based on an individual’s intuition and subconsciousness, which, they argued, had been suppressed by collective rationalization. Among them, Cao Yong was one of the most radical artists. His collage work entitled “The Scheme of Modern Tragedy” is a good example. In the No.1 piece (Fig. 4.55a), a huge monster,

Fig. 4.55 (a, b) Cao Yong, “The Scheme of Modern Tragedy, No.1-2,” 1985, oil and collage on canvas

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Fig. 4.56 Yang Shufeng, “A Play,” 1986, wood

with the body of a rat, a pair of ox horns, an evil mouth, frog claws, a pair of glasses, and smoke coming from its nose and anus, flies in the sky. To its tail is tied a banner of slogan, “In this daytime, under the moonlight, I depart from Freud’s home,” below which there are many classical and modern buildings mixed in disorder to symbolize a “village of the earth.” On the top were decorative mountains that were in fact a constellation of breasts. In the No. 2 piece (Fig. 4.55b) was another monster with a large head and open mouth with lots of sharp teeth visible. Beneath it were thousands of female bodies. Inside its mouth were various images of women, including the Mona Lisa, Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman and Chinese female celebrities. These could convey the fear of and castigation to the alienated humanity stemming from both authoritarianism and modernization, or nightmare from the artist’s subconsciousness, showing Freud’s impact on modern art in this remote province. Yang Shufeng’s wood piece “A Play,” however, was an authentic artistic play of form, color and texture, with potential implication of confinement or diversionary gesture (Fig. 4.56), an artwork derived most likely from the artistic instinct. In April 1986, a Tibetan avant-garde group led by Li Yanping held the Exhibition of Paintings by Five Artists from Tibet in the Beijing Working People’s Cultural Palace. The five featured artists, born and educated in inland provinces, had lived in Tibet for variety of years, and displayed works

that combined abstraction and a realistic technique to represent Tibetan cultural and religious themes. The artists included Zhai Yuefei, Chen Xingzhu, Qi Yong and Li Zhibao. The “Modelling for Tibet,” by Li Yanping of 1987, for example, comprised of ink, color and sheep wool, imitates the topography and geography of Tibet, to impress audiences with the mysterious elements of Tibetan religion, including the worship of human reproduction (Fig. 4.57). This mystery emanated from a belief that has deep root in Tibetan life and culture. Li Xianting considered the exploration of Tibet by vanguard artists, from Tianjin and Tibet in particular, as “the Third Tibetan Fever,” as Dong Xiwen in the 1950s and Chen Danqing in late 1970s were called the first and the second respectively. Unlike the gaze at Tibet and its people, the vanguard artists attempted to look at this special culture from an equal point of view. He said, (They) started from concepts of philosophy, life even religion, and plunged into, with heart and soul, the experience in primeval mountains and rivers, primitive life of villagers, and predicament in Tibetan Buddhism, in order to find way to selfrecognition and “return” together with their souls. . . .Neither an archaic or primitive scene, nor a rough and brown face, what they did and wanted was to confirm their own power and value through equally breath and exchange with the strange spirit they yearned for, on the desolate path full of mystery and thrill, in the single-handed contest against nature and primitive culture.79

The mystery, to those vanguard artists, was in the primeval topography, Tibetan life and spirit, especially their religion. The exploration was not only pointing to the land of mystery, but more importantly, focused on their own spiritual transcendence through their experience in that miraculous land. Li Yanping’s experience of this land sounds intriguing and thrilling, “Standing on the mountaintop, I face a world with surreal colors, where glaciers melt to flowing water, then converge into rivers, as transcendent sound of Buddhist long 79 Bahuang (Li Xianting’s penname), “Xizang Re” (Fever of Tibet), Zhongguo Meishubao, issue 36, 1986.

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Fig. 4.57 Li Yanping, “Modelling for Tibet,” 1987, ink, color and wool on paper

horn echoes in the coagulated air. White, dark red and black buildings were constructed as a prodigious kingdom of religion. . . . I’m looking for the charm of primeval religion, from which I tended to acquire the way of thinking that is the most primitive but at the same time the most modern, macroscopic but contradictory. It still turned out a mixture of variety of complex contradictions.”80 Looking at Chen Xingzhu’s “A Shepherdess” (Fig. 4.58), one may recollect He Duoling’s “Spring Breezes Have Arrived” (Fig. 3.24). 80 Li Yanping, “Yishu Biji” (Notes of Art), Zhongguo Meishubao, issue 25, 1986.

When He Duoling painted a girl cowherd, a buffalo and a dog to express his meditative mood and predicament, Chen Xingzhu made himself an integral part of the land of mystery. The shepherdess was painted in an expressive manner, like a phantom with a distorted face, especially her unfathomable eyes. The white sheep “flies” as a spirit over the black land. Sky and land are in deep darkness and generate a sense of mystery, and distant hills and clouds are like supernatural phenomena rather than natural objects. We may consider the shepherdess as reincarnation of the artist himself. He said, “at this moment I myself gradually became part of painting, which enables

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Fig. 4.58 Chen Xingzhu, “A Shepherdess,” 1986, oil on canvas

my heart transcending this world and identifying with the universe.”81 To vanguard artists, Tibet is neither a Shangri-la in communist China as shown in Dong Xiwen’s painting, nor the object of exoticism represented in Chen Danqing’s “Tibet Series” (Figs. 3.25, 3.26). It became a unique vehicle that could transmit artists’ spirit to a transcendental sphere through a mysterious approach.

4.2.3

Anti-Art: Non-easel and Conceptual Approach

The emergence of the Anti-Art trend, primarily in the year of 1986, was at first the result of an antagonism to traditional media, particularly easel painting. As we saw in the previous two trends, oil panting played a crucial role in the vanguard art prior to 1986 because a majority of artists were students or graduates of oil painting department in art academies. Another stimulating agent for this trend was the detachment from real life, and illusion in pursuit of eternal nature in metaphysics, embodied in Rationalist Painting. To the Anti-Art artists, transcendence should be realized in the real world and real life, rather than in an utterly visionary world. Anti-Art included 81

Chen Xingzhu, “Yishu Biji”(Notes of Art), ibid.

an expansion of art media, Action Art, art activity as cultural event, and return as a Post-Modern stance. Conceptual art, seen in Xiamen Dada, led by Huang Yongping, became the epitome of Anti-Art, because of its concepts, strategy and methodology.

4.2.3.1 Expansion of Art Media “Ready-made” is a concept that the vanguard artists learned directly from Robert Rauschenberg’s solo exhibition at NAMOC in November 1985. There were comforters, a bull skull with long horns, automobile tires, a wagon with photos, lamps and other objects inside, plus many two-dimensional pieces with a variety of ready-made objects attached.82 Although most audiences were bewildered, avant-garde artists seemed to have discovered a new continent of art. The sense of emancipation excited them, and they enthusiastically created their own Pop art when they returned home. Hu Zhaoyang and Wang Baijiao, an artist couple from Hubei province, made “Abandoned Dream” by using a sort of Rauschenberg vocabulary (Fig. 4.59). Reversed and cut soft-drink cans, as well as an intact can and several fragments 82 International Travelling Show of Rauschenberg Art, organized by Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI, Fig. 4.1), was also displayed in Lhasa, Tibet, in December 1985.

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Fig. 4.59 Hu Zhaoyang and Wang Baijiao, “An Abandoned Dream,” 1986, mixed media

were organized into a refined but non-traditional metallic relief. One sensed the sounds of light music from the rhythm of up and down, plane and volume, straight lines and curves, convex and concave, and light and shadow in this composition. Their traditional training in composition in art academy was obvious, that is, the balance between dense and open, light and dark, and different textures. The significance of this Rauschenberg-inspired piece was its direct relationship to the rhetoric of hegemonic discourse – “Art is from life and above life.” It points out the hypocrisy of this rhetoric. When most Chinese were struggling with the hardships of real life, what they saw in official art was nothing but smiling faces and exciting celebrations. The artists wanted to tell audiences that life was just what you see and what you feel every day, and that art was not something above life, it was indeed the life surrounding you day and night. Similar in medium, Dong Chao, an artist from Shandong and leading figure of the group Black Union, abandoned entirely academic rhetoric when producing his ready-made work. The “black” in the group name refers to “Black

Culture,” the replacement of “Gray Culture or Feminine Culture,” as the group manifesto proclaimed. The color black, to them, symbolized dreams, phantoms, mysteries, the universe, a vast other shore, agony, the solemn and the stirring, seriousness, will, the powerful and the strong, and the aggressive, etc.83 Inspired and obsessed by abandoned fragments found in garbage, Dong Chao cut nearly a thousand pieces of “tinned can sculpture” (Fig. 4.60). Sharp-pointed and incisive, they presented an aggressive character, reinforced by their bright shiny surface and texture. He felt pleasure when cutting that made the working process an exciting and significant activity. He told Wang Xiaojian, a critic, “I see sculpture in life everywhere,” and “my work is to play and destroy.”84 83 “Heise Lianmeng Xuanyan” (Manifesto of Black Union), unpublished, quoted and paraphrased from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, p.379. 84 Dong Chao, “Gei Wang Xiaojian de Xin” (A Letter to Wang Xiaojian), ibid. p.381.

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Fig. 4.60 Dong Chao, “Untitled,” 1986, tinned can

Li Han, another organizer of the Black Union, Shandong, also utilized the ready-made in a radical manner, the painting frame in his case, to protest ossified tradition of painting. The group proclaimed that their artistic ideas were influenced by the philosophies of Nietzsche, Freud, and Sartre, and refused to accept any so-called “culture.” The only thing they admired was the earth and its freshness, and they said, “We glorify life. We know nothing about how to create art, but just follow our own inclinations.”85 The first collective work by the group was an action project called “Painting Frame Series,” which involved the artist Li Han going through holes cut in framed canvases, aiming at expression of the Anti-Art stance, or masochism. For instance, Li Han put his head and hands into two holed canvases as a culprit with yokes in ancient China, implying antagonistic attitude toward the convention of art and culture (Figs. 4.61 and 4.62). To Wang Jiping, a Shanxi artist, Andy Warhol’s Pop Art seemed more powerful than Rauschenberg’s. He believed that the refinement of ready-mades could weaken its power and finally transform the nature of Pop art. His “Banners” consisted of a miscellany of various banners and other objects from ritual scenes, 85 “Xinchao Ziliao Jianbian” (Brief Report of New Wave Art Documents), Zhongguo Meishubao, issue 39, 1986.

Fig. 4.61 Li Han, “Painting Frame Series,” 1986, Action Art

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Fig. 4.62 John Thompson (British), “A Prisoner with a Yoke-like Shackle,” 1870s, photograph

taverns, kitchens, etc. or simply made and painted by the artist (Fig. 4.63). All were hung on a wooden rack randomly. The bright and dark red colors of the objects were chosen intentionally to intensify the wild, primitive and shocking effect. Obviously, it was a statement in opposition to genteel literati taste. It was a combination of Pop art and China’s stage art. Compared to Hu Zhaoyang and Wang Baijiao’s “Abandoned Dream,” the “Banners” seems more radical and closer to the tastes of ordinary audiences, a posture that more vanguard artists assumed to separate themselves from mainstream and academician trend.

4.2.3.2

Action Art: Metaphoric Body and Sense of Ritual Among radical Anti-Art works, such as the assembly of ready-made, an outdoor exhibition of oil paintings and sculpture, and conceptual art,

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etc. Action Art seemed to be the most popular and powerful ways for Anti-Art artists to subvert traditions, that is, Socialist Realism as well as Rationalist Painting within vanguard circles.86 The activism was promoted in the radical art manner during this period. The way of implementation of activism was xinwei yishu, a Chineseversion performance art. However, xinwei yishu could be better translated as “Action Art,” because it focuses on the artist’s action, which could take place in either public or private space. Introspection and a sense of ritual rather than a spectacular effect were its main characters. The term Action Art can be differentiated from Performance Art and Happenings. While Performance needs an audience, a Happening occurs spontaneously. Action, however, is usually a planned activity and takes place with or without audiences on site. For artists so engaged, Action Art was the best means to promote a true connection between life and art. For the first time in Chinese art history, artists discovered that their body could be the subject of artmaking, a vehicle or object of their emotions and sentiments simultaneously. Unlike readymade collages or assemblages, influenced directly by Rauschenberg’s exhibition in China, the direct inspiration of actions was difficult to track. Most likely those artists learned about Performance and Happening from imported publications, rarely accessible to most young artists in China in the early 1980s. Moreover, they were probably inspired by religious or political rituals, meditative activities, and stage art in the Chinese tradition. In 1985 and 1986, we saw Action Art in Shanghai, Beijing, Taiyuan, Hangzhou, Xuzhou, Guangzhou, and Xiamen, most are coastal cities. As if by prior agreement, most of Actions involved body wrapping, with a sense of ritual. Artists used their bodies as metaphors of cultural crises, enlightenment, individualism, or even utopian ideals. Together, their investigations created one of the most powerful rebellions against mainstream art, challenging the Rationalist Painting vogue within the avant-garde. See footnote 4 in this chapter for the concept of “Action Art.”

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Fig. 4.63 Wang Jiping, “Banners,” 1985, mixed media

Fig. 4.64 Wang Jiping, “A Standing Person” (in fact, a lying person), 1986, unsuccessful action, Taiyuan, Shanxi, China

The artists of Three-Step Studio, Taiyuan, Shanxi, were obsessed with new media. Wang Jiping, the artist who made the “Banners” (Fig. 4.63), attempted to have himself tied to a large cushion, made of twigs of chaste tree, then lifted up as if a “Standing Person” (Fig. 4.64) against a wall on which ceramic works hung, comprised mostly of scary masks and ancient weapons. Unfortunately, he remained prone on

the floor because no one would assist him upright due to internal dissension among artists. Thus, the exhibit failed to represent a ritualistic martyrdom. However, the Song brothers of the group acted successfully on site two days later. Song Yongping and Song Yonghong created a large bright red backdrop and used black tree trunks to suggest a primitive or tribal setting, and “ancient” potteries to indicate a kind of

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Fig. 4.65 Song Yongping and Song Yonghong, “Experience on the Site,” 1986, Action Art, Taiyuan, Shanxi, China

early civilization in Yellow River valley. Wrapped with red and white cloth and painted with the same colors on the exposed parts of their bodies, they sat silently, or moved very slowly, to create an atmosphere of meditation, a sense of ritual (Fig. 4.65). Entitled “Experience on the Site,” they felt “our mind was extremely loose, but highly nervous and reached a nearly insane status.” All kinds of illusions appeared, “a net of fire consisted of perplexities, a piece of dead leaf, a piece of enigma, a colony of ants, a piece of (pork or poultry) offal, or a razor. . .”87 While spectators could be brought into a contemplative status, the artists experienced something irrational, subconscious or bewildering. One of the intriguing factors in this action was its colors, red, black and white, an interesting combination that could stimulate something sanguine or generate something contemplative. The metaphor here might point to positive attitude to the ancient civilization in which a primitive and primeval status of human beings with true color retained. In Guangzhou, the Southern Artists Salon, founded by Wang Du, Lin Yilin, Chen Shaoxiong and others, organized the First Experimental Show, a mixture of Action, painting and music (Fig. 4.66). Unlike other Action Artists in the mid-1980s, this Guangzhou artist group withdrew Song Yongping and Song Yonghong, “1986. 11. 4. 15–17 Shi, Yige Jingxiang de Tiyan” (3–5 pm. Nov.4, 1986, Experience on the Site), Meishu, issue 2, 1987. 87

artists from implementation of Action. They planned and selected the venue for action, but let others, professional dancers here, to act. Instead of action, this piece is more like a performance. Performers wore white tights like plaster statue, and the gender features were reduced to the minimum. They moved slowly on a setting with tens of white platforms, with slow-pace music, thus creating a solemn rather than dynamic performance. Interestingly, performers and artists behind had different mentality. One performer recollected, “different from what I did before, I was in a selfless, impromptu status as I acted.”88 Wang Du, an artist who graduated from the department of sculpture, Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, and the major organizer of the Action, considered it a moving sculpture to “go beyond sphere of spirit and corporeality, and confirm sublimity of life and death. . ., through authentic and spontaneous experience.”89 These Guangzhou vanguard artists tended to remove the boundaries between different art forms and eliminate obstacles between artists, artworks, and audiences on the one hand, and transform bodies of professional dancers into a symbol of spiritual

Quoted from “Zuotanhui Jiyao” (Minutes of the Roundtable Discussion), Zhongguo Meishubao, issue 42, 1986. 89 Wang Du, “Quxiang Dangdai Yishu Benti de Wutai Fangshi” (A Staged Way toward Real Contemporary Art), ibid. 88

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Fig. 4.66 Southern Artists Salon, scene of the First Experimental Show, 1986, Action Art, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, Guangdong

Fig. 4.67 Zhang Guoliang, Ding Yi, Qin Yifeng, “Cloth Sculpture on Street,” 1986, Action, Port Wusongkou, Shanghai, China

purification or catharsis and sublimity in a mobile manner, on the other. Shanghai artists Zhang Guoliang, Ding Yi and Qin Yifeng simply called their action “Cloth Sculpture on Street,” executed in a ruin close to the Port Wusongkou (Fig. 4.67), the Cafeteria, People’s Hotel, in front of Shang Exhibition Center and Shang Art Museum, respectively. In the first case, they used a 20-meter long cloth to have three of them wrapped together, to make a difficult “potable sculpture.” Without any audience except a photographer and several artist friends,

they generated various postures, standing, halfcrouching, horseback riding, embracing, that became a variety of group statue, and accompanied by the sound of ocean waves. “Getting rid of both the world and ego, we approached a spiritual purification after transcendence of our corporeality.”90 When acted in downtown Shanghai, however, the action became an interactive event. The audience demonstrated all kinds of Quqian, “Budiao — Yici Yishu he Ziwo de Biaoxian” (Cloth Sculpture – an Expression of Art and Ego), Qingnian Yidai (Youth Generation), issue 3, 1987.

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reactions, including curiosity, surprise, concern about suffocation, and even assistance, which is far beyond the effect a still sculpture could generate. In other words, art entered the everyday life of ordinary people. Therefore, as the first action could be a metaphor of freedom, the rest became the symbol of art merging into real life. The activism of the M Art Group condemned elitism. Founded by Song Haidong, a student of sculpture who graduated from Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, in October 1986, the letter “M” in the group’s name stood for “men,” “montage,” and “Mephisto (or “Mephistopheles”).” As all group members were male, “montage” symbolized their incorporation of different elements. “Mephisto” was a metaphor of their art, a demon against industrialized society. The artists of the M Art Group advocated in their manifesto-like statement that artists should walk out of ivory tower, plunge into the real world and interact with real people. Abandon those artificial inventions, discard your haughty airs that hold your nose up, stop every experiments that appear individualistic but is in fact to develop your abnormality, put an end to those rambling fantasies that tend to exceed society and yourself, correct all distorted, rebellious mindset and abnormal behavior that are against social morality and responsibility, resist the confined lifestyle. . . Re-evaluate quotidian lifestyle, shoulder sacred responsibility, participate with society and real life, and be an everyman and normal person.91

This attack seems to spear elitism reflected on both Academician art externally, as well as Rationalist Painting internally. To Academician art, beauty and formal elements were the priority and the artists considered themselves part of Ivory Tower, not unlike artists of western bourgeois of the early twentieth century. The public is the recipient of their beautiful art. M Art

Song Haidong, “Gei Wang Xiaojian de Xin” (A Letter to Wang Xiaojian), Oct.14, 1987, cited from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, p.384. 91

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Group artists believed that elitism within the vanguard was embodied by Rationalist Painting artists, whose metaphysical pursuits were called “rambling fantasies” by M Art Group artists that was detached or alienated from society and real life. Those elitists considered themselves enlightened, according to the M Art Group, and herded the public as if they were a flock of sheep. On December 21, 1986, a series of Action Art by this group took place in the theater of Shanghai Workers Cultural Palace. Sixteen members successively got on the stage, enacting a silent action in solo or group, in front of about two hundred people, including poets, college students, journalists and art lovers. Lasting one and a half hours, the event took place randomly without a consistent logic line. Although the connection between life and art was emphasized, a lot of violence and even torture occurred. Song Haidong in his “Destruction of an Artwork, A Luxury Like Women’s Cosmetics,” destroyed one of his own oil paintings with an ax. After being attacked by a couple of participants, he poured gasoline on the painting and burned it outdoors. In Yang Dongbai’s Action, titled “A Form of Mummery,” he struggled with a large piece of white cloth, that dropped from above and covered him. He fell and “bled” the cloth, but he continued struggling. “A Ritual,” an Action by Tang Guangming, was the most violent. He wore underwear only with a white flora hoop on head and was clamped onto a wooden rack by two people, then beaten with willow branches, and finally collapsed onto the stage (Fig. 4.68). Zhou Tiehai, naked, stood and shouted, “Nietzsche is dead, and I’m China’s Nietzsche,” while two artists punished him by pricking his back with needles (Fig. 4.69). Then everyone fell, and the lights went down. When the artists were wrapped, covered, bound, beaten, and pricked, they suffered physically from confinement and torture, similar to the persecution that many intellectuals suffered during the Cultural Revolution. Experiencing these agonies created their collective memory of this insane decade, and expression of their own spiritual torment when facing their own political and

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Fig. 4.68 Tang Guangming (M Art Group), “A Ritual,” 1986, Action, Shanghai Workers Cultural Palace

Fig. 4.69 Zhou Tiehai and Yang Shu (M Art Group), “Violence,” 1986, Action, Shanghai Workers Cultural Palace

social predicaments. Their bodies referred to a physical and spiritual agony, and a sense of ritual that memorialized those who lost their lives ten

years ago, and loss of artists’ vitality and creativity today, all enacted in a radical manner of violence, sadism or even masochism.

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Fig. 4.70 Concept 21 Group, Action, 1987, the Great Wall, Beijing, China

To create a sense of ritual, artists sometimes chose specific sites in which to act. Concept 21 group, consisting of Zhao Jianhai, Zheng Yuke, students from CAFA, and Sheng Qi, Xi Jianjun and Kang Mu, from CAAC, used the Great Wall as a stage or backdrop for their witchcraft-like ritual, in which the grandeur of the Great Wall was replaced by a mysticism or even a kind of superstition (Fig. 4.70). In the twentieth century, the powerful image of the Great Wall has become a symbol of the greatness of China, as it is one of the largest man-made constructions in the world and the product of labor that had spanned around two thousand years.92 The skepticism adopted by the avantgarde and reflected in the Great Wall project can be found in many actions and conceptual art dealing with the wall.93 The Concept 21 group 92 Several parts of the Great Wall were being built as early as the seventh century BC. The Great Wall has been rebuilt, maintained, and enhanced after famous portion built in Qin Dynasty by Qinshihuang, the first Emperor of China in 220–206 BC. The majority of the existing wall was built in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). 93 Gao Minglu used a chapter, “Reconstructing Historical Memory: The Great Wall in Twentieth-Century Chinese Art,” to discuss the Great Wall’s role in Chinese culture, history and art, contemporary art in particular, on the exhibition catalogue by Gao Minglu, The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art, Beijing: Sunvale Culture, 2005, pp. 189–208.

artists, started their Action Art on December 23, 1986, when they participated in the festival of literature and art at Peking University, Beijing, and contributed a singular work to the event. Accompanied by young faculty and graduate students from CAFA, including Zhu Qinsheng, Fan Di-an, Kong Chang-an and Hou Hanru, five art students were wrapped red, black or white strips of cloth after taking off their clothes, painted or poured paints on them, and someone cut their hair weirdly. They walked or rode a bike in campus, posed and acted randomly, with drums beating and cymbals clashing by Zhu, Fan, Kong and Hou. Eventually, a question-and-answer session took place in front of a dining hall because audiences, mostly Peking University students, were highly enthusiastic about the action and had lot of questions about it. Unlike other Action artists, Concept 21 chose specific sites for their actions. Peking University campus, the Great Wall, Summer Palace ruins, etc. were either symbols of academic freedom, national defense, or a humiliation in history. The Actions enacted in these contexts were imbued with metaphorical significance. Established in 1898, Peking University had been the flagship for new ideas and trends in China, taking a leading role in the New Culture Movement during and after the May Fourth Movement, 1919. Artists

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felt excited or even surprised when their action was well received by students at Peking University, as there was a great resonance between vanguard art, radical and novel action in this case, and its recipients in this historical university. On the dilapidated or rebuilt Great Wall, the Action’s allegorical meanings could be manifold: an ineffective defense, a symbol of nationalism, or witchcraft as a national emblem. The Action on the Summer Palace ruins invoked the onecentury-long collective memory of when the European-designed complex of royal palaces and gardens were looted, destroyed and burned by British and French troops in 1860.94 Thus wrapping, and witchcraft-like movements and postures, could carry meanings of humiliation, depression, and mysticism.

4.2.3.3 Art Activity as Cultural Event Although Action Art had interacted with the audience, it was an independent art action per se, in other words, audiences were still essentially passive spectators. These actions took place with either a physical boundary between the action and the viewers, like cases of the Southern Art Salon, M Art Group, the action in Peking University campus by Concept 21, or a conceptual separation between the two, as in actions of Shanghai’s “Cloth Sculpture on Street,” or no audience on site at all, as seen in Xiamen Dada’s seashore action, Song Brothers’ meditation and Concept 21’s Great Wall action. Therefore, the merging with life remained essentially in words. Vanguard artists from Nanjing, Taiyuan and other places chose to go outdoors and into the public spheres to make substantial contact with art audiences and the general public. Thus their art could have more opportunities to become a cultural event instead of an object being appreciated in a confined space. Visual art as a cultural form was the issue in which artists and critics were interested and studied in the middle of 1980s. Zhou Yan wrote an essay entitled “Visual Art as a Form of Culture” 94

Looters, in fact, included local residents who lived in the areas near the Summer Palace, which has never been mentioned in the official history and textbooks.

and claimed that visual art, especially contemporary visual art, should be considered as a form of culture thus play important role in the Enlightenment. Four sections, “Culture is the result of interpretation of tradition,” “Cultural significance of visual art and the art for human beings,” “Creation of modern art should point to culture and human beings,” and “Construct a visual culture based on philosophical hermeneutics,” made the connection, for the first time in China, between visual art and culture, as well as human beings, and advocated the ideal of construction of modern visual art as a form of culture in China. The author pointed out that this construction should fulfill, ideally, three goals, namely, building human being’s sense of value and dignity; enriching human sensory experience and uplifting their level of rational thinking; and arousing human’s power and activating their creativity.95 Although idealistic or even utopian, this perspective, expanded from art to a broader and comprehensive sphere, was critical for the development of the avant-garde in China, because the goal of this art was not evolution within the art field, but revolution in culture instead. Nanjing, the capital city of Jiangsu province, was another important base for avant-garde practice. The Red • Journey was the most renowned group in Nanjing. Ding Fang, the major figure of the group, was a Rationalist painter who was devoted to quasi-religious themes of sacrifice. The group was the principal organizer of the Jiangsu Youth Art Week: A Large Exhibition of Modern Art. The New Wildness group emphasized and pursued primitivism and individual freedom in its art, opposing the approach of the Red • Journey’s Rationalist Painting. The movement in Nanjing peaked in 1986 with an open-air exhibition called Basking in the Sunshine, which took place in Xuanwuhu Park on September 1 and October 5, respectively (Fig. 4.71). Nearly one thousand artists participated, local artists at first, then provincewide the second time, displaying a total of about See Zhou Yan, “Zuowe Wenhua de Shijue Yishu” (Visual Art as a Form of Culture), Wenyi Yanjiu, issue 2, 1988, pp.142–148. 95

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In the mid-1980s, when some art activities, such as the practice of Xiamen Dada, attacked the institutional framework of art production and exhibition, some Anti-Art artists rejected the institutional system altogether. Song Yongping, Wang Jiping and other artists of the Three-Step Studio, Shanxi, enacted a cultural project in July 1987, called “Country Art Activity” (Fig. 4.72). They took their ceramic works to remote villages in an attempt to communicate with illiterate peasants. They made niche-like spaces on adobe walls to display their work, surrounded by yellow banners that were hung on trees making a festive, ritual-like yet somehow mysterious ambience. The motto, “Serve the People,” endorsed by Mao, demonstrated the paradox of populism and the hypocrisy of Mao’s ideology in contemporary Chinese society. “The Country Art Activity” represented an attempt at a purified process of art production, with neither a propagandist purpose nor commercial aim, common in the 1990s.97

Fig. 4.71 Nanjing artists, Basking in the Sunshine, outdoor art activity, 1986, Xuanwuhu Park, Nanjing, Jiangsu

seven hundred works. The goal of this selforganized activity was to eliminate any institutional barriers confining young artists. It also allegorized the illness of the contemporary Chinese art world and prescribed as a treatment the taking of healthy sunlight. Artists who participated the first Basking in the Sunshine organized a third one at Datangjin Island, Nanjing, in 2002. Rather than painting and sculpture, actions dominated the activity that paid homage to the first two activities and advocated even more radical manner of contemporary art. About two hundred artists contributed seventysix “pieces” of art, as the principle of generosity, tolerance, contribution, health, freedom and brevity, which artists believed are properties of the sun, remained.96 96 See Guo Haiping and Huang Yao edited, Shai Taiyang: Kuayue Ershinian de Yishu Xingdong – Zhongguo

4.2.3.4 Return as a Post-Modern Stance When Post-Modernism came to China, artists and critics responded from different perspectives. One reading of Post-Modernism was to connect it to tradition because of its emphasis on the historicity of culture and convention. Returning to a localized past but retaining vanguard principles became a strategy of some artists, especially those from Hunan and Hubei provinces. In ancient times, Hunan and Hubei were territories of the State of Chu.98 Derived from Nanjing “Shai Taiyang” Yishu Huodong Wenxian (1986–2006) (Basking in the Sunshine: An Art Activity Traversing Twenty Years – Literature on the Art Activity entitled “Basking in the Sunshine” in Nanjing, China, 1986–2006), Nanjing: Jiangsu Fine Arts Publishing House, 2008; Guo Haiping, edited, 2002 Nanjing Shai Taiyang Loutian Yishu Paidui (2002 “Basking in the Sunshine” – An Outdoor Art Party), Nanjing: Nanjing Milong Design and Print Limited. c.2003. 97 The same group of Shanxi artists launched their two-month “Country Project 1993,” see Sect. 5.3.2. 98 Chu included most of the present-day provinces of Hubei and Hunan, plus parts of Chongqing, Guizhou, Henan, Anhui, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shanghai

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Fig. 4.72 Three-Step Studio, “Country Art Activity,” 1987, outdoor activity, suburb of Taiyuan, Shanxi

the Zhou states of the Yellow River valley in central China which were considered the cradle of Chinese civilization, they held a central position in history. Chu, primarily in the Yangtze River valley from eighth to third centuries B.C., gradually became a successful expansionist state during the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 B.C.), then a great Warring States period power (475-221 B.C.). With such a cultural history, the present-day Hunan and Hubei provinces, the successor of Chu culture seem to have an inherited heterogeneity that differentiates them from central China, its dominating culture in particular. In the period of Avant-Garde Movement, Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, was considered theoretical center of the movement by some artists and critics because of the publication of Meishu Sichao, an art journal that focused on critical and theoretical issues rather than artwork and art making. Hunan artists sent their exhibition, entitled Joint Exhibition of Hunan Young

Artist Groups, to the National Art Museum of China in November 1986, to show an alternative type of modern art in the national center of culture, the only one of this kind in the Avant-Garde Movement. This mountain-stronghold mentality had been popular in China, but artists and critics from Hubei and Hunan became the ones who took actions to proclaim their special identity as an alternative modern or Post-modern art. Chu culture in its indigenous era (approximately after sixth century B.C.) featured a spirit of romantic mysticism, guiqi (smack or atmosphere of ghost, literally) in Chinese, based on Daoism, Shamanism with some Confucian glosses, as well as native folk influence. Images of serpents, phoenixes, dragons, tigers, free-flowing clouds, etc. appeared on bronze, lacquerware, textiles, and coffins, mostly burial objects, excavated from Han tombs in Hubei and Hunan. In today’s folk art, particularly folk music, people can still hear or see vestiges of ancient Chu culture.

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Fig. 4.73 Huang Yali, “Tranquility and Solemnity Series,” 1986, wood

In the middle 1980s, the official art organization, CAA of Hubei and CAA of Hunan, seemed more open than those of the rest of country. For instance, in early 1986, Hubei CAA, led by Zhou Shaohua, a painter who had been a teenage soldier of the Red Army in the Civil War of the 1940s, decided to organize a large art festival to enliven the conservative Hubei art world by encouraging young artists to organize and fund their own exhibitions. In August, a number of critics, Gao Minglu, Zhu Qingsheng, Zhou Yan and Wang Xiaojian, were invited by the Hunan and Hubei CAA respectively to give lectures in Changsha, the capital of Hunan, and Wuhan, the capital of Hubei. They introduced artworks in the Avant-Garde Movement, which astonished the young artists in these two provinces. In November 1986, the largest art event in the Avant-Garde Movement started under the title Hubei Youth Art Festival in nine Hubei cities, including Wuhan, Huangshi, Xiangfan, Yichang, Shiyan and Shashi, etc. About two thousand works were displayed at twenty-eight exhibition spaces. A striking characteristic of the works was a trend toward fusing vernacular culture, including ancient sources of Chu culture, and contemporary styles. In addition to art shows, there were lectures, symposiums, slide shows, even ball

games and dance parties, like a carnival for youngsters. For example, the sculpture “Tranquility and Solemnity Series” by Huang Yali, a woman artist, shown in the Gallery of Hubei Institue of Fine Arts, was constructed with elements of house utensils and ritual vessels as objects of sacrifice excavated from Chu tombs, but in an organic manner (Fig. 4.73). Its texture of lacquer container, form and coloration of Chu textile and sacrificial devices, brought about a sense of ritual full of mysterious flavor but masculine strength, a modern interpretation of “abstracted” spirit of Chu culture. As Huang Yali utilized Chu art elements in her wooden sculpture, Fu Zhongwang absorbed nutrition from this tradition in general. He said, “My (artistic) genes are from bronze vessels of Shang and Zhou dynasties, lacquer art of Chu, folk art and western modern art.”99 In his “Between Heaven and Earth,” there are variety of signs and symbols that tend to demonstrate discourses of Chinese philosophy, religion and 99

Quoted from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, p.426.

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Fig. 4.74 Fu Zhongwang, “Between Heaven and Earth,” 1986, sculpture, wok and cloth

mythology (Fig. 4.74). Eight woks were welded through iron bars into four pairs. Two pairs are with woks facing each other and another two, back to back. They hung corresponding, formally or numerically, to the status of chaos in the genesis of the world in Chinese mythology; Yin Yang, a Daoist concept of opposite but complementary, interconnected and interdependent forces; heaven, earth and human beings in between, defined by Daoism (implied by the title); four directions; and Bagua, the Eight Trigrams, used in Daoist cosmology.100 In addition to the central piece, the number five may refer to Wu Xing, a fivefold conceptual scheme that many traditional Chinese fields used to explain a wide array of 100

Bagua are eight trigrams used in Daoist cosmology to represent the fundamental principles of reality, seen as a range of eight interrelated concepts. Each consists of three lines, each line either “broken” or “unbroken,” respectively representing Yin or Yang. The trigrams have correspondences in astronomy, astrology, geography, geomancy, anatomy, the family, and elsewhere. The ancient Chinese classic, Yi Jing, consists of the 64 pairwise permutations of trigrams, referred to as “hexagrams“, along with commentary on each one. See https://en. wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagua, available on Oct.11, 2017.

phenomena.101 The central piece is a sculpture, an interpretation of the notion “Between Heaven and Earth:” human, represented by two arms and two feet, stands between heaven and earth, represented by a sphere on top and a cube beneath respectively, according with tianyuan difang, an orbicular heaven and a square earth, an ancient Chinese concept of the world. While five yellow mantles hung behind, a sense of ritual and order was generated as if the audience had entered a monastery where the god was synthetic deity of Daoism and other indigenous Chinese faiths.

101 Wu Xing, the Five Elements, Five Phases, the Five Agents, the Five Movements, Five Processes, the Five Steps/Stages and the Five Planets of significant gravity: Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, Venus, Mars. It is a fivefold conceptual scheme that many traditional Chinese fields used to explain a wide array of phenomena, from cosmic cycles to the interaction between internal organs, and from the succession of political regimes to the properties of medicinal drugs. The “Five Phases” are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. This order of presentation is known as the “mutual generation” sequence. In the order of “mutual overcoming,” they are Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_ Xing, available on Oct.11, 2017.

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Fig. 4.75 Wu Guoquan, “Biography of Black Ghost #7: Asking the Spirit in the Netherworld for Divination,” 1986, ink on paper

If we could say that Huang Yali tended to explore mysterious elements from “ghostly” Chu culture, Wu Guoquan and other Hubei artists from JL Group attempted to probe a “ghostly” atmosphere in contemporary world, an effort to regenerate a spirit of ancient Chu culture. Wang Xiaojian, a critic, summarized this “new ghostly atmosphere” as “secretive logic, mysterious and primitive signs, grotesque and absurd form, and whimsical ambience.”102 Wu Guoquan, named himself “Black Ghost,” painted a series of ink pieces “Biography of Black Ghost,” suggesting that he was one of the successors of the ancient, “ghostly” Chu culture. In “Biography of Black Ghost #7: Asking the Spirit in the Netherworld for Divination” (Fig. 4.75), several whimsical eyes, hidden in a large area of shanshui-like background, stare at the viewer. It was executed

in cun, ca and ran, typical outlining and texture methods of brushwork and inking in traditional Chinese painting.103 The images are not traditional at all, especially the two heads on the bottom. Protruding from nowhere, their faces are deformed so that it is hard to tell if they are human or ghost. To the general public, they look more like people who live in bottom of the society and suffer from economic destitution or deprivation of political rights. The young artist groups and their exhibitions dominated the contemporary art world in Hunan. About ten groups were organized in 1985 and 1986, including 0 Art Group, Weeds Painting Society, Piling Stones Painting Society, Huaihua Group, 9.30 Painting Society, Young Artists Group of Fine Arts Publishing House, etc. The best-known group is 0 Art Group, which included

102 See Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, p.428. Wang Xiaojian wrote Chap. 5, “Transcendence and Return: New Wave Art of Post’85,” which discusses mainly “Anti-art,” “Artistic Return” and “Post-modernism in China.”

103 The terms of cun, ca and ran, are methods of outlining and texture in inking and brushwork. Cun refers to contour outlining and shading, as ca supplements to cun to provide rough texture of mountains or rocks by very dry brush to rub in a nearly horizontal position. Ran can be a method of either coloring or inking, by putting on a wash of pigment, ink or both on the surface. See “Chinese Glossary” in the end of this book.

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Fig. 4.76 Hunan 0 Art Group, “Weekend,” 1985, aftermath of an opening reception in the gallery

sixteen artists with an average age of 25. What does the “0” mean? The answer can be found in the manifesto of the group, written by Luo Mingjun, a woman artist, “0 is a symbol of our group. 0 makes us think about sun, the origin of the world, and our splendid ancient civilization. Our consciousness emerges from ground 0, where the future meets and crosses the past, and expands infinitely forward. 0 is also the perpetually moving wheel of our age taking us toward the future.”104 The artists deployed various modern forms such as surrealism, expressionism, cubism, photorealism, pop art, happenings, and so on, in their group show held from Dec.25, 1985 to Jan.5, 1986. Most of the works were of a pop nature, combining readymade objects and happenings, a creative application of Rauschenberg’s method, just demonstrated at the National Art Museum of China weeks ago. For instance, in the small yard between the two galleries, the artists left intact the tables, stools, wine bottles and debris of an opening reception as a work called “Weekend,” showing

Luo Mingjun, “Women de Yishuguan” (Our Ideas of Art), quoted from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian and Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, p.401.

104

their antagonistic and somehow cynic attitude toward art and life (Fig. 4.76). “To return” to Hunan artists could suggest returning to real life, their ego, or even folklore, a Totem culture, characteristic of Chu culture, sometimes feminine but still ghostly. Luo Mingjun is a woman artist of 0 Art Group, and a young faculty of Department of Fine Arts, Hunan Normal University. Her ready-made piece “Myself” consists of a pair of “embroidery shoes,” a typical traditional Chinese woman’s footwear (not real embroidery shoes here because of no production then but ones with Peking-opera mask painted on them by the artist), and a piece of rubber hose, on a wooden board grounded by lithopone, recollecting Picasso’s “Bull’s Head” (Fig. 4.77). However, Luo Mingjun creates an eastern female face rather than that of a western male. She used the shoes that she wore and carried her personal experience as eyes. Higher on both sides, they are similar to danfeng yan, literally red phoenix eyes, meaning slanted, amorous eyes, a type of traditional beauty. When the Freudian notion “ego” became popular in 1980s’ China, the artist returned to herself by showing her self-image with self-esteem, a stance of individualistic value.105 105

The artist told the author that she was afraid of that people would connect the shoes with poxie, literally broken shoes, meaning a loose woman in Chinese slang,

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Fig. 4.77 Luo Mingjun, “Myself,” 1985, readymade

The Huaihua Group was founded in Huaihua, a western Hunan city, whose members were faculty and students of the Department of Fine Arts, Huaihua Normal College. Western Hunan has been considered one of the most bucolic but mysterious areas in Hunan because of its mountainous topography and relatively confined culture with hundred-years-long history of bandits. To the Huaihua Group artists, western Hunan is an Arcadia which has not been contaminated by modern civilization nor acclimatized by literati culture. The folklore and folk art here is still full of the primitive, the unconstraint, the simple and unsophisticated, the vigorous, the concealing, and the mysterious. These artists had gone to Congjiang county, in southeastern Guizhou, close to Hunan, ten times to experience and capture the “ghostly” atmosphere. Congjiang is a county where Miao and Dong ethnics are major populations. Zhao Songyuan painted the ink piece “A Family of

Totems,” which epitomizes the essence of the ghostly atmosphere permeated in western Hunan culture (Fig. 4.78). A symmetrical composition becomes an assemblage of components of a monster totem, which looks like traditional patterns seen in zharan, a tie-dye fabric, produced by the resist-dyeing methods, popular in western Hunan and eastern Guizhou. The images, however, are inspired by a combination of taotie,106 patterns or decorative motifs from folk embroidery, and zharan, a modern family of totems, that embody indigenous art and visual culture. Weeds Painting Society was founded on December 25, 1983, the first Modernist art group in Hunan. The group, led by Mo Hongxun, held three exhibitions in Xiangtan, Hunan, in January 1985, September 1986, and February 1990 respectively. In the preface of the first show, the artists proclaimed, “Weeds grow freely, The taotie is one of the four evil fiends in Chinese mythology and a motif commonly found on Chinese ritual bronze vessels from the Shang and Zhou dynasties, https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taotie available on Oct.18, 2017.

106

because artists were told to make art with a positive meaning, rather than to make something politically incorrect or express themselves freely.

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Fig. 4.78 Zhao Songyuan, “A Family of Totems,” 1986, ink on paper

and art does too. . . . Art needs to be highly principled, human’s conscience, and (artists’) fine quality of un-ingratiation and enjoying solitude.”107 The manifesto-like statement shows their aspiration for freedom of art expression, reflection of human principles and conscience without losing their dignity and loftiness. In the works displayed in the shows, Weeds Painting Society artists utilized their realistic technique that they learned in art school to deal with a variety of subjects from the rethinking of ancient civilizations, reflection on indigenous culture with heavy burden of tradition, and issue of life and death, etc. Mo Hongxun’s return pointed to both ancient civilization and modern mechanical culture. He painted “Dialogue,” in which a

107

Mo Hongxun, Wu Debin, Wang Shuiqing, Chen Bingeng, Qingchun Sanshi Nian: Yecao Huahui Wenxian 1984 Nian – 2014 Nian (Thirty Years of Youth: Documents of Weeds Painting Society, 1984–2014), Changsha: Advance Art Museum, 2014, p.6.

Shang-dynasty bronze vessel tried to converse with the Venus de Milo but were separated by a seemingly impassable chasm. Thus, the dialogue between the two civilizations was suspended and remained only as an ideal. His “Machine and Man” was an effort to explore the relationship between human and mechanic culture (Fig. 4.79). As the machine was rendered as a colossus with giant screws, pipes, valves, spacers, and gaskets, the man, or more accurately, an ape or anthropoid, appeared small, powerless and helpless. Like ’85 New Space artists, Mo Hongxun pondered the crisis that industrialization brought about in modern times. Rather than a critique of human inertia under the impact of modern industry as in the art by Zhang Peili and Geng Jianyi, Mo Hongxun painted a “self-portrait,” a lone spirit who aspired to return to a primeval status of civilization. At a time when Chinese were eager to modernize, the artist’s statement embodied his profound and advanced speculation on crises and predicament that Chinese

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Fig. 4.79 Mo Hongxun, “Machine and Man,” 1986, oil on canvas

would face soon. In fact, the environmental crisis burst onto the scene in China in the 1990s when urbanization was accelerated nationwide.

4.2.3.5

Xiamen Dada: Epitome of Anti-Art Xiamen Dada, marked by the exhibition Xiamen Dada – Modern Art Exhibition held in the newlyopened Xiamen Art Museum, Fujian province, September 28 to October 5, 1986, was wellknown for its radical attitudes and actions under the leadership of Huang Yongping. Huang’s activities and ideas demonstrated that concepts of the Anti-Art School were based on his profound understanding of past and current art as objects of cultural critique. As a representative of Anti-Art, Huang was the spiritual leader. His art of 1983 to 1989 had four phases, developing from studio work to site-specific art, and eventually to conceptual art. In the conceptual stage, he

shifted to cultural critique while his artistic means became more and more conceptual.108 His first phase was defined by Antiaestheticism. He used a spray gun and factory paint instead of traditional studio supplies to make a series of paintings of industrial materials. He believed that mechanical force represented a modern spirit, and that spraying eliminated the decorative and artificial features in art identified as “aesthetical art.” 108

As most artworks in these phases were made or executed by Huang Yongping, some activities in discussion were carried out as group art, while the action on the beach, led by Lin Chun, was executed without Huang’s presence. Discussion on Huang Yongping’s four phases of development is based on the section “Huang Yongping and Xiamen Dada,” in Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, pp.337–352.

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Fig. 4.80 Huang Yongping, the artist working at his roulette with products, “Non-expressive Painting: Roulette Series” (on the wall), 1985

His second phase refuted both self-expression and formalism. This phase was marked by his “Roulette Series.” Inspired by the gambling device, he designed his own roulette wheel, which was inscribed with various numbers, symbols and dices representing different kinds of oil pigments, ink and acrylic (Fig. 4.80). When spinning the wooden wheel, the painter was told where paint should be put on the canvas, while throwing the dice determined the selection of paint. Expressions of subjective emotion and formalist approaches were replaced by a chancedominated process of execution. Ironically, these pieces resembled Pollock and appeared very “expressive!” Huang Yongping accepted this reading, but he exhorted the audience, “To understand a painting one must go deeper into the method by which this painting is made, instead of just looking at its result. The result is not as important as the method.”109 This chancedominated process is reminiscent of French artist Jean Arp’s “Collage with Squares Arranged according to the Law of Chance,” composed with randomly arranged torn paper, made in 1917. Although both using chance in artmaking, Arp’s was accidental, as Huang Yongping designed a device and let it make decision.

109

Ibid.p.342.

Anti-Art. In this period, Huang Yongping and other “Xiamen Dada” artists began to introduce Dada into their art, referring not only to Duchamp and his comrades of the early twentieth century, but also to Yves Klein, Jasper Jones, Joseph Beuys, John Cage, among others. As one critic pointed out to Huang and his comrades, “Dada is an alias for non-art or Anti-Art, and its meaning is to negate something or to consign it to nihility.”110 Huang Yongping mentioned three aspects of his art in this period: the destruction of the medium of painting, the appropriation of the image, and the search for a specific way of displaying painting. All these aspects could be seen in his works shown in Xiamen Dada – Modern Art Exhibition, in which Huang and his comrades displayed their Anti-Art works. However, the most radical Anti-Art action of the Xiamen Dada artists in this event was the burning of works after the exhibition in October 1986 (Fig. 4.81). More than sixty pieces – sixty percent of all featured works – were burned on the square in front of Xiamen Art Museum while hundreds of spectators watched. Two months later, this group carried out another action, Event Occurred in the Fujian Provincial Art Museum (Fig. 4.82). If the first action destroyed what we called art, the 110 Fan Di-an, “Guanyu Xiamen Dada” (On Xiamen Dada), Ibid. p.344.

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Fig. 4.81 Xiamen Dada, “Burning Artwork,” an action after the Xiamen Dada – Modern Art Exhibition, 1986

Fig. 4.82 Xiamen Dada, Event Occurred in the Fujian Provincial Art Museum, 1986

second introduced non-art objects into the art institution – iron wire fence, timber, carts, prefabricated architectural components, old painting frames, an air-blower, worn sofa, cane chairs,

and couches were moved from the courtyard of the museum into the exhibition hall. One and a half hours after the opening, authorities shut down this “crazy” show, on December 16, 1986.

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Fig. 4.83 Lin Chun and other Xiamen Dada members, “The Men Wrapped by Red Cloth, together with Reefs, Ocean and Vault of Sky,” 1986, Action Art, Xiamen, Fujian, China

This event can be considered the first attempt at institutional critique in China. One year later, they dumped more than ten of their paintings, which were taken away by a garbage truck at a regular collection time. The action was called “Artwork Became Trash, 8:30-10:00 p.m. 11/9/1987.” Lin Chun and a couple of other Xiamen Dada artists implemented a simple action to show their Anti-Art stance, “The Men Wrapped by Red Cloth, together with Reefs, Ocean and Vault of Sky” on a beach, in Xiamen, a coastal city in Fujian province (Fig. 4.83). In fact, Lin Chun and his comrades considered this action an embrace of nature, and at the same time, transcendence of empirical experience. He said, “My blood type is B, a sanguine person. I like anything rational the best, because it is what I don’t have. I love the art with solemnity and sublimity, which could lift your soul up.”111 Thus, seemingly an empirical action on the beach carried metaphysical significance, ironically, like the pursuit of Rationalist Painting. Anti-Art-history. This was the most significant step in terms of the discursive revolution, a stance that many leading vanguard artists held. As a part of history and culture, art history was narrated Lin Chun, “Gei Fan Di-an de Xin” (a Letter to Fan Di-an), Nov.29, 1986. Quoted from ibid., p.353.

111

with certain discourses in certain cultural circumstances. Its narratives and rhetoric were products of specific cultural contexts; in turn, they guided or led contemporary art in a special direction. The shift from art to art history reflected Huang’s profound insight into this crucial sphere. He produced two major works in this phase. In the project “Book Collection,” he glued together, page by page, The Story of Modern Art by Norbert Lynton (1980), a German-born British art historian. Huang had traded one of his paintings for this book from an international student at ZAFA in 1984. Eventually the book became a paper brick and symbolized the “closure of the history of modern art.” On December 1, 1987, Huang Yongping executed one of his most antagonistic conceptual works, entitled “A History of Chinese Painting and A Concise History of Modern Painting Washed in a Washing Machine for Two Minutes” (the former is written by Yu Jianhua, a Chinese art historian, in 1962; while the latter, by Herbert Read, British art historian, in 1959, with Chinese edition in 1979, which Huang used., Fig. 4.84). As the former was the most authoritative magnum opus in its field and read in all art academies, the latter, the first translated monograph of its kind, was the most influential text on modern Western art in the 1980s’ China. This work articulated his

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Fig. 4.84 Huang Yongping, “A History of Chinese Painting and A Concise History of Modern Painting Washed in a Washing Machine for Two Minutes,” paper pulp displayed, 1987

Anti-Art-history attitude in a very strong and radical way and became the first, most poignant and frequently cited conceptual art work in the history of Chinese contemporary art. The artist remarked on this work in a cynical tone, “two-minute running of a washing machine completed a combination of paintings of the East and the West, a much better job than the debate that has lasted a hundred years.”112 When Hans Belting, a German art historian, published his The End of History of Art in 1987,113 Huang Huang Yongping, “1987 Nian de Sikao, Zhizuo he Huodong” (Thinking, Art-making and Activities in 1987), in Fei Dawei ed. 85 Xinchao Dang-an (Documents of the 85 New Wave), Shanghai People’s Press, 2007, p. 481. 113 Hans Belting, The End of the Art History? was translated from German into English by Christopher Wood, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. The author

Yongping touched upon the issue of art history as a discipline in the humanities. He believed that writing the history of modern art was creating a war on art, because artists and their nations had fought for a legitimate position in this history, and nationalism played such a large part in this narrative. Although he had to involve in this kind of competition, he insisted to oppose it, because his ideal was to let art be a natural part of human life, or a lifestyle, rather than an agent of competition. Huang Yongping’s case was especially significant because we can see how a Chinese avant-

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discusses “the conceptual models that have shaped the discipline of art history,” “The end of the history of art” refers to “the end of a particular conception of artistic development as a meaningful, progressive historical sequence” (See https://www.amazon.com/End-HistoryArt-Hans-Belting/dp/0226042170), reflected in the “Euro-American centered” art histories.

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garde artist moved his focus, step by step, from art to discourse in the 1980s. Looking at Huang’s art made in France and other countries in the 1990s, it is not difficult to trace his footprints from the critique of art, to the critique of art history, and, finally, to the critique of culture.

4.2.4

Artistic Language of China’s Avant-Garde

One of the main critical comments by critics of China’s avant-garde was its form or language. The comments included basically two aspects. First, the critics complained that the artists did not make an effort to paint well or simply worked abstractly because they were unable to paint figuratively. Second, the artists imitated western modernism, thus created no masterpieces, and art itself has not been developed. To investigate the issue of form in China’s avant-garde produces a better understanding of contemporary art and answers those critical comments.114

4.2.4.1

Language and Unity of Essence and Its Vehicle The term “language” in art is different from the language in linguistics. This is not only because the former is visual while the latter, textual and symbolic, but more importantly, in linguistics, language has a signifier (form and sound) and a signified (an object that is signified or the meaning). Artistic “language” corresponds mainly to the “signifier” in linguistics, thus, refers to the external status of artwork, namely it is structural scheme, consisting mainly of shape, color, space and movement, in addition to artistic technique. Most of the time, the terms “language” and “form” are interchangeable. 114

The discussion on the artistic language of China’s avant-garde is based on Chapter 8, Sect. 4, “Wenhua Xuanze yu Yuyan Xingtai” (Cultural Selection and Forms of Language), in Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, pp.660–684. This is the part written by Zhou Yan.

Formalist Approach of Academic Art The “need for visual pleasure” could explain why “beauty of form” and “abstraction” became hot topics in China in the late 1970s and early 1980s, not to mention the practice of formalism, as seen in the murals of the Capital Airport in the late 1970s and Wu Guanzhong. This aesthetic trend was influenced mainly by Gustav Klimt and Amedeo Modigliani. In academic art, foreign influences proliferated; there were roughly seven kinds: 1. Classic flavor: references were mainly to JeanDominique Ingres and Rembrandt van Rijn. 2. Lyric painting: James Whistler, J.B.C. Corot and even Andrew Wyeth. 3. Romantic realism: no direct influence, but the development of idealistic realism in the 1950s created a “Chinese style,” with elements of Soviet painting. 4. Symbolic realism: the influence of Redon, even the Pre-Raphaelites and Primitivism (Henri Rousseau), but the direct inspiration was from Alex Colville. 5. Expressive painting with bright lighting and color: characteristic of Impressionism and Expressionism, and also influence from Soviet painters, such as Yevsey Moiseyenko. 6. Romantic abstraction: with influence from Wassily Kandinsky, Andre Derain, as well as Willem de Kooning, but mostly from the native tradition of literati xieyi painting. 7. Painting with a Pastoral/Idyll tone: mostly borrowed from Barbizon School, JeanFrançois Millet, Bastien-Lapage, and Andrew Wyeth. The relationship of academic art to foreign art was not the result of a brief interaction but a long period of time. Chinese academic artists studied Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, and looked beyond literati art, to find nourishments in the images, composition and coloration of Dunhuang murals, lacquer painting excavated from Han Tombs, archaic images found on stone/brick reliefs of the Han Dynasty, “significant” patterns in bronze vessels, as well as images and schemes

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of folk art.115 Sources of inspiration included Soviet realism, as well as the rich tradition of literati art. All those Chinese elements were combined with modernist style, and generated a formal language of “modernism plus native art.” Academician painters stressed a grace of form and the beauty of color. Though they tried to make their painting as authentic and refined as possible in terms of technique, these images were still principally eastern, particularly Chinese, and thus appeared more “Chinese” than “vanguard.” Nonetheless, western and transnational symbols and images, such as crosses, pyramids, cathedrals, disciples and triangles appeared in vanguard art. Because of this appropriation of non-Chinese elements, vanguard art was always repudiated as “imitation.” Technique was a very important pursuit for academicians. For example, in 1987, the CAFA invited Professor Abraham Pincas, chair of Department of Art Media, École Nationale Superieure des beaux-arts (National Academy of Fine Arts), Paris, to hold a “Workshop on Art Media.” Art school faculty and painters from state-run art academies nationwide were locked in a fierce struggle for limited admission seats. The academicians devoted themselves to the study of the rhythm of “point, line and plane,” contrast between cold and warm colors, and methods of creating various textures, in order to please themselves and their audiences. They succeeded. The nude was gradually accepted by the public, a flattened decorative style was applied to fashion design, pleasant landscapes and cityscapes entered the living rooms of urbanites, and African masks and ugly but cute baby dolls became fashionable ornaments in college dormitories. It is noticeable that behind this idea of “pure form” was a sense of stability and quietude, created by the artists’ peaceful and affluent life. The article “The Serene Art” by an academician painter aptly reflected this mindset. These formal 115 The term “significant form” is from Clive Bell, a twentieth-century British critic, who was popular in China’s art world in the 1980s because his book Art was introduced into China.

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elements conveyed an attitude about life; warm and “fragrant” colors, a harmonious atmosphere and exquisite sentiment were what ordinary Chinese had lacked for a long time. There were many who were thirsty for beauty and warmth, having suffered from ugliness and brutality in the Cultural Revolution. Conception of Form in the Avant-Garde Vanguard artists seemed to have ignored the issue of visual language, although they went farther than academicians in changing their forms. Huang Yongping discussed the work of the Xiamen Dada show in a relaxed tone, “As for how these works look, we don’t really care.” When choosing a language/form, they did not hesitate to “imitate” foreign or ancient art. Whether it was the realistic technique they learned from their teachers or the modernist method they saw in exhibitions and catalogues, they applied these styles to their art without hesitation. They paid no attention to whether their art was “authentic” or not. Thus, a general characteristic of vanguard art is randomness. Some artists even pushed randomness to an extreme, with a tone of profanity. A pragmatism reflected in their art and life seemed to be inconsistent with the randomness of their artistic form, revealing a split personality, but they were internally consistent. Their consistency was built upon a so-called “unity of essence and its vehicle,” a humanist spirit and philosophy of life, which contained three ideas regarding Avant-Garde artists’ attitudes toward forms. First, the soul determines the form. The AvantGarde Movement is essentially a logical development of the humanistic spirit of the early 1980s. Its significance was not only artistic, but more importantly, cultural. Whether they focused on reason, instinct, or art as life, all of these artists believed that the issue of art was, first of all, humanist, so the choice of form/language was determined by an internal need of the spirit. Shu Qun posed in his “Content Determines Form” that the spiritual content, namely the internal elements that constructed the spiritual tendency of an artwork, played a critical role in the means/form that narrated this content. Also, he

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preferred to “use an old bottle for new wine” when he could not create new artistic forms, rather than to “use new (or “borrowed”) bottle for old wine,” as academician artists did.116 Ding Fang went further and claimed that “content is just the soul.” The “soul” here was what he mentioned many times, that is, the great human spirit. He felt the contradiction between the outstanding spirit full in his heart and the means to embody this spirit and felt sorrow over being unable to find the most proper image for the incarnation of this spirit. However, he optimistically deemed that “in the final analysis, the great soul illuminated by the great light would eventually find the great form.” If it was not found, it was because the soul had not attained its highest level.117 The manifesto of the Pond Society explained explicitly the critical role of the internal spirit, “It is not because we want to do it this way, rather, it is because we have to do it this way.” These statements reflected Kandinsky’s “inner necessity,” “one should fight for the form only insofar as it can serve as a means of expression of the inner resonance,” and “the most important thing in the question of form is whether or not the form has grown out of the inner necessity.”118 The difference is that Kandinsky’s “inner necessity” referred to the passion of individuals, while the great spirit of the human being and the great will of life of Chinese vanguard artists went beyond the individual, though art was executed by individuals. Thus, some artists believed that there was no need for new forms. Mao Xuhui said that to convey his profound experience of life, “various forms that were created from ancient to modern times were really enough.”119 Shu Qun, “Neirong Jueding Xingshi” (Content Determines Form), Meishu issue 7, 1986. 117 See Lifa (Ding Fang’s penname), “Neirong Jiushi Linghun” (Content is just the Soul), Meishu issue 12, 1986. 118 Wassily Kandinsky, “On the Problem of Form,” at http://web.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/phil%20of%20art/ kandinskytext5.htm 119 Mao Xuhui, “Gei Gao Minglu de Xin” (A Letter to Gao Minglu), May 10, 1987, quoted from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong 116

Chen Zhen agreed that it would be great if Chinese contemporary artists could make masterpieces, but a more important task for them was to build their own art philosophy. Second, form as Way of Life. Vanguard artists absorbed the philosophy of Nietzsche, and tended to, under the spirit of humanistic reason, emphasize the experience of life and then approach the sphere that transcends individual life. Based on this idea, they saw art as a means to experience life. Rationalist Painting used intuition as a method, and the Current of Life saw intuition as an instinct of life in their artistic creation. They let their intuition lead the individual life toward its essence, and toward the great life that transcended the individual. This form of art, based on intuition is, in the last analysis, an existential way of life. Chen Zhen explicated it clearly, “Form is an existential way of life, while an artistic form is the external status that an artistic life presents to people.”120 A life exists in an individual, and every individual’s experience of life is different, thus its external status varies as artistic forms differ in thousands of ways. Li Shan put it even more bluntly, “Art is just life itself.” He explained that his style changed because of his “aspiration for the unknown world.” According to Karl Popper’s searchlight theory, exploration and trial make life vital and energetic. The Sunday Painting Society is representative of this transformation of life experience into artistic forms. Wu Pingren, the major figure of this group, stated that “I love to let intuition grasp the form naturally, directly and entirely,” while “life creates something every second.”121 Third, Objectivity of Language. Not all vanguard artists placed the issue of language in the margin. The artists of the Pond Society and Wu Shanzhuan were concerned with the subject of art ontology and concentrated on the objectivity of artistic language. In the show ’85 New Space, Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, pp.665–666. 120 Chen Zhen, “Yishu Shouzha” (Handbook of Art), quoted from ibid. p.666. 121 All quoted from ibid. p.666.

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Zhang Peili, Geng Jianyi and others attempted to distance artwork from life, feeling and visual experience by means of “dissociation/alienation,” so that artists and audiences could perceive artwork in an objective attitude, that is, as independent and pure object. After the Pond Society was founded, this objective tendency was reinforced. The so-called “Procedure of Acting First and Reporting Afterwards” by Zhang Peili described the production and reception of art as a cool and procedural process. His “Art Plan, #2” pushed this process, as if a mental torture, to an extreme. Wu Shanzhuan used Chinese scripts to state his proposition that, “an artwork has an existence as an object.” His idea is clear: the autonomy of art. He tried to empty language’s semantic content, so that it became a so-called “silent sea” into which unlimited semantic content could be injected. The “object of artwork” here is not “pure form;” rather, it is a link in the chain of art history that possesses eternal significance. It exists on its own, not relying on individual artists, therefore its external status appears naturally (the “naturally” here means autonomous of art history). The objective language was put onto a historical chain of visual culture. The artwork that is created by the artist, to Wu Shangzhuan, lives on with its own logic and corresponds to art history, thus it is not subjective but objective. A personal “belonging” becomes a public property. When making paintings with a spray gun, Huang Yongping worked in a noisy factory to avoid any artistic technique. He let the spray gun leave its own trace. His “Roulette Series” transformed the process of painting into a mere play of probability, like gambling (Fig. 4.80). Some groups from Hunan and Hebei, such as the Huaihua Group and Miyang Studio, stressed a refinement of language while applying a folk-art vocabulary (Figs. 4.50, 4.51, 4.78). However, the effect was not lyrical, mild and idealistic, rather, it was wild, passionate, mysterious and even “ghostly.” After investigating the formal concepts of the vanguard, we have identified a certain spirit, that is, wen yi zai dao, literally text/writing, a vehicle of Dao/ideology, a Confucian principle of arts that has dominated Chinese literature and art for

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centuries. The difference lies in the content of Dao or ideology. The Dao of traditional art is mostly the will of rulers, or “internal sentiments” of the artists; to vanguard artists, the content of Dao was replaced by a conscious spirit of humanism, a will of life and the meaning of culture. The spirit of wen yi zai dao persists in Chinese culture and has driven Chinese arts for thousands of years. The question is: what is the Dao, and how is it transformed into visual form?

4.2.4.2 Several Forms of Language In investigating the avant-garde since 1985, we have been reminded of China’s modernist trends from the 1930s. Some artists who returned to the nation after studying in Europe and Japan advocated for China’s modern art through the appropriation of an “authentic” modernism that they learned abroad. These art groups included Storm Society, China Independent Artists Association, Society of Heavenly Steeds, Morning Light Art Society, and Silence Society. The artists were Ni Yide, Pang Xunqin, Zhao Shou, Chen Baoyi, Wei Tianlin and others. Their contribution to China’s modern art was great and we can use it as reference when discussing the forms of art language. The 1920s and 1930s, when those artists studied in the West, was the time of high modernism. Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism, even Dadaism, were all what they tried to learn and apply, and some critics believed that “they nearly kept pace with the world trend then.”122 When these artists lived and worked mostly in relatively peaceful metropolitan cities, such as Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing, and more importantly, because of the mindset of the traditional literati, these artists continued to emulate Cezanne, Picasso, Derain, and Matisse more than Dada. Though the manifesto of the Storm Society aspired to the “violence in Dadaism, and the longing in Surrealism,” literati sentiments were still apparent in most of their works. Cultural and philosophical context was important: the Bahuang (Li Xianting’s penname), “‘Chongfu’ yu ‘Beiju’” (“Repetition” and “Tragedy”), Zhongguo Meishubao, issue 28, 1988. 122

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anti-culture philosophy of life and irrationalism in the twentieth-century West were incompatible with the ideology in those Chinese modernists’ mind. Moreover, Chinese aesthetics emphasized harmony, which still dominated these artists’ art. Paying more attention to emotional expression, they did not pursue artistic experimentation, as the “emotion” they expressed was peaceful, prudent, and lyrical. Behind the bright colors was a tranquil and graceful mindset of the petite bourgeoisie, which could be read in some of their titles, such as “New Autumn of Huangpu River” (Ni Yide), “In Studio” (Pang Xunqin), “On the Caned Chair” (Pang Xunqin), “White Pigeons” (Fang Ganmin), “Peaches and Little Pot” (Wei Tianlin), “A Dream of the Kid” (Chen Baoyi), “A Lonely Dusk under a Bright Moon” (Sun Fuxi) and “Trace of Tears with Rouge” (Sun Fuxi). A very plump nude occupied nearly the whole composition in Fang Ganmin’s “White Pigeons,” reclining in a light-filled space full of pigeons and showing a languid and idle status. The figures in Ni Yide and Pang Xunqin’s work were mostly graceful maidens (a woman artist or maiden from a cultured family), gentlemen (a guitarist or a literato in a western suit and hat), plus still life (flowers in vases surrounded by animals of various kinds). All were stable in composition, with the female figures adopting an elegant S-shape curve, revealing a mild and sometimes mysterious coloration. Compared with the art of these pioneers, the vanguard of the 1980s was obviously much more “violent.” In general, it was unharmonious or even anti-harmonious. Visually, their art was stronger and more provocative. And more importantly, it created a sense of rebellion: with its new and everchanging forms and colors, humorous, teasing or profane tone; and complicated meanings, rejecting the aesthetic appreciation of the viewer who steps into the picture, as if in front of a literati painting. By contrast, this art made audiences feel stimulated, shocked, hurt or even disgusted. The three tendencies – Rationalist Painting, the Current of Life, and Anti-Art – used diverse artistic languages.

Rationalist Painting creates a cold, lonely and tranquil atmosphere, uses concise and simplified figures, and demonstrates a pure, clean, clear and gray tone, a stable and balanced composition with abstract symbols or signs. There are several kinds of Rationalist painting. 1. New figurative. It retains relatively recognizable figures, as opposed to total abstraction. Rather than describing phenomenon world with figurative images, it reorganizes individual figures/images for injection of certain ideas/concepts is the main character, and it includes the decomposed figurative, microfigurative and current of universe. After figurative painting is decomposed into individual images, these images are no longer integral elements of the whole, rather, they exist on their own and are about to be reorganized for new meaning. While individual images appear indifferent to each other, the entire composition of these images carries complete idea/concept. In other words, the figurative details do not lead to a narrative whole, as seen in the art of realism, but convey a conceptual message or create a meditative scenario instead. Such works include “In the New Era: Revelation of Adam and Eve” (Zhang Qun and Meng Luding, Fig. 4.6), “Studio 140” (Li Guijun, Fig. 4.4), “Li Dazao, Qu Qiubai and Xiao Hong” (Hu Wei), all featured in the Chinese Youth in Progress: Art Exhibition, and continued in “Frozen Northern Pole: The Last Judgment” (Wang Guangyi, Fig. 4.7), “Human Beings and Their Clock” (Zhang Jianjun, Fig. 4.31), “The East” (Cheng Xiaoyu, Fig. 4.110), “The Absolute Principle, #1” (Shu Qun, Fig. 4.9), “Pigeons Screened by Backs and the Magic Cube That Is Floating Away” (Yang Yingsheng, Fig. 4.14), “Humans Evolve from Fish — Humans Like Eating Fish” (Yang Zhilin, Fig. 4.13). 2. Micro-figurative. It refers to the figurative description/organization, in a microscopic manner, of material status in nature, rather than the macroscopic scenes seen in the New Figurative art, such as structure and/or texture of rocks, biological objects, topography of

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given areas. Audience could see some rounded clumps or solidified liquid images in these paintings, which were depicted delicately and conveyed implicitly something metaphysical. The floating clumps in Wang Guangyi’s work, and the irregular solidified objects in Ren Jian and Ni Qi’s work, were either “visual statements of eternal will” (Wang Guangyi, Fig. 4.7), “factors or entities of spiritual life” (Ren Jian, Fig. 4.10), or spiritual Totem poles (Ni Qi). Li Shan’s “sphere” as symbol of life in his “The Initial” and “The Expansion” (Fig. 4.30) and Ding Fang’s “mask” as cultural symbol in his “The Call and the Birth” are the symbolic micro-figurative. The meticulously depicted texture of architecture in Shu Qun’s “An Endless Road” aims at perceiving the process of civilization through an orderly structure. 3. Current of universe represents the movement of a universe-like entity, as seen in gloomy or translucent fog, moving and everchanging clouds, a morning/evening glow, flowing waters, a whirlwind, all created by the layering of washes. Ren Jian’s “Evolution from the Genesis” (Fig. 4.10) and Chen Zhen’s “Movement of Qi” (Fig. 4.33) serve as examples. Ren Jian applied the basic shape of the circle for what he called the “compound of life.” There are nine parts in the painting, and each has its own center. Flowing, twisting, whirling, flying and floating “nebulas,” semi-figurative and semi-abstract objects in a field, all move around the center, at the same time, they are connected through a linear structure of arcs into a harmonious whole. An “air of chaos” appears in the ascending, descending, diffusing, flowing, condensing and convoluting forms in Chen Zhen’s “Movement of Qi,” which seems shapeless, but is the trace/orbit of the existential entity, Qi. It was not a coincidence that both artists used a variant of Taijitu, a diagram of Dao, Yin and Yang. Two opposing shapes revolve, diverge and converge around the center, showing a soft, organic and eastern scheme of existence. The enshrouding mist and everchanging sceneries

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in Shen Qing’s ink series “Mountain Series” belongs to this type of painting as well (Fig. 4.15). 4. New documentary. It depicts a plain event, scene or object. It does not record detail as in photo-realism, nor does it present realistic descriptions as in idealistic realism. In appearance, these works document actions, such as a haircut, playing musical instruments, conducting a concert, swimming or diving, as seen in the works of ’85 New Space. However, because it had illusionary background, stiff posture or gesture, and no movement, as if space was solidified, and time was stopped. Wang Qiang cast a plaster full-length figure from life in his “The Adagietto in the Beginning of the Second Movement, the Fifth Symphony,” which had no head and body but a cloth shell with a posture like a concert conductor, to get rid of personal emotion, thus the “documentary” here appeared pure and apathetic. In suspending their everyday experience, these artists perceived directly their mental activity – consciousness. Later, they chose lifeless objects such as latex gloves or dental chairs, which they portrayed accurately and with a sterile repetition. They, therefore, rejected Dasein (a German word, meaning people who act and think in reality) for Sein (also a German word, meaning pure and abstract essence), and pushed the documentary to an extreme purity and objectivity. Such works were shown in the Chinese Youth in Progress: Art Exhibition, but the artists in Zhejiang made most of the new documentary art. 5. New meaning. It replaced the semantic meaning of language while retaining its grammatical function. The replacement was done in Chinese characters/scripts or signs. Gu Wenda dismantled or reconstructed Chinese characters, with wrongly written, upsidedown and reversed characters, radicals (basic elements of a Chinese character), and random punctuation in his letter writing and art pieces, which generated much broader associations, entirely different from their original meaning (Fig. 4.36). Wu Shanzhuan and his comrades

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placed boldface characters into an unconventional context to eliminate the original meaning of these scripts, thus generating a more complicated meaning – jocular, humorous, absurd or perplexing (Figs. 4.25, 4.26). Wu Shanzhuan even “emptied the meaning and eternalized the form” in his “Red Characters,” so that they became an “empty box,” or “silent sea,” into which people could inject unlimited meaning (Fig. 4.27). Cao Xiaodong, a member of Red • Journey, attempted to reorganize religious, cultural or even scientific symbols, such as the “trinity” (triangle) and “circular sky and square earth” (ancient Chinese views of the universe), to convey his understanding of religion and culture. In addition, creative titles drew great attention in mid-1980s, as they were expressions of wisdom or humor, or even considered a prank. In some cases, they were supplements or foils to the work, while in others they had nothing to do with the art itself but were a self-sufficient system of signs. Audiences usually tried to find the relationship between the title and the work but were confused or bewildered most of time. Thus, some critics criticized the artists as “casting a mist before audiences’ eyes,” or “simply illustrating a concept.” However, making the work and the title two independent systems to create new meaning was innovative, while features of Chinese characters – ideography and the beauty of their form – were applied appropriately into the art.123 The representation of force/strength was seen in various types of avant-guard art, a visual incarnation of individual life experience. In Rationalist Painting people saw an internal force in experience and expression, because spiritual power is usually astringent, corresponding to Chinese aesthetics.124 In Current of Life, both the

experience of the artist and visual expression tended to be an external/dilative force, thus the representation of force in this type of work was more direct and could be easily felt by audiences. In appearance, this external/dilative force was represented by ever-changing forms (from the distorted image to abstract expression), a restless and dazzling color, highly dynamic compositions, plus a mystical, or primitive atmosphere. There were roughly three types of visual languages in the Current of Life: 1. The first was called “Impulse,” the free expression of an instinctive impulse and of a suppressed consciousness. In contrast to the commandment, “The Master (Confucius) did not speak about prodigies, extraordinary shows of strength, chaos, and spirits,”125 the artists of Current of Life expressed their awareness of life, death and sexuality through monstrous, powerful, chaotic or mystic forms, as seen in the works of Fu Zenan, Fan Bo and Ma Xiaoxing of the group New Wildness, Mao Xuhui’s “the Volume on Move,” Zhang Xiaogang’s serial painting “Ghost,” Pan Dehai’s “Rough-and-Tumble,” all members of the Southwest Art Research Group, Chai Xiaogang’s “Shouting,” from Red • Journey group, and Wang Chuan’s “Opening Up.” These works appeared exaggerated and distorted with reckless and violent brushwork, with brilliantly bright colors, and unstable and disorderly compositions, which generated a strong visual and mental impact on audiences. Some works, such as the ones in ‘86 Last Show at Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, the sculptures by Wu Shaoxiang, and works from Hunan 0 Art Group and Hubei Tribe-Tribe Exhibition, dared to address sexuality by either reassembling distorted or abstract sex organs or presenting enlarged details of sexual activities. As for the expression of a depressed

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As for examples of creative titling in the vanguard art, see discussion in the Sect. 4.2.2.3. 124 Chinese idioms mianli cangzhen, a needle hidden in silk floss, and wairou neigang, similar to English phrase “an iron fist in a velvet glove,” are embodiment of Daoist conception of astringent power of spirit.

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Confucius, The Analects, translated with an Introduction and Commentary by Annping Chin, New York: the Penguin Group, 2014, p.107. “Guai li luan shen” were translated into “the monstrous, the absurd, the chaotic, and the supernatural” in another text.

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sexuality, it was even more diversified: such as the extreme exaggeration of the female buttocks, implication of mutual need of both genders via deformed nose and mouth, or subtle expression of orgasm in touch through intersection of a quasi-triangle and a circle, or even juxtaposed with religious signs to produce profanity. 2. The second was “Indigenous Soil, Thick Soil and Hot Soil,” a series of works about soil as a basic form that was inspired by and rooted in the cultures of Yunnan, Chu (an ancient state, now mainly the area of Hunan and Hubei), central China and Tibet. Against background of this primitive topography, there are naïve and innocent human figures, mixed with a variety of animals and plants, plus mystic symbols of witchcraft or religion. Indigenous soil could be seen mostly in the works by artists of the Miyang Studio, Hunan, Hubei and Tibet, who depicted images and/or signs of folk art and religious art, using papercut, a variety of masks, certain colors and images of Buddhist temples. In works by the artists from Shaanxi, Gansu and Ningxia one could see the representation of thick, heavy and solid loess (yellow earth) in a typical yellowish brown, with a dry, rough and mottled texture, not unlike the scenery of the loess plateau. Artists from the southwest, represented by Mao Xuhui, transformed the topographic features of the Yunnan and Guizhou Plateau into a hot red soil with internal energy, clumsy figures, and exaggerated animals and plants in the manner of magicrealism. The hot soil here was no longer a purely geographical symbol, but an expression of a primitive vitality instead. Unlike the “lyric” landscape in academic art, which was basically an idealistic transplantation of indigenous costume, folk activities and art, their language communicated a simplicity, wildness and primitiveness in dry, heavy and agitated lines and brushwork, with mystical human figures and animals, and ferocious or scary religious symbols.

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3. Dreamworld and Phantasm comprise the third type of language in the Current of Life. This type of painting could be seen mostly in the works of members of the Beijing November Painting Society and Southwest Art Research Group. The Dreamworld or phantasm was similar in form to the decomposed figurative in “Metaphysical” painting. The essential difference is that the latter stressed the sense of order in the structure as a whole, while the former, an assembly of different images, tended to be disorderly both in visual language and internal meaning. Shi Benming’s serial painting “Love,” Xia Xiaowan’s “Emptiness and Illusion,” “The Wilds,” “Untitled” (Fig. 4.43), and “Mother and Children” (Fig. 4.115), Cao Li’s “Birds in Seven Colors” and “Horses,” Ye Yongqing’s “Spring Awakening Brumal Sleeper” (Fig. 4.40), Zhang Xiaogang’s “A Forlorn Dream” and “A Beauty in the Mountain,” are representatives of this kind. There were few fixed figurative images, but dismantled and reassembled images in the manner of Expressionism or Cubism instead. Absurdity, mystery, anxiety, and tumult appeared separately or together in these works. So-called “Pan-Forms” refers to the vanguard art that attempted to break the boundary between painting and sculpture, and to extend artistic forms into life, with all possible media in different surroundings, as reflected in the Anti-Art tendency. Because this type of art was extremely different from previous media, it generated a powerful blast in the art world, thus both critics and advocates of this art form disputed. The use of such media is diverse, including assembly in plane, assembly of ready-made, Action Art, art in humble room, and interdisciplinary cultural activity. 1. Assembly in plane consisted of the collage technique, including such materials as newspaper, magazine, photo, fabric, leather, and

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plastic. Another way is to build assembly on the painting, but as a whole it is still two dimensional. The representative works were “History • Friction Series” (an assembly of several oil paintings with collage, on which electric switches, wire and machine parts were installed) by Wu Pingren, shown in Xuzhou Modern Art Exhibition; “Birthday” (a painting full of candles on it) by Shi Qiang, Hunan; “The Myriad Things Were Produced in Nature” (ink brush, ink stick and ink slab assembled on canvas) by Tan Liqin, Hunan; “An Abandoned Dream” (soft drink cans processed and installed on a framed canvas, Fig. 4.59) by Hu Zhaoyang and Wang Baijiao, Hubei. 2. If we say that assembly in plane operates on the painting surface, then assembly of readymade denies this surface by reorganizing or assembling everyday items. Dong Chao, from Shandong, used scissors to make a modern sculpture out of tinplate cans (Fig. 4.60); Wang Jiping, Shanxi, assembled a tool-rack structure, titled “Banners,” on which banners, tree branches, an iron kettle, soft drink cans, loudspeaker, lampshade, balloon, bulbs and paint cans were hung randomly, in gay colors (Fig. 4.63); Cheng Li, Gansu, assembled several machine parts, titled “Lost Memory,” on which he lit a candle. This kind of work could be seen in the Shanxi Modern Art Exhibition, Hunan 0 Art Group Exhibition, Shanghai Concave and Convex Exhibition and Vision: Art Exhibition, Fuling, Sichuan, and reminded viewers of “Pop fever,” inspired by the Rauschenberg show in 1985. However, this Chinese-version of Pop Art was distinctive from its predecessor. The ready-made the artists used was simple, crude and cheap, which reflects the artists’ tendency toward unrefined simplicity, the opposite of the refined and delicate style seen in Rauschenberg. Thus, it was closer to Duchamp instead of Rauschenberg in essence, while in form it had features of a pre-industrial era. 3. Action Art refers to the artistic action performed by artists, sometimes models, with elements of

painting, sculpture and dance, mostly in an open space, with or without an audience (see footnote 4 in this chapter). It sometimes revealed a characteristic of self-torture, by wrapping and binding the body. Since the artists themselves performed these activities, the emphasis was on process and the makeup, action/motion, and procedure were mostly spontaneous. The examples are “Cloth Sculpture on Street” (wrapping with cloth and acting on street, Fig. 4.67), the event of M Art Group (naked performance, Shanghai, Figs. 4.68, 4.69), “Concept 21” (body wrapping, paint pouring and wandering in campus or on the Great Wall, Beijing, Fig. 4.70), Song brothers’ “Experience on the Site” (body wrapping and meditating, Shanxi, Fig. 4.65), “King and Queen” (body wrapping by newspaper, Pond Society, Zhejiang, Fig. 4.22), “‘87 Event of Action Art” (Xuzhou, Jiangsu). In the Southern Artists Salon: The First Experimental Show, models in bodysuits moved slowly with a designed “choreography” under irregularly changing lights and fluctuating music. The event took place in a large assembly hall of a university (Fig. 4.66). Action Art was influenced by body art and performance in the West, but the differences were obvious. The use of yellowish brown or white fabric and with bright red “backdrop” generated a sense of ritual as in Buddhist or Daoist temples, however a sense of unruliness was injected into this mystical atmosphere. In addition, the solemnity (e.g. cases of Shanxi and Guangzhou) or sound (Chinese percussion in “Concept 2100 ) were rooted in worship or sacrificial rites or had kinship with village theatrical performances at traditional festivals. 4. The “Art in Humble Room” (the word “humble room,” loushi in Chinese, was from Confucius’ Analects) is differentiated from Land Art and Environmental Art. Due to a limitation of funds, material and labor, the vanguard of the 1980s exhibited mostly in interiors or simple outdoor spaces. The word “humble” means that the surroundings, media and visual effect are all simple and humble, while the “room” here can be seen as a “field,” rather than an interior. In

4.2

The Avant-Garde Movement

fact, many vanguard shows had this feature, such as The Untitled Exhibition held at the Minzu University of China, Beijing; Shanghai Concave and Convex Exhibition; and Wu Shanzhuan’s “Red Characters: Big-Character Posters” (Fig. 4.27). The most influential ones were exhibitions of “soft sculpture” and largescale tapestries made by Gu Wenda and other Zhejiang artists. While the latter was displayed on walls, the former stepped down from the wall, and was exhibited in a three-dimensional space. Knitted with various fabrics, flexible in form, color and spatial arrangement, and accompanied by special lights and music, it created a grand/sumptuous, graceful, or relaxed interior. As for outdoor “art in humble room,” the most representative event was Basking in the Sunshine, in which paintings and sculptures, a variety of objects, actions such as selfwrapping and performance pieces were all shown in a special park environment (Fig. 4.71). “Yang’s Taiji Series” (Fig. 4.20) and “Walkers in a Green Space” (Fig. 4.21), two activities by Pond Society, were also successful experiments. In lanes or a park, the exhibited works included paintings, bricks, rocks, cheap fabric, and newspaper. The way of making or displaying works included pileup, wrapping, cut and paste, etc. and all showed features of simplicity and randomness. 5. The fifth was interdisciplinary cultural activity. Though not “mainstream” in the vanguard of the 1980s, this type of art is worth listing because of its special significance and way of execution. The artist either mountaineered, adventured or acted in theaters. One of the representative events was the “Archaeological Excavation of the Industry,” implemented by Xu Yihui and Chai Xiaogang, members of Red • Journey group, Jiangsu. The activity was assumptive and suppositional: the artists buried a human skull representing today’s industrial civilization that the archaeologists would excavate in one thousand years. It was neither performance (no audience), nor environmental art (did not create anything), but an

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activity on its own. Only through photo documentation would people know of this activity. In the category of Pan-Forms, Xiamen Dada was the group that is most comprehensive in terms of art language. The artists of Xiamen Dada did assembly in plane, assembly of readymade, and Action Art (e.g. a series of activities on the shore, by Lin Chun and others, Fig. 4.83). The burning of their artwork in front of the Fujian Art Museum after the exhibition was not only an art in humble room, but also a cultural activity, only it was done in a stance of anti-culture (Fig. 4.81).

4.2.4.3

Selection of Forms and Semantic Meaning The randomness in the 1980s, the selection of forms by avant-garde artists, had its internal necessity. In other words, these forms accorded with the semantic meaning of their art and should be investigated further. Time and Space The representation of space was one of the important functions of the visual arts. However, the research of modern psychology and linguistics shows that human beings perceive and comprehend time through space, that is, the movement of objects in space and the vast sky with stars either display a process of temporal movement or reveal infinite time and eternity. The temporal phenomenon of “past – present – future” anchors human knowledge through the ultimate objective of “time.” In their easel painting, the avant-garde artists established two ways of representing time. The first was “Quasi-life Time.” For those artists who promoted intuition and stressed life experience, the “quasi-” here means “similar,” “analogue,” and in Chinese, the character 类 (lei, quasi) also means “human being.” Through life people can reach the concept “time” directly, that is, a living individual is an entity who is able to experience the process and movement of time. Thus, these artists eliminated the notion of space, reflecting on impulse, indigenous and primitive images, and dream and fantasy. In so doing, they

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usually did not depict spatial depth, or paint realistic scenes in real space. Moving, flowing, spontaneous, accidental and random expression indicated the process of time and temporality, as did in explosive, emotional and instantaneous color. The space that appeared in the paintings of “Indigenous Soil, Thick Soil and Hot Soil” resisted single-point perspective. The destructed and reconstructed nature in these paintings was nothing but medium for propagation and reproduction of human life, through which a finite individual life was transformed into infinite expansion of life, seen typically in Mao Xuhui’s “Red Soil as the Mother, #3” (Fig. 4.38). It aimed still at “time:” transferring from the present into the past, from the temporal to the eternal, in other words, Mother Nature is a permanent matrix for human beings and their civilization. The space in “Dreamland and Phantasm” was entirely fictional and illusional, with a disorderly and illogical “assembly” of objects and images, through which artists approached an infinite world of spirit. Since it was generated by “dream” or “phantasm,” the artists’ approach to infinite time was based on the unconscious. Many of these works dealt with sexuality, suggesting that eternity was perceived through transient pleasure, the intercourse of Yin and Yang signifying the continuity of life and evolution of the universe. The second was “Borrowed Space,” which was reflected primarily in Rationalist Painting. They were not visually phenomenal world that represents physical reality, instead, they were fictional spaces such as solidified one, seen in Wang Guangyi and Shu Qun’s works (Figs. 4.7 and 4.9), or the one of universe, seen in Ren Jian’s “Evolution from the Genesis” (Fig. 4.10, called “nil space” sometimes). The space here is the way and means by which we can reach time, thus, we call it “borrowed space,” namely borrowing a physical space for spiritual purpose. Compared with the painting of the Current of Life, which perceived time intuitively, Rationalist Painting transcended life, and inherited the scheme of Rustic Realism. Western artists who inspired artists of the Rationalist Painting included Andrew Wyeth, Alex Colville and Georgio de Chirico. Wyeth was an artist who contemplated “the eternity of rocks

and hills;” Colville, a Canadian artist who was introduced to China in the 1980s and became influential, by “presenting time through space;” while de Chirico represented the core of Nietzsche’s philosophy – the “infinite return” of time, namely the noumenon of life and the world. Rationalist painters were inspired by all three western artists. Similar to de Chirico, the horizon in their paintings appeared in an open space and generated 曰-form composition, as seen in the paintings by Wang Guangyi. Others were closer to Colville, constructing a universe of empty space, such as in Zhang Peili’s painting. Both solidified nil space with their stiff and numb “figures,” and lifeless objects, their art transcended the temporality and transience of individual life, and connected infinite space with eternal time. This was different from “quasi-life time,” which approached eternity through individual lives. The above analysis of time and space does not necessarily cover all of China’s avant-garde in the 1980s. Nevertheless, compared with space, time is seemingly more spiritual in a Chinese context of this period because artists did not have a background in modern physics and analytical philosophy thus space was perceived primarily at a level of classic physics. Analysis There was a consensus that the Chinese avantgarde had appropriated a century of western modernism in a decade. However, the development from analytic Cubism, Purism, Suprematism, Constructivism to Minimalism was seldom seen in China’s new art of the 1980s. The absence of this analytic approach could be multifold, and highlights difference in the West’s philosophy, aesthetics and culture. Analysis divides an object into sections or dissects a material (entity) into basic components (elements), to discover the essential and interrelatedness of all elements. In the twentieth century, analytical philosophy and structuralism led to an analysis of language and structuralist linguistics. The analytic trend in visual art paralleled this development in philosophy, science and linguistics: from an analysis of plane to a construction in three dimensions, from a complicated structure to

4.2

The Avant-Garde Movement

simplicity in form and coloration, that is, from formal relationships to essential structure. A visual analysis is different from a scientific one. The first step is decomposition, namely, to decompose form (points, lines, planes and volumes) and color (from black to white, from cold to warm) into basic units or levels. The second important step is to find out their essential characters and structural interrelations. The way of analysis here is empirical and perceptual, but the way of thinking and the ultimate goal are scientific and philosophical (the structural interrelation of things is, to a structuralist, the nature of existence). At this point “quantitative analysis” should be introduced. For a long time, the intuitively “qualitative” comprehension of our vision was obscure and uncertain, thus disorderly. With this intuitive approach, one could not reach the essential structure of an artwork. Thus, this approach turned out to be superficial, like “patterns of calico printing.” Without “quantitative” analysis, the analysis would be incomplete, or defective. Only “quantitative analysis” can confirm structure and set up order. The nature of “analysis” in art looks similar to the formalist pursuit in academician art, since both started with Paul Cézanne. However, the difference between these two is essential: the structure and interrelation in this analysis addresses the nature of existence, namely a combination of structure and function, different from academician art that concentrated on beauty and the harmony of points, lines and planes. This way of thinking in analysis is scientific, while the mindset is dispassionate, thus exclusive to empirical experience, as academician art perceived Paul Cezanne’s art as an aesthetic experiment that sought for formal beauty. Examples can be found in the Avant-Garde of the 1980s, such as a series of abstract construction by Liu Yan of the Northern Art Group, Li Shan’s “Series of Order,” Wang Guangyi’s “Red Reason – Revision” series and “Black Reason – Pathological Analysis,” Zhang Peili’s medical gloves indicated with numbers in “X?” series (Fig. 4.18), among others. Lin Chun, a Xiamen artist, applied analytical methods of deduction

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onto his structures of sea, which evolved from the representational to the minimal, in his “The Sea is in Square Shape.” In China’s cultural context, it would not be easy to achieve this goal within a single generation. Even though critics anticipated that “analytic” art would become an important trend in China, this prediction did not become reality. The causes could be political and/or aesthetic and cultural, but the latter is more likely. Chinese contemporary art in the 1990s rejected the idealistic approach that concentrated on the Enlightenment, and as a whole became more and more marketoriented, cynical, and opportunistic after the 1989 Tiananmen Incident, thus leaving little room for serious experiment and philosophical inquiry in art. However, even if there were a free political atmosphere in the 1990s, would Chinese artists have created “analytic” art, like that seen in Piet Mondrian, Vladimir Tatlin, Kazimir Malevich, Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt? The answer might be no. There was what Gao Minglu called “Apartment Art” in the 1990s, that remained experimental and distanced itself from the art market. What the artists had made was mostly conceptual or “Maximalist Art,” a term coined by Gao Minglu. A few artists utilized cold abstraction, another name for “analytic art,” but warm abstraction appeared more and more in both studios and galleries. After investigating ink art, especially its association with traditional philosophy and the conception of the universe, we would realize that a scientific approach, a quantitative analysis of visual art, might not be compatible with a visual culture that emphasizes intuition and spontaneity. Also, according to Daoism, the core of Chinese visual culture, the development and evolution of the Dao is like water, fluid, flowing, floating, so its visual form is more likely curvilinear or circular, instead of linear or rectangular. While straight lines, squares, rectangles and angles are products of civilization, especially industrial culture, curves and circles appear in nature. This scenario explains why traditional Chinese art has retained its curvilinear and circular forms, and its empiricism in art appreciation and criticism. Chinese culture, including visual

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Fig. 4.85 Organizers and featured artists in front of National Art Museum of China during the China/Avant-Garde exhibition, Feb. 6, 1989

culture, as some critics believed, is characteristic of water, as indicated by its formal/physical features, the fluid, the unbreakable, and the permeable, except for its horizontality. Even in today’s context of globalization, this culture is persistent. From this perspective, the promotion of analytic art in China might be idealistic but impractical and unfeasible.

4.3

China/Avant-Garde Exhibition

From February 5 to 19, 1989, the China/AvantGarde exhibition took place at the National Art Museum of China, Beijing (Fig. 4.85). A total 297 pieces of work, in variety of media including painting, sculpture, photography, video, and installation, by 176 artists, were distributed over six gallery spaces from the first to third floor of the museum, in addition to seven unexpected actions executed by nine artists. About two months prior to the Tiananmen demonstration and four months before the government’s crackdown of it, this exhibition had, in foreordination, carried political and sociological implication from its beginning. This significance was memorialized twenty years later, when Gao

Minglu organized an anniversary event, including three retrospective shows, in 2009 in Beijing.126 As a historical art event in twentieth-century China, it was not merely an art exhibition, but an excellent case of study of law, politics, history, curatorship, fundraising, and of course, art, in the China of the 1980s. The show was shut down twice. The exhibition had a difficult curatorial history, but nonetheless created a social space that mirrored the politics, economy, and culture of the period. Gao Minglu, a major organizer, encountered the various circles and strata of society, such as officials, policemen, businessmen, leaders of state-run enterprises, intellectuals, including dissidents, writers, artists, and critics. The sensational, unauthorized Action Art overshadowed its historical and aesthetic value. Appreciated mostly on a sociological level, its conceptual and aesthetic contributions were ignored. The featured artworks lacked adequate 126 Two of three anniversary events were interrupted by the authorities: one show was shut down before the opening, another was terminated during the opening, because it happened to be a twenty-year anniversary of the Tiananmen incident. See Gao Minglu, Total Modernity and the Avant-Garde in Twentieth-Century Chinese Art, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2011, pp.141–143.

4.3

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Fig. 4.86 Attendees of ’85 Youth Art Wave Grand Slide Show and Conference (Zhuhai Conference), August 1986, Zhuhai, Guangdong

attention and critical discussion, with the exception of a few Action Art works, which might have been over-politicized within the special context of the year of 1989.

4.3.1

Zhuhai Conference and a Miscarried Exhibition Plan

In April 1986, the National Oil Painting Conference was held in Beijing. Several avant-garde artists took part in this official meeting, in which Gao Minglu gave a talk titled “’85 Art Movement” and introduced China’s vanguard art through a slide show of about 300 images. In response, an initiative to hold a national slide show of avantgarde art in Guangdong was put forward by participating vanguard critics and artists. The selection of Zhuhai, Guangdong as the venue was because Wang Guangyi, one of the leading figures of Northern Art Group and Rationalist Painting, worked at the Zhuhai Painting Academy and became one of organizers. Co-sponsored by Zhongguo Meishubao and Zhuhai Painting Academy, ’85 Youth Art Wave

Grand Slide Show and Conference (Zhuhai Conference briefly), initiated and organized mainly by Gao Minglu, Wang Guangyi and Shu Qun, another Northern Art Group member and Rationalist Painter, was held in Zhuhai on August 15 to 19, 1986 (Fig. 4.86). Around forty representatives of avant-garde groups and critics from all over China attended the event. About 1200 slides were received and 342 of them from thirty-one groups were selected and displayed. The conference focused on the relationship between painting and conceptual art, as well as identity of the Chinese Modernist movement.127 During the conference, the participants felt that a slide show was insufficient to show the power of the avant-garde and to generate a great impact on the art world as well as the society, thus a national exhibition of original vanguard art became an imperative. The preparation of a national vanguard exhibition started immediately after the Zhuhai

127

See Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, pp.331–336.

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Fig. 4.87 Picture after the preparation meeting for the Academic Exchange Exhibition of Young Artists around China, March 26, 1987, Beijing

Conference. As no official institution would be willing to take a risk as the sponsor, an association, Chinese Modern Art Research Society, consisting of about thirty critics, was founded. Led by Gao Minglu, Zhu Qingsheng and Liu Xiaochun, it became a planning mechanism for the show. Sponsored and assisted by Beijing Young Painters Society, Gao Minglu signed a contract with the National Agriculture Exhibition Center, the venue for the show, on January 7, 1987. Then the first preparation meeting, attended by about twenty artists and critics from Beijing and the provinces, was held in Beijing on March 26 (Fig. 4.87).128 It was decided that the show, under the tentative title Academic Exchange

Exhibition of Young Artists around China,129 would be held in July, 1987. However, the Department of Propaganda of CCP issued a directive that none of the scholarly activities with a national scope by any professional institution would be allowed, under the context of AntiBourgeois Liberalism Campaign. Accordingly, the CAA immediately contacted Gao Minglu, the major organizer of the proposed show, and announced the termination of preparations for the avant-garde exhibition. The Chinese Modern Art Research Society was dismantled. Thus, the first attempt to hold the exhibition aborted. Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian and Tong Dian, advocates of Chinese vanguard art, felt extremely disappointed

128

The meeting place had been changed again and again because of the tension caused by the Anti-Bourgeois Liberalization Campaign launched by the government in the end of 1986. It was held eventually in a cluttered courtyard, as shown in the Fig. 4.87.

129 To increase the possibility of approval, the title of the exhibition was neutral, and less provocative without using sensitive words such as avant-garde, modern or new wave, etc.

4.3

China/Avant-Garde Exhibition

and decided to record the vanguard movement by writing a book since the show was prohibited. The manuscript, titled A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986, was completed in seven months.130

4.3.2

Negotiation and Fundraising

After the completion of the book A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986, preparation for the show restarted as the political situation eased in early 1988. This time, Gao Minglu, the initiator and curator-in-chief, was about to try to book the National Art Museum of China as the venue. The reasons for this selection were multifold. First, it was the only national art space for living art, a symbol of the highest authority of art and a sacred palace for many artists and audiences. Secondly, if Chinese avant-garde art could be displayed at the museum, it could serve it as a platform to spread directly their hurricanelike art and concepts to the public. For the first time, intensive journalistic and critical activity would engage with the art museum, providing China’s avant-garde with an unprecedented visibility and publicity. This would challenge authority in a provocative, sometimes profane manner, enlightening audiences who had never experienced Chinese Modernist art, and provide the vanguard movement with a powerful momentum that it needed desperately. Although sponsored this time by several reputed non-art organizations, including the editorial committee of Culture: China and the World Series led by Gan Yang, a celebrated young scholar of philosophy; SDX Joint Publishing Company, directed by Shen Changwen, a respected publisher; the Chinese Aesthetics Society, chaired by Ru Xin, a scholar of aesthetics, a 130 The book Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (中国当代美术史:1985–1986, A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986) was published in Shanghai People’s Publishing House in 1991; then revised, entitled ’85 Meishu Yundong: Bashi Niandai de Renwen Qianwei (’85美术运动:80年代的人文前卫 the ’85 Movement: the Enlightenment of Chinese Avant-Garde), and published in Guangxi Normal University Press in 2008.

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proposal for the show at the NAMC was refused by the museum in April 1988 because of its political and artistic orientation. In the middle of 1988, four more official institutions joined the sponsorship, including Meishu, Zhongguo Meishubao, the Beijing Graft Art Cooperation, and Zhongguo Shirongbao. Moreover, the proposal for the show was also supported by celebrated senior artists, such as Wu Zuoren, Liu Kaiqu, Jin Shangyi, Zhan Jianjun and Wen Lipeng. The second proposal was accepted by the museum in September 1988, then approved by the CAA with conditions. Three types of artwork would not be allowed in the agreement, referring to those that opposed the Four Fundamental Principles of the CCP, pornographic images, and on-site action/performance, which could be transformed into a political event. Behind the negotiation, visiting senior artist-officials and creating good relationship with them, done by Gao Minglu, accompanied by Wang Birong,131 were crucial because China has been a society of etiquette and favor over rules. After further negotiation, a compromise was made that actions would be presented in the form of documentaries. The show, opened on the Chinese New Year’s Eve, 1989, a date deliberately chosen by the museum to minimize the number of attendees as most Chinese were at home in celebration of the Spring Festival. Soon the Preparatory Committee of China/ Avant-Garde was founded,132 led by Gao Minglu, 131 Wang Birong worked at the Central Committee of China Democratic League (CDL), one of the eight legally recognized political parties in China, and was acquainted with several high-ranking artist-officials who were CDL members. 132 The title of the show, Zhongguo Xiandai Yishuzhan, translated literally as “exhibition of Chinese modern art,” was approved because of the political conditions had become more flexible in late 1988. The English translation China/Avant-Garde, in a more aggressive tone, did not appear in the Chinese-only agreement, but was printed on the bilingual exhibition catalogue, invitations, commemorative envelopes, etc. The reason the Preparatory Committee used China/Avant-Garde as the English name of the show was because the term “avant-garde” turned out to be a more accurate phrase for the art in the show, referring to a contemporary, ongoing art trend rather than

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Fig. 4.88 Attendees of’88 Chinese Modern Art Conference (Mt. Huang Conference) in front of Jiangxinzhou Hotel, Tunxi, Anhui, Nov. 24, 1988

and consisting of Li Xianting, the editor of Zhongguo Meishubao who was in charge of layout of the show; Zhou Yan, a teacher from the CAFA, responsible for scholarly activities during the show; Fan Di-an, a graduate student at CAFA, general management; Kong Chang-an, Fei Dawei, and Hou Hanru, critics from CAFA, for public relation, and possible sales of artwork, Wang Mingxian, an editor of Jianzhu, for the part of modern architecture; and Tang Qingnian, an editor of Meishu, for financial affairs. All were novices for such a large-scale national art exhibition. An announcement for China/Avant-Garde was published on Zhongguo Meishubao.133 From November 22 to 24, about a hundred vanguard artists and critics from across the country were convened at Tunxi, Anhui, to warm up

an art style of a certain time period, as the phrase “modern art” suggested, see Gao Minglu, Total Modernity and the Avant-Garde in Twentieth-Century Chinese Art, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2011, p.116. 133 See Zhongguo Meishubao, issue 44, Oct. 31, 1988.

for the exhibition with theoretical and strategic issues, an ideological rather than logistical or artistic preparation (Figs. 4.88 and 4.89). Entitled ‘88 Chinese Modern Art Conference, later called Mt. Huang Conference because the venue was near Mt. Huang, the meeting was sponsored by Hefei Painting Academy, Anhui, where Ling Huitao, a vanguard artist, worked. The academy was responsible for logistical affairs. About one thousand slides were shown and thirty papers were presented at the conference. Much larger than the Zhuhai Conference of 1986, the conference featured nearly all vanguard groups nationwide. Having changed the initial idea of exhibiting only new works, the Preparatory Committee decided to organize a retrospective show with some new works, fearing there was not sufficient momentum and time for artists to create enough works for this national exhibition. For the general public, they believed that Chinese vanguard art should be exhibited in a comprehensive manner. One of the discussed topics was “purging humanist zeal,” proposed by Wang Guangyi, which aimed at shifting the avant-garde from

4.3

China/Avant-Garde Exhibition

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Fig. 4.89 Zhou Yan’s letter to Mao Xuhui and Zhang Xiaogang, regarding to the preparation of the China/Avant-Garde show, including fundraising in the area where artists lived and worked, Oct.28, 1988

humanist concerns to a more pragmatist approach. It is ironic that the topic was raised by a leading figure of Rationalist Painting, an enthusiastic advocate of humanism and the Enlightenment, and an ardent warrior of constructing an idealistic kingdom of sublime spirit. His PoliticalPop art in the early 1990s became paradigmatic for such a superficial, popular, commercial and opportunistic shift. As Wang Guangyi was making this opportunist shift in ideology, Geng Jianyi, another Rationalist Painting artist, continued his conceptual art practice. Pretending to be a curator from the Preparatory Committee, he sent forms to about one hundred vanguard artists and critics, requesting personal information. The form imitated those with which the most Chinese were familiar,

having filled out many times throughout their life.134 Geng Jianyi, however, invented one with a cynical tone, including entries such as “personal class identity (benren chengfen),” “oriental zodiac” (shuxiang), “weight at birth,” “life style and ideological tendency,” etc. still keeping it formal and 134

The forms since 1949 were mainly collecting personal information, for controlling of ordinary Chinese, CCP members, cadres, etc. Entries such as “family origin” and “personal class identity” were products of a classification of class. In this system, all Chinese were classified into two basic categories, proletarian and bourgeoisie, including poor or lower-middle peasant, worker, clerk as the former, and landlord, rich peasant, petite-bourgeoisie (small business owner, merchant, teacher, etc.) as the latter. Thus, these forms became primarily a tool of ideological control, rather than a document for purposes of employment, opening a bank account, or attaining a membership in non-political organizations, etc.

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Fig. 4.90 Gen Jianyi, “Forms and Certificates,” 1988, a form filled by Huang Yongping (the photo is fake)

official in appearance. Many artists filled out the forms honestly and sincerely except for Huang Yongping and Fei Dawei who were aware of Geng’s intention and answered in a mischievous way (Fig. 4.90). Geng then exhibited them at the conference. Playing a joke on his avant-garde comrades was ingenious and unprecedented since the latter seldom or had never be an object of ridicule, rather, they usually played the role of joke-maker against conventions, rules, institutions and authorities. This artistic joke was to test how

people, vanguard artists in this case who were usually defiant of convention and norms, acted under certain rules of play. It turned out that even vanguard artists who were mainly anti-traditionalists, willingly or unwillingly, obeyed and acted on the rules set by a pretentious “art institution,” no matter how hard they tried to attack the tradition and the institution that implemented it. Geng Jianyi’s exploration of rules of art continued in the 1990s. When China was in a transition from planned economy to market one, an official art museum

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could not fund an exhibition like the China/ Avant-Garde. Fundraising became a greater challenge than the censorship. When the Panda Electronic Cooperation in Nanjing withdrew their funding with 200,000 Chinese Yuan because of political risk and an uncertainty of commercial reward, there were few sources for funding and the plan was about to abort again. Gao Minglu, the major fundraiser, had no choice but contacted friends for assistance. Zeng Zhaoying (nickname A-Zhen), the chief-correspondent of Zhongguo Shirongbao (China Urban Environment, weekly newspaper), assisted Gao in borrowing 50,000 yuan from the newspaper (returned 30,000 yuan after the show) so that the contract of the show could be signed. Zhang Kangkang, a famous woman novelist, wrote an article that appealed to readers to support the event. Feng Jicai, a Tianjin-based popular novelist, was moved by Gao’s sincerity and answered Zhang’s call by garnering some funds from factories and a literary magazine, total 20,000 yuan. Another source of funding came from artists. About 40,000 yuan was collected through their efforts in factories and companies in exchange for either labor or artwork. In addition, the committee charged fee of 100 yuan, for participation in the show, thus adding 18,000 yuan. The most moving fundraising story came from the contribution of 27,000 yuan, from Song Wei, an owner of a small business. From the mid-1980s, Song Wei had run a fast-food company, named Great Wall Fast-Food, and his ambition was to build the first private art museum in China. He collected about fifty featured works directly from artists after the closure of the show. Though the plan terminated because of a business failure, financial difficulties during the June Fourth Tiananmen Incident, a family situation, and health problem, Song Wei was the first adventurer into China’s contemporary art market. By the time of the exhibit opened in February 1989, only 118,600 yuan had been raised, about 100,000 yuan short of its goal. Thus, the original budget was cut greatly. One result was that the exhibition catalogue turned out to be a 46-page small booklet (Fig. 4.91).

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4.3.3

Actions and Two Closures

The officials of the Propaganda Department of CCP, the Ministry of Culture, CAA and the museum examined the show on February 4, 1989, one day before the opening. The Preparatory Committee invited influential artists and art historians from the CAFA to the inspection to provide support. After a dispute occurred between the censorship team and the committee members and the invited experts, three pieces were taken down.135 The major controversy concerned the Mao Zedong #1 by Wang Guangyi (Fig. 4.92). The censorship team argued that the picture seemed to put Mao behind bars. The work remained on display when the artist put a caption under the piece, describing Mao as one of the most influential political figures in twentieth century China. Thus, the evaluation of his historical role was represented by the geometrical grid and letters drawn on the surface of Mao’s official portrait. The grid was borrowed from the art of the Cultural Revolution, when amateurs would enlarge small portraits of Mao to a monumental size in a campaign of propaganda. Moreover, the letters recollected charts or diagrams in mathematics or sciences. Therefore, grid and letters together allude to a scientific analysis. The China/Avant-Garde exhibition opened at the National Art Museum of China on February 5, 1989. On the Eve of Chinese New Year – Year of Serpent – it was a mammoth festival for all avant-garde artists (Fig. 4.93). On the square in front of the museum were laid five enormous

135 The most provocative was an oil painting “I Tell Story of Golden Apple before the Tempest,” by Liu Yi, a Beijing artist. Five female nudes, portrayed in a Neo-Classical manner, were mostly appropriated from other masterpieces or photographs, such as Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” the bather in Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ “Grand Baigneuse,” with an apple in her left hand, Marilyn Monroe, a back-view of an anonymous white woman, and a front-view of an Asian, probably Chinese, female. Venus sat with two legs open that exposed her private parts unscrupulously. The censoring team labeled it “pornographic image” at first glance and asked to remove it. To officials and the public in the 1980s, this audacious exposure of female sexuality was absolutely unacceptable. Thus, the Preparatory Committee had no choice but took it off.

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Fig. 4.91 Front and back cover of China/Avant-Garde exhibition catalogue, 1989

Fig. 4.92 Wang Guangyi, “Mao Zedong #1,” oil on canvas, triptych, 1988

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Fig. 4.93 Commemorative envelope for the China/ Avant-Garde with signatures of members of Preparatory Committee and featured artists, and the designer of Year of

Serpent stamp (top right) was Lü Shengzhong, featured in the show, Feb.1989

black banners with the exhibition’s title and logo, appropriated from “No U-Turn” traffic sign, designed by Yang Zhilin, a vanguard artist from Nanjing (Fig. 4.94).136 After Gao Minglu announced the opening of the historical exhibition, the audience entered the galleries and witnessed the sensations caused not only by the provocative installations and paintings, but most shockingly, by several stunning Happening-like actions. It was notable that none of the actions, except for Wu Shanzhuan’s “Big Business,” was approved by the Preparatory Committee because of the agreement with the museum, but they were secretly planned and manipulated by artists. The first action the audience saw was Li Shan’s “Good-bye,” executed in the second right booth of the first-floor gallery (Fig. 4.95). One of the Rationalist Painters from Shanghai, Li Shan dressed in red, sat and washed his feet, a daily hygiene and healthy routine many Chinese do before going to bed. The basin, however, was decorated with many

portraits of the US President Ronald Reagan. An attempt to move everyday life into the art museum, this action could be read as a profane statement against the “sacredness” of the art institution on the one hand, and had political implications because of the color of red and the usage of President Reagan’s image on the other. On the second floor, Zhang Nian, a graduate of the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts and faculty member at the Shantou University, Guangdong, was “hatching eggs” in the eastern gallery (Fig. 4.96). Not a featured artist, Zhang Nian claimed that “During the incubation period, any theoretical discussion is denied avoiding interrupting the next generation,” a statement written on the paper that hung across his chest, surrounded by eggs and a series of words saying “waiting.” This was a stance against the theoretical or philosophical tendency in the vanguard movement, the Rationalist Painting or over-interpretation of artworks by both artists and critics. About one hour after the opening, Wang Deren dispersed more than seven thousand condoms with coins throughout all seven galleries, making a lot of noise that attracted or annoyed audiences. Titled “To Sun-God,” the work tended to unify the show

Artists wanted to hang five black banners on the façade of the museum, but the museum denied because it would look like a scene of a grand funeral, thus inauspicious, especially in the period of Chinese New Year.

136

236 Fig. 4.94 China/AvantGarde, the scene of the front square of the National Art Museum of China, Feb. 5, 1989

Fig. 4.95 Li Shan, “Goodbye,” Feb.5, 1989, Action Art, in the opening of the China/Avant-Garde, National Art Museum of China

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Fig. 4.96 Zhang Nian, “Egg-Hatch,” Feb.5, 1989, Action Art, in the opening of the China/Avant-Garde, National Art Museum of China

through spreading coin-condoms on the one hand and attacked the asceticism of the official ideology in an extremely profane manner on the other. As condoms in the 1980s China would refer to freedom of sexual activity rather than safety of sex because they reduced the troublesome consequences,137 coins were no doubt meant the monetary power, condemned by mainstream discourse. In addition, “Sun-God” in Chinese, rishen, could also be read as obscene words, “god of fucking” or “fucking god,” which intensified the significance of blaspheme tremendously. Simultaneously, Zhang Shengquan, Zhu Yanguang and Ren Xiaoying, non-featured artists from Datong, Shanxi, wrapped themselves entirely in white cloth and walked into the first-floor gallery, an action titled “Mourning.”138 The color white is usually used in funerals in China, thus they mourned “the death of vanguard spirit,” since in-site actions

Although condoms entered China in the first half of the twentieth century, few used them during the Mao era because of the conservative culture, and importation and sale of condoms were rare and controlled by the authorities. The popular usage of condoms started from around the 1980s when domestic products entered the market and the culture of sex became flexible and open. 138 Zhang Shengquan, also known as Datong Dazhang, took his own life on the first day of the new millennium as his last artwork, see Sect. 6.1. 137

were prohibited, what they believed was Preparatory Committee’s shameful compromise or even surrender to the authority. In fact, they were asked to leave and were escorted out of the museum by the committee members who had to follow the agreement. Wang Lang, another non-featured artist, made up as a Japanese ronin, wandered in the museum, to show a non-cooperative attitude to both the institutional system and the Preparatory Committee. The third right booth on the first-floor gallery was the venue for Wu Shanzhuan’s “Big Business,” where he would sell prawns to convey his idea of “art is just a business.” There was a shift in Wu’s approach to art, from the purely conceptual to the realistic, in late 1988 and early 1989, when the economic boom was just around the corner. Noting the possible impact of commercialism on the Chinese art world in the late 1980s, Wu Shanzhuan pointed out that art activity was a big business at the ‘88 Chinese Modern Art Conference in Anhui province. “Business art has lowered art down to a ‘business icon’ easily recognized by the masses,” he proclaimed.139 Wu Shanzhuan, “Cong Yuedi Kaishi de Zainan: Shengyi Yishu” (A Disaster Began from the End of This Month: Art as Business), 1989, quoted from Gao Minglu, Total Modernity and the Avant-Garde in TwentiethCentury Chinese Art, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2011, p.227.

139

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Fig. 4.97 Wu Shanzhuan, “Big Business,” aftermath of the aborted action, China/Avant-Garde exhibition, National Art Museum of China, 1989

Based on this idea, Wu executed an action called “Big Business” in the China/Avant-Garde exhibition. Thirty kilograms of frozen prawns from Zhoushan, Zhejiang, the island where he was born and worked as an art teacher, were shipped to Beijing. He sold them at an inexpensive price in the gallery at the exhibition’s opening. One of the buyers was Liu Kaiqu, a well-known sculptor and the honorary director of the NAMOC. Because of no retail license and concern of hygiene condition, the sale was stopped by the security. He marked on the board “Closed for stocktaking today” and left (Fig. 4.97). In an essay, he explained the action, “The National Art Museum of China is not only a place to display artwork, but it can also be a black market. For the Chinese New Year, I have brought the first-class prawn from my hometown in celebration of the holiday and to enrich people’s spiritual and material life in our capital city. The unit price: 9.5 yuan per jin. The sale place: National Art Museum of China. Buy it as soon as possible, please.”140 It could be the earliest manifesto of art as business in the 1980s’ China, when there was essentially no art market and vanguard artists did Quoted from “Jiuren Baizitan – Yu Zhongguo Xiandai Yishuzhan Zhuyao Zuozhe Tanhua” (One-Hundred-Character Statements of Nine Artists Featured the China/AvantGarde), Beijing Qingnianbao, February 10, 1989. Jin, a Chinese measurement of weight, equals 0.5 kg. 140

not see art as a commodity to be sold. In fact, many featured artists left their works behind when the show was over because they believed that the art had completed its mission. About three hours after the opening, Xiao Lu, a woman artist from the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, fired two gunshots at her installation, “Dialogue” (Fig. 4.98), her senior work which was summoned by the Preparatory Committee because it had been published on the back cover of Meishu, issue 10, 1988, and highly praised. The action generated the most shocking and sensational incident in the historical show. Tang Song, Xiao’s friend and an artist from ZAFA, stood by her during the shooting, and was detained immediately (Fig. 4.99). Xiao surrendered a few hours later. Soon after the shooting, cars fully loaded with armed riot policemen arrived at the museum (Fig. 4.100), and the chief of the Public Security Bureau of Chaoyang District, Beijing, who was in plain clothes, rudely ordered that the museum be shut down. Both domestic and international media reported the sensations right after the shutdown. “Gunshots,” “condom-throwing,” “Mao in cage,” “shrimp sales,” “egg-hatching” and “feet-washing” appeared in the headlines of most media. An artistic event had been transformed into a political and cultural sensation.141 From the artist’s perspective, the gun-shooting was purely an artistic action. When the two artists were released two days 141

In fact, Chinese enjoyed a short period of freedom of the press while reporting the event, which started in the mid-1980s and continued until the June Fourth crackdown of the Tiananmen Demonstration. While the international media such as New York Times, Newsweek, Washington Post (all US), the Globe and Mail (Canada), Times, Guardian (both UK), Le Monde (the World, France), Pravda (Truth), Tass News Agency (both Soviet Union), among others, reported the event in a sensational manner, the domestic media, including Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily), Guangming Ribao (Guangming Daily), Zhongguo Qingnianbao (China Youth Daily), Gongren Ribao (Workers Daily News), Jingji Ribao (Economy Daily), China Daily (an official newspaper in English), Zhongguo Wenhuabao (China Culture Daily), Beijing Qingnianbao (Beijing Youth Daily), Beijing Ribao (Beijing Daily), Zhongguo Nongminbao (China Farmers Daily), focused, with excitement, on reporting the event and the public reaction. Thus, the art museum in this period was full of passionate reporters, in addition to vigilant plain-clothes policemen.

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Fig. 4.98 Xiao Lu, “Two Gunshots at the Artist’s Installation ‘Dialogue’,” Action Art in the China/ Avant-Garde exhibition, the National Art Museum of China, Feb.5, 1989

Fig. 4.99 Tang Song was detained after Xiao Lu’s gunshots, the National Art Museum of China, Feb.5, 1989

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Fig. 4.100 Police cars with riot policemen arrived the museum after Xiao Lu’s gunshots, and artists felt excited as in a festival, the National Art Museum of China, Feb.5, 1989

later, they handed to Gao Minglu a statement to explain their action, As parties of the shooting incident on the day of opening of the China/Avant-Garde exhibition, we consider it a purely artistic incident. We consider that in art, there may be artists with different understanding of society, but as artists we are not interested in politics. We are interested in the value of art as such, and in its social value, and in using the right form with which to create, in order to carry out the process of deepening that understanding.142

There had been two assumptions about the gun-shooting action from the beginning that became a critical consensus. First, it was considered an aggressive gesture against authority by both the media and the art world. Second, the authorship was presumably given to Xiao Lu and Tang Song, since Tang was also detained at the scene and both provided the statement that seemed to announce their co-authorship. In 2004, however, Xiao Lu wrote letters to Gao Minglu and Li Xianting, and declared her solo authorship encouraged by Gao Minglu. The artist announced that she was the only author of the installation and the gunshot. After fifteen

years of silence, she ended her long-term relationship with Tang Song. This declaration demonstrated the complex context of the historical event. As it turned out, Xiao Lu fell in love with Tang Song immediately after both were detained in the same detention center. In her autobiographical novel, more poignant stories were released. She was sexually abused by a Socialist Realist painter, her father’s best friend, when she was a teenager.143 Disillusionment, frustration, anxiety and anger occupied her mind after this terrifying experience. When she studied at the CAFA High School in Beijing, the training was still basically on the Soviet mode, thus Socialist Realism, though modified, was paradigmatic to her. The painter who hurt her the most smashed her illusion with extreme hypocrisy and even generated hatred in her mind with the art he made. Thus, the gunshots might be read as a revengeful action in a sense. Departing from the bloodline of the Soviet mode in her installation “Dialogue,” symbolized by a hanging phone between two telephone booths, Xiao Lu shot twice at it at the NAMOC to add a huge exclamation mark. It manifested feminine power through

142

Quoted from Gao Minglu, Total Modernity and the Avant-Garde in Twentieth-Century Chinese Art, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2011, pp.161.

143 See Xiao Lu, Dialogue, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010, pp.38–46.

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an artistic action in a period when feminism had not yet come to China. Though extremely personal in motivation, the gunshots action caused the greatest sensation in the show. The media and later the art world pointed to, nearly unanimously, the politics, such as the challenge to authority, an effort toward freedom of art expression, testing the gray area between the unlawful and the lawful, or even grievance to the compromise to the museum in Action Art made by the Preparatory Committee. Another motive with its individualistic significance was hidden under the political interpretation. The artist had raised the issues of the private and the public, the personal experience

Fig. 4.101 Song Haidong, “The Earth from an Alien’s Eyes,” 1989, mixed media

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and the Zeitgeist, and the sociological and the aesthetic, even feminism in a male-centered discourse. In this sense, the “gunshots” action was a great success and became one of the most important artworks in history of Chinese contemporary art. There was another controversy at the opening. A diplomat from the East German Embassy was upset by Song Haidong’s mixed media piece “The Earth from an Alien’s Eyes,” in which a piece of the “wall” was tied on a globe between two Germanies, next to a framed photo collage with images of the Berlin Wall and Brandenburg Gate (Fig. 4.101). The diplomat considered this a violation of the East Germany’s sovereignty. The

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artist removed the piece on the requirement of the embassy, and the work was collected immediately by the Tokyo Modern Art Gallery. Ironically, this art piece and its removal foreshadowed the collapse of the Berlin Wall, nine months later. On February 10, the show reopened. New security personnel were hired, and the committee had to pay their salaries, a new burden on the alreadyinsufficient budget. The shock was not over. The exhibition was shut again on February 14 because of three anonymous letters, consisting of clipped and pasted printed characters from newspapers or magazines, were sent to the museum, the Beijing Public Security Bureau and the Beijing Municipal Government, saying “You have to shut down China/Avant-Garde immediately, or we will set off bombs in three places in the National Art Museum of China.” The ministers of the Propaganda Department of CCP and the Ministry of Culture commanded that the show close for two days in order to let the authorities search for bombs in the museum. Predictably, the search turned out that there was no bomb. It was just a practical joke. The identity of the artist was not unveiled until the year of 1995, when the Zhejiang Public Security Bureau detained Liu Anping, who had been featured in the China/Avant-Garde and had made a similar joke. The second closure even inspired a stamp designer to produce a commemorative envelope which recorded the dates of the two closures: “the only show in history of art exhibition in China that was shut-down twice.” As recorded on the envelope, the show was shut down twice, the first time was February 5 to 9, then second closure, February 15 to 16. The exhibition closed on February 19; therefore, it had only remained open for eight days and two and half hours, rather than the proposed fifteen days. The following is a timeline of the show after the opening. Feb.5 Tang Song was detained by police immediately after the shooting incident. Xiao Lu returned to the museum afternoon encouraged by her uncle and friends and was detained. The agreement was reached: the show would be closed until Feb. 10 in the name of Chinese New Year. Feb.6 Preparatory Committee members and participating artists celebrated New Year at the

museum, the lunch consisted of a combo meal of KFC, the first foreign fast-food restaurant to open in China (1988). Feb.7 Gao Minglu and Tang Qingnian went to the Public Security Bureau to visit Xiao Lu and Tang Song and were told that they had been released in the early morning because no political intention was found. Feb.10 The show reopened. Xiao Lu and Tang Song returned to the museum and became heroes to artists. Although they claimed there was no political consideration, nearly all the media around the world read it as a political act instead of an artistic “Happening.” The authorities dispatched many security officers to the museum and the preparatory committee was required to pay for it. Feb.11 The symposium My View of Art, moderated by Zhou Yan, was held at CAFA. A dispute took place between “scholarly vanguard” – represented by Xu Bing, Lü Shengzhong and those who focused on new language of modern art – and those who wanted to be more guerrilla-like vanguard with radical actions. Feb.13 The Symposium of Chinese Modern Art was held at National Art Museum of China. The discussion focused on whether China’s vanguard created a specifically Chinese modernist art or was simply retail or wholesale of western modernism. The museum notified the Preparatory Committee that they had imposed a fine of 2000 RMB for the violation of the agreement due to the implement of actions. Seven institutional sponsors were not allowed to hold any shows at the museum in the following three years as a punishment. Feb.14 Three anonymous letters with the same content composed of cutout characters from the newspaper, claiming “You have to shut down Avant-Garde immediately, or we will set off bombs in three places in the National Art Museum of China,” were sent to the museum, the public security bureau and the Beijing Daily. The show was closed for two more days. Feb.15 The museum was searched thoroughly by a Canine Team and other detection equipment and no explosives were found. Feb.16 The authorities required that the Preparatory Committee hire personnel to secure the

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safety and security of the exhibit halls. All bags must be checked and stored before viewers could enter the museum. Feb.17 Second reopening of the show. The commemorative envelopes with the words “two closures” were sold in front of the museum, but soon confiscated by police. Feb.19 Last day. All kinds of rumors run in and out of the museum. 50,000 RMB were donated to the committee by Song Wei, owner of a private company (took 30,000 RMB back later). After the closing of the show, a political incident occurred. The participating artists were invited into the Jiejie Bar, half mile from the museum, to celebrate the success of the show. In fact, the host wanted to collect signatures for a petition to release Wei Jingsheng, a jailed political dissident. All the artists and critics were extremely tired and hungry. Gao Minglu asked them to go to a restaurant to have dinner and then dismantle the show in the evening. A few stayed at the bar, including Li Xianting, but the majority left with Gao without signing. As in the mid-1980s, avant-garde artists were sensitive to potential cultural trends and made artwork that conveyed this sensibility. The actions that took place in the China/Avant-Garde exhibition foreshadowed a series of events, phenomena or tendencies, besides connection of Song Haidong’s globe piece and the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is a development that exceeded the expectation of art critics and historians. For instance, the flattening and superficiality of art discourse from the early 1990s on could find its hint from Zhang Nian’s rejection of art theory in his “Egg-Hatch.” Prostitution, prohibited by the government in the early 1950s, had reappeared and become a huge underground industry from the middle of the 1990s, and condom sales soared, which could find a portent in Wang Deren’s profane condom-coin throwing action, “To Sun-God.” As western capital entered China in the 1990s, the art market, of Chinese contemporary art in particular, grew within and outside the nation and soaring prices of artworks by Chinese contemporary artists in auctions in Hongkong, London and New York became headlines in a variety of art media, explicitly exemplifying Wu Shanzhuan’s creed, “art is a big

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business,” conveyed by his shrimp-sale action. An unexpectable expectation came from Li Shan’s “feet-washing” piece, which had a mysterious connection to a new service and quasi-industry across the nation, foot-massage or lavipeditum, zuyu in Chinese, sprouting up in late 1990s, and booming in the twenty-first century from metropolises to small towns, even reaching China-town in Los Angeles and other cities in USA, in the 2010s. Eventually, hardline critics attacked the avantgarde show as a rehearsal of the Tiananmen demonstration, which occurred two months later. Poignantly, Xiao Lu’s gunshots found their ferocious echo in the machinegun shots by PLA on June 4, which in turn added a tragic color to the artist’s action.

4.3.4

Works Outside of Actions

There has been little scholarly study of the show except for the sensational reports and controversial reviews. There were 297 pieces of artwork created by 176 artists displayed in six galleries and one corridor at the National Art Museum of China, Beijing (Fig. 4.102, Gallery 19 was in fact a corridor). Majority of featured works were new as some well-known pieces in the mid-1980s were summoned. Gallery 3 on the first floor was for installation art and visual documentation of actions (based on the agreement with the museum). This was the space where most actions occurred because of its easy access and the novelty of the art form that attracted the most viewers in the opening. Xiao Lu’s “Dialogue” and gunshots, Li Shan’s “Goodbye,” Wu Shanzhuan’s “Big Business,” as well as “Three Men in White” by the Shanxi artists and Wang Lang’s wandering, all took place in the Gallery 3, in addition to Wang Deren’s “To Sun-God,” that started from this space. The documentation of actions included activities by such groups as Xiamen Dada, The Concept 21 (Fig. 4.70), and individual artists, Gu Wenda and Wei Guangqing. Huang Yongping and his comrades’ “Proposal for Hauling Away the National Art Museum of China” was on display in this gallery (Fig. 4.103),

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Fig. 4.102 Floor plans of China/Avant-Garde, the National Art Museum of China, 1989

Fig. 4.103 Huang Yongping, Chen Chengzong, Jiao Yaoming, Lin Jiahua, Lin Chun, Huang Yongpan, Wu Yiming, “Proposal for Hauling Away the National Art Museum of China,” 1989

along with the ropes that were supposed to be used for “hauling” the museum but run through all the exhibition space from the first to third floors instead (Fig. 4.104). Here, Huang and his Xiamen Dada comrades questioned the art system

and art institutions, by symbolically hauling away the nation’s official art palace during the exhibition. As a flagrantly political statement, the proposed symbolic action was too provocative to be accepted, thus implementation of the plan was

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Fig. 4.104 The booth of Xiamen Dada, China/ Avant-Garde, Gallery 3, ropes on floor, 1989, the National Art Museum of China

Fig. 4.105 Gu Dexin, “Untitled,” 1989, recycled plastic, in China/AvantGarde, National Art Museum of China

denied by the museum. Instead, the proposal was displayed, and the ropes were placed on the museum floor and stairs to connect seven spaces that exhibited vanguard art.

There were about ten installations in the Gallery 3, among them Gao Sheng, Gao Qiang and Li Qun’s “The Mass in Midnight,” Gu Dexin’s “Untitled” (Fig. 4.105) and Liang Shaoji’s “Yi/

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Fig. 4.106 Liang Shaoji, “Yi/Change #3,” 1989, bamboo slips, wire, string and rice paper, China/Avant-Garde, the National Art Museum of China. (Note: Xiamen Dada’s rope running through the booth)

Change #3” (Fig. 4.106) attracted a lot of attention. “The Mass in Midnight,” made of latex and cloth, provoked the innocent eyes and asceticism in mainstream ideology with its starkly inflated breasts and enlarged genital organs. Gu Dexin collected lots of waste materials, apparently authentic animal organs, intestines in particular, from a plastics factory, and hung them on the wall to make the audience sick. As both challenged audiences’ vision and nerve, Liang Shaoji’s “Yi/ Change #3” seemed to soothe their anxious and nervous hearts. Yi, literally “change,” “movement,” or “transformation,” is a critical concept in Chinese classic philosophy, reflected in Yi Jing, or Book of Changes, an ancient divination text. Application of light, transparent and gossamer-like materials in production of superposition of geometrical forms, in addition to a taiji scheme, symbol of Dao or Yin and Yang,

provided the noisy and discomposed space with a tranquil trickle of classic spirit. The “Tactile Art,” a hand-drawn work with an entirely novel appearance, was made by the New Calibration Group, consisting of Gu Dexin, Wang Luyan and Chen Shaoping (Fig. 4.107). A series of diagrams with Chinese boldface type provided people with a chance to use tactility, such as “Wind on one’s face, 22  C,” “Hand scratches/ shaking,” and “Walk (barefoot) on soil, sand, water and mud, eight meters each phase.” According to Wang Luyan, the group’s theorist, the numbers and characters in the diagrams “are not about themes, descriptions, happiness, sadness, anger or pleasure; neither are they about the truth itself, nor rhyming schemes, phonetics, forms, expressions, rhythm, intuitions, illusions, consciousness, or unconsciousness. Rather, they are a pure, delicate, and thorough contact between

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Fig. 4.107 New Calibration group, “Tactile Art,” ink on paper, 1988

human body and outside world.”144 This was the result of rules, presumably, that required artists to find possible ways to create activities of tactility. The sense of touch is one of the five human senses. While fine artists deal with vision, musicians appeal to listening, culinary artists handle smell and taste, dancers are sensitive to tactile sensation. However, everyone has all five senses and difference between ordinary people and artists is that latter takes one or two senses as bases of their profession. What the New Calibration group artists attempted to achieve was to purge rationalist and artistic elements in senses, the tactile in this case, and to guide people, including artists, recovering their basic and natural sense of outside world, namely feeling what you see, hear, smell, taste and touch, without Wang Luyan, “Tactile Art,” an unpublished manifesto, 1988, cited from Gao, Minglu, Total Modernity and the Avant-Garde in Twentieth-Century Chinese Art, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2011, pp.234–236.

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interference of language and conception, as Wang Luyan concluded their manifesto, “What artists and common people get is maximum freedom and relaxation, which can be easily obtained by relaxing yourself. Through the boundless space of tactile art, artists and people in general alike will own a free and new kingdom.”145 Ironically, they worked on a project of purging rationality with an apparently rationalist manner. The significance of this project, however, was twofold. On the one hand, it denied the ideologycentered Socialist Realism with focus on formal factor and perceptive element; on the other hand, it sought to bring basic senses to audience who in turn could be more confident and comfortable as facing natural wonders and artistic fantasies, especially in contemporary art. The Rationalist art was displayed mainly in Galleries 13 and 15, on the second floor. Gallery 13 was in the center, leading to Galleries 14 and

145

Ibid, p.236.

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Fig. 4.108 (a–c) Huang Yali, “Red Earth Series,” 1987, 3 of total 6 pieces, ceramic, exhibited at China/Avant-Garde, the National Art Museum of China, 1989

15, so audiences could see immediately Wang Guangyi’s “Mao Zedong #1” (Fig. 4.92) on the central wall, flanked by his “Post-Classic Series – Death of Mara: The Ultimate #1” (1986) and “Red Reason” (1987), as they walked in. Ding Fang’s “Vocation and Birth #2” (1986) and “Toward Fideism: Rest in Peace” (1988–89), the representative pieces of art of “Great Soul,” called by Li Xianting, were on the side walls. Beneath Wang and Ding’s works was Ren Jian’s 30-meter long ink piece “Evolution from Genesis” (Fig. 4.10) that ran along all three walls. Huang Yali’s ceramic pieces, “Red Earth Series,” might not fit the notion of “Rationalist Art,” but the one of “Current of Life” instead because of their sense of mystery (Fig. 4.108a– c). They were exhibited in Gallery 13 because it might be the only open space for these 3-D work. A woman artist from Hubei, Huang Yali’s art in the 1980s carried a spirit of Chu culture, mainly today’s Hubei and Hunan provinces in southern China.146 Her early wooden work “Tranquility 146 Chu culture in its indigenous era (approximately after sixth century B.C.) featured with a spirit of romantic mysticism, guiqi (ghostly atmosphere, literally) in Chinese, based on Daoism, Shamanism with some Confucian glosses, as well as native folk influence, reflected on images of serpents, phoenixes, dragons, tigers, freeflowing clouds, etc. from artifacts of bronze, lacquerware, silk, mostly burial objects. Also see Sect. 4.2.3.4.

and Solemnity Series” applied colors of red and black, major colors in Chu art, in construction of a series of works with elements of lacquerware (Fig. 4.73). Much less glossy and decorative feature than her wooden work, the “Red Earth Series” demonstrated the rugged beauty of ceramics with their coarse surfaces. Their forms integrated witchcraft props, totems, masks, funeral artifacts, and sacrificial utensils, less a sense of nobility but wildness and guiqi, smack or atmosphere of ghost. This de-civilized tendency could be seen in many works of Current of Life. The most striking work in Gallery 15 was Xu Bing’s “The Mirror Reflecting the World.” Five long hand-scroll-like pieces hung from the ceiling to the floor, from the west to the east end of the gallery. In addition, several copies of pseudobooks in traditional thread-bound edition were placed on the floor (Fig. 4.109a). As a graphic artist, Xu began to explore the unique nature of printed language, and to think about how to make printmaking more conceptually sophisticated in the mid-1980s. From 1986 to 1988, Xu Bing carved about two thousand pieces of wooden type for printing “Chinese characters of Song Dynasty style” (Fig. 4.109b). None of these characters were recognizable because they were created, through the rearrangement, addition or reduction of structural

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Fig. 4.109 (a–c) Xu Bing, “The Mirror Reflecting the World” (changed to “Book from the Sky” later), scene on display at the National Art Museum of China, in the

exhibition China/Avant-Garde, Beijing, 1989; arranged wooden type (reversed characters), and a sheet of print

elements of Chinese written language. The artist intentionally eliminated any possible connection between the invented characters and existing ones, thus creating pseudo-characters (Fig. 4.109c). Numerous handscroll-like piece, about five hundred feet in length, were printed with the wooden type; and sets of books, printed with the same characters, were bound in paper covers, like traditional Chinese books. The work was first shown at the National Art Museum of China in 1988, with a “scholarly” title, “The Mirror Reflecting the World,” inspired by the emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty,147 along with the paper-cut installation by Lü Shengzhong, his colleague at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (Fig. 4.126). Then it featured in the exhibition China/Avant-Garde at the same venue in 1989. The unique appearance and painstaking effort on the work attracted a great amount of attention. It was alleged that a senior scholar of

linguistics from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the highest research institution of social sciences and humanities in China, with a magnifying glass in hand, attempted to find at least one recognizable character in this grand artwork, but failed. When no one could read the “text,” and no “character” was meaningful, some audiences called the work tianshu, a book from the sky, which became its more popular title later when it was exhibited abroad. Creating a meaningless work with tremendous effort was a dilemma Xu Bing generated on purpose. When Wu Shanzhuan and his comrades from the Red Humor group attacked the political discourse that reached its peak in the Cultural Revolution through their linguistic and semantic experiment, “Red 70%, Black 25%, and White 5%” (Figs. 4.25, 4.26), and “Red Characters: Big-Character Posters” (Fig. 4.27), Gu Wenda deconstructed Chinese poetry, calligraphy, and finally, characters, in his experimental ink pieces with a rebellious stance (Figs. 4.35, 4.36). That three artists simultaneously rethought Chinese written language is an interesting phenomenon. Compared with the cultural heritage of the West, Europe in particular, reserved mostly in architecture with primarily stone structure, that of ancient China could be found mainly in textual documents inscribed on oracles, bronze vessels, stone drums and steles, bamboo slips, and finally,

147 The emperor Taizong, Tang Dynasty, wrote the text on the stone stele for Wei Zheng, the chancellor during the Taizong’s reign, to pay his high tribute to Wei after his death, “Using bronze as a mirror allows one to keep his clothes neat. Using history as a mirror allows one to see the future trends. Using a person as a mirror allows one to see what is right and what is wrong. When Wei Zheng died, I lost a mirror.” Translation from http://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Wei_Zheng#Emperor_Taizong.27s_reign, available on April 1, 2015.

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silk and paper surfaces, all in Chinese scripts, because most of the ancient Chinese architecture, primarily built of wood, disappeared as a result of natural deterioration and human destruction. Seemingly the history of five-thousand-year-old civilization was in textual documents. Therefore, to those radical anti-traditionalists, subversion of cultural and historical discourses, the main task of Hermeneutics School and its ally, avant-garde artists, required critique, and further, deconstruction of its vehicle, written language. As a pictograph or ideograph in the family of written languages, Chinese has its natural artistic form as it functions as tool of textual communication. It provides artists with room for their creative activities. Chinese calligraphy became the foremost form of art when handwriting in Chinese brush, invented around 300 B.C., carried both communicative and aesthetic functions. For radicals of the 1980s, however, deconstructing the written language would show their antiideological and anti-traditionalist stance on the one hand, while launching a discursive revolution at the linguistic level on the other. The critical response to Xu Bing’s “The Mirror Reflecting the World” varied, which is one of its charming features. Many audiences were amazed by its painstaking labor and the beauty of the carved wooden type, others were overwhelmed by its monumentality, reflected by the magnificent manner of its display, its large amount of fake characters, the piles of antique-like thread-bound books, and even the fragrance of the printing ink, that filled the gallery. These fake characters, displayed in such monumental manner, might refer to the history of Chinese civilization. In the context of antitraditionalist tendency, this history became the target of a revolution. As those literati or scholargentry spent their whole life reading and interpretating the classics, including philosophy, literature, history and arts, the Chinese living in the twentieth century read either distorted or entirely fake history. What Xu Bing attempted to point out might be that all those texts were fabricated, meaningless and nonsensical. The metaphor of disillusion could be read by those who had just awoken from the nightmare of the Cultural Revolution full of the rhetoric of revolution and class struggle.

Many Rationalist Painting pieces made in the mid-1980s were on display, because most audiences from the art world were only familiar with them from publications and the general public had no idea about their existence. These works included Geng Jianyi’s “Two People under the Lamplight” (1985, Fig. 4.3), “The First Shaven Head in the Summer of 1985” (1985, Fig. 4.19) and “Second State” (1987, Fig. 4.23), as Zhang Peili’s “X? Series” (1986, Fig. 4.18) which were in the Gallery 3 downstairs, next to the real rubber surgical gloves on a large platform, an addition to the series. Shu Qun’s well-known work, “The Absolute Principle” (Fig. 4.9), was extended into four pieces, that took off the cross, the moon-like sphere, then the hemispheric structure, consecutively, thus turned out an entirely black canvas, to illustrate his idea of deconstruction, a mindset that existed in some Rationalist Painting artists after their early work was criticized as a utopian exemplification of “Grand Narrative” by their vanguard comrades of Current of Life and Anti-Art. This mentality was reflected on the Mt. Huang Conference when Wang Guangyi raised the issue of “purging humanist zeal.” Yang Yingsheng’s “Pigeons Screened by Backs and the Magic Cube That Is Floating Away” (1985, Fig. 4.14), Cheng Xiaoyu’s “The East” (1985, Fig. 4.110), and Qu Yan’s “All Had Been Sinners before I Came” (1985, Fig. 4.48) were all published in various media and became familiar as exemplification of Rationalist Painting to vanguard circles, therefore summoned by the Preparatory Committee and featured in the show. “The East” was one of representatives of Rationalist Painting by Cheng Xiaoyu, a graduate student of wall painting, the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts, who did not participate in a vanguard group. With a contemplative mood, the human figures that might associate with an army of bicycle commuters, popular in urban areas all over the country in the second half of the twentieth century, were simplified with little trace of brushwork, and individuality was eliminated. The artist said, “I looked at the history from today’s point of view, and found out that the system of grand, mighty and longstanding history and culture of the East is accumulating and in

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Fig. 4.110 Cheng Xiaoyu, “The East,” 1985, oil on canvas

sediment, and fervid torrent of history is cooling down.”148 With the empty half that might refer to the West, two cultures on the earth, represented as background, had confronted and intertwined, and in most of time in the twentieth century the West played the role of teacher, the East, a student. Now it could be the time the East rethought its history and culture, to the artist. However, will the collective culture of the East that takes individual as integral part of the culture rather than an independent entity of the society, as seen as abstract creatures in the painting, work in today’s cultural condition? This paradox needs a modern interpretation and solution, a warning shown in this Rationalist Painting piece. Ling Huitao, an Anhui artist, was known for his Rationalist piece with a flavor of ridicule, “People on Another Side of the Wall Discussing Which Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?” in 1985 (Fig. 4.54), in addition to his diligent logistic work in and contribution to the Mt. Huang Conference at the end of 1988. In “the Chicken or the Egg” piece, a blind woman, a popsicle vendor, sat in a surreal outdoor space, who told fortune to someone Cheng Xiaoyu, “Weizhi Zai Yizhi Zhijian” (the Unknown Is in the Known), Zhongguo Meishubao, issue 12, 1986.

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outside the composition, according to the artist, along with a boy, a dog, a camera, against the wall that occupied the whole background, in an eerie atmosphere. In his new piece at the China/ Avant-Garde, a triptych, “They Have Their Hair Cut for One Hour” (Fig. 4.111), he pushed his ridicule to the extreme. In surroundings that looked like a small town in Anhui, the barber was working in each composition, either indoors or outdoors. However, the haircut scenes seemed not the point, but the people who lined up and “waited” for a haircut were the subject. A group of people that appeared three times in a variety of ways in the triptych was individually anachronistic. In the central piece, from left to right: a coal miner, a country gentleman or squire, a pilot, a doctor, a xiucai,149 a Red Army soldier, and a peasant, sat in the foreground, all put their palms together, Namaste, in a Buddhist greeting. As everyone appeared sleepy (or hypnotized?), and lost in their daydream, the squire, unique in the group, sat in a 149 Xiucai, one of three degrees that an individual attained after passing the civil service examination, or keju, at the county level in ancient China (approximately from Sui dynasty, 581–618 A.D., to 1905), as the other two were juren and jinshi, at the provincial and national levels respectively.

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Fig. 4.111 Ling Huitao, “They Have Their Hair Cut for One Hour,” 1988, triptych, oil on canvas, 135  420 cm

large armchair that showed his hierarchy in the group. Also, the mysterious figure was the monk, who alone stood behind the doctor and the pilot, and bowed (next to the barber and his customer, and inside the house, in two other pieces respectively), could add some religious flavor to the painting, or witness the drama of absurdity. As this unusual gathering was not weird enough, the artist “hung” the group of people upside down on the left, then let them strangely float, like cooked shrimp, in the air on the right, while both resisted gravities. The inexplicable in the painting might signify the absurdity in reality, history or ideology. To the artist, however, this exposure of absurdity was not from thoughtful meditation, but from his unconscious instead. Considering the popularity of J-P Sartre, Albert Camus, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, and Gabriel Márquez in 1980s’ China, we might be able to find the foreign elements, the absurd in particular, in Ling’s art. The reality he faced everyday, however, was the real inspirational source of this absurdity. Gallery 14 displayed mainly the work of Current of Life. As in the case of Rationalist Painting, the audience found some familiar pieces in the show, such as Pan Dehai’s “Broken-off Corncobs” series that he started in 1984 (Fig. 4.42). Mao Xuhui’s “David and Venus” (1986), a collage with watercolor that juxtaposed Michelangelo’s “David” in a leather jacket, jeans and boots, and the “Venus de Milo” in jeans, in a ridiculous manner; Ye Yongqing’s “Spring Awakening Brumal Sleeper” (1985, Fig. 4.40); Zhang Xiaogang’s “Age-to-Age Love” (1987,

Fig. 4.41); and Cao Yong’s “The Scheme of Modern Tragedy, No.1-2” (1985, Fig. 4.55), also hung in this gallery. Mao Xuhui, the major figure of the Current of Life, brought seven paintings to the show, including “David and Venus” (1986, Fig. 5.7), “The Mother of Red Soil” (1986), “The Patriarch” (1988), “The Will of Winter” (1988), “Together with Movie Stars” (1988), “Signs” (1988), and “Private Space – Self-amusement” (1988). The suppression of sexuality was one of the important subjects that Mao Xuhui focused on in the 1980s. He painted the series of “Love,” “Self-Confinement,” and “Noon,” in the mid-1980s, all of which dealt with suppressed sexuality to show the tension between desire and morality, need and norm, individuals and society, physicality and psychology, the rational and the irrational, nature and culture, and freedom and restriction. In the show, his “Private Space – Self-Amusement” (Fig. 4.112) also addressed this subject. An elongated female nude awkwardly floated in the air, probably a result of the suppression on her natural desires, while the setting looked as an apartment residence of an artist, indicated by a painting frame on bottom left. The most poignant image was the mask, an African one or the one of indigenous opera, perhaps, on the wall, which stared at the figure as its weirdly long hair run underneath the figure, then to the door. Was it the symbol of source of external suffocation? Or a sign of internal suppression? Zhang Xiaogang contributed six paintings to the exhibition, in which the acrylic-on-paper

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Fig. 4.112 Mao Xuhui, “Private Space – SelfAmusement,” 1988, oil on canvas

“Subsistence and Dream” series, three pieces, drew much attention. In his “Age-to-Age Love” (Fig. 4.41, also displayed in the show), he celebrated the primitive but likely eternal harmony between men and nature in a ritual-like surrounding, now he integrated humans into an entity that existed together with nature (Fig. 4.113). Reducing the physicality of the human figures, naked bodies here became components that consisted, with variety of animals and plants, a monumental entity, even gender feature gave way to the integrity of the monument. The most intriguing part could be the tree in center, which stroke huge roots on the earth. The entity consisted of all kinds of creatures, as the part above the “ground” held a human head, colorful but as if it were dead. While dead head was above the ground, living humans were underground. Therefore, the boundaries between life and death, above and under, humans and non-humans, and finally, nature and culture, were all removed. The stylistic influence of expressionism, abstract expressionism and neo-expressionism on China’s vanguard appeared mostly on the art

of Current of Life, because the language of the expressionism met the needs of those artists who tended to express their suppressed feeling and emotion, including anxiety, depression, perplexity, even desperation, in a stoic and collective culture, all downward power of humans, that run into the deep level of the spirit, the opposite of upward one in the Rationalist Painting, that run to the metaphysical level of the human spirit.150 The works with this feature in the exhibition included Cao Dan’s “1988 Critical Illness” series (1988), Zhu Xiaohe’s “Lunch” (1988), Xiao Feng’s “Nudes” (1988), Wu Pingren’s “Portrait of Two People: Image of Urban Culture” (1986), Wang Jiang’s “An Ill Omen” series (1985), Yang Shu’s “Untitled” (1988), Cao Yong’s (from Tibet, not The phrases “upward” and “downward” power are used as a metaphor. Rationalist Painting artists considered metaphysical pursuit as something that would lead them upward to a high sphere, e.g. heaven, god or the like, as the Current of Life artists saw the physical as an approach leading to the subconscious, the instinct, etc. namely, going down to human’s deep, personal sphere, or what they called “animal side” of human beings. Also see Sect. 4.1.2.3. 150

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Fig. 4.113 Zhang Xiaogang, “Subsistence and Dream #3,” 1988, acrylic on paper

Cao Yong of Gansu) “Untitled #1,” Wang Youshen’s “Serious Play” series (1988), Xin Haizhou’s “A Baldhead Boy” (1986), Guang Yao’s “Untitled” series (1988), Ma Lu’s “Paper Currency” series (1988), Wang Falin’s “Red Fruits” series (1988), Chai Xiaogang’s “Is the Ultimacy Happy?” (1988) and “I Plunk the Wind in Suburb” (1988), and Chen Yufei’s “Mania” (1988). Most were oil paintings, and some were collage. Jiang Hai, from Tianjin, was fascinated by expressionist style to release his explosive emotion. His “Faces” series destroyed human faces with axe-cuts or violent brush strokes and acute contrasts of colors, which could be read as a symbol of victim of mental and physical violence in the Cultural Revolution or other political campaigns. In the “Play of Black-White,” another featured piece in the show, the disintegrated face became even more contorted: it was metamorphosed into a combination of falcon

and human (Fig. 4.114). Its red color might be blood or simply an indicator of consequence of violence. The image of the falcon referred to predator, thus its identity was ambiguous, was it a victim of violence or implementer of it? The “Mother and Children” by Xia Xiaowan, a Beijing artist, contrived a horrifying scene of an inferno (Fig. 4.115). Figures were either contorted or “born” malformed, floating in the nether world. Was this the world that appeared in the artist’s sub-consciousness or a reflection of the real world? Xia was a representative of Current of Life art that was fascinated by the unconsciousness, including a hunger for sexuality, fear of death, and anxiety about life, already exemplified in his image of a “new-born but old baby,” seen in another featured piece, “Calling” and his early work “Untitled” (c. 1985, Fig. 2.43). His “Mother and Children” pushed the sense of horror to the extreme. Figurative or semi-figurative representations of sexuality were another aspect of Current of

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Fig. 4.114 Jiang Hai, “Play of Black-White,” 1988, oil on board

Fig. 4.115 Xia Xiaowan, “Mother and Children,” 1989, oil on canvas

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Fig. 4.116 Wu painted wood

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1988,

Life in which the artists sought beauty, sensitivity, and intimacy in sex. Wu Shaoxiang, a graduate student at the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts, built series of wooden sculptures to show the sheer beauty of the female body and the subtle pleasure of sexual activity (Fig. 4.116). Shen Qin, who once painted mountains as a hurricane in the mid-1980s (also featured in the show, see Fig. 4.15), created his relief series of mountains, in which he touched motifs of meditative perception, sensitivity, intimacy, or even the sacredness of sexuality in semi-abstraction manner (Fig. 4.117a–b). Those mountain-like relief images seemed to be permeated subtly with a tender melancholy and vulnerability. Probably because of limited space, the documents of the action “Hima-Langma” were exhibited in Gallery 14 on the second floor instead of Gallery 3 downstairs, thus did not draw much attention. Li Xinjian, an artist from

Sichuan (another reason, perhaps, that his art was put in Gallery 14 where most Sichuan artists’ work, mainly Current of Life art, was displayed), conducted an action, joined by three of his comrades, in the Himalayas. The title “8848, Hima-Langma” referred to the height of the mountain, 8848 meters above sea level, and the names of the mountain Himalaya and its peak, Zhumulangma (Mt. Everest). Rather than wrapping the body as many Action Artists did in the 1980s, they took off all of their clothes on the cold mountain top to worship Mother Nature and the sacred mountain, and to celebrate their return to nature in manner of Buddhist ritual (Fig. 4.118a–b). Gallery 20 on the third floor housed shuimo yishu, literally ink art, or accurately, “art in ink.”151 “Ink art,” in general, refers to the tradition of Chinese painting. However, the art in this gallery was not traditional at all, but experimental art in ink with little relationship to literati art tradition in particular, in terms of subject and sentiment. Li Jin, from Tianjin, might be one of the most outstanding ink experimentalists in this group. His “Ink Painting Series” consisted of five pieces, that continued his exploration of human beings and animals, started in the mid-1980s (Fig. 4.119a–c). In 1985, he painted “Impression of Tibet Series,” in which animals were personified as humans looked like animals (Fig. 4.45). Now the subject became fish-like creatures. With a remarkable sensitivity and masterful skill with ink and brush, Li Jin transformed the fish into an intriguing humanized creature. The eyes of his fish were the highlight of the composition, rendered with either two ink dots or meticulous eyebrow, eyelid, and eyeball. They looked like swimming spirits in water, looking with a curious, meditative or surprising expression. It might recall the fishes with half-white eyes by Bada Shanren (original name Zhu Da) – an eccentric painter in early Qing dynasty, but 151

The distribution and arrangement of artwork in the exhibition was in fact relatively illogical thus ambiguous. As the art in Galleries 3, 19, 20 was categorized on work type (installation/action, architecture, ink art), the ones in Galleries 13, 14, 15 and 21 were sorted by theme/subject or even tendency (Rationalist Painting, Current of Life, and exploration in language).

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Fig. 4.117 a-b, Shen Qin, “Mountain #4 & #6,” 1988, two of six pieces series, relief

Fig. 4.118 (a, b) Li Xinjian and his comrades, “8848, Hima-Langma,” Action Art, 1988

Fig. 4.119 (a–c) Li Jin, “Ink Painting Series, #1, #2, #4,” 1988, three of five pieces of series, ink on paper

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Fig. 4.120 Yang Jiecang, “Untitled,” 1988, ink on paper

Li’s had more meditative and less disdainful nature than Bada Shanren’s. Shen Qin brought in his artistic or ideological hurricane-like “Mountain Series” made in 1985 (Fig. 4.15), contrast with Yang Jiecang’s thick, still and monumental ink image (Fig. 4.120). Yang Jiecang, an individual artist from Foshan, Guangdong, treated ink art as an experimental object in which he applied several layers of ink with few traditional brush strokes and texture methods, essential to the tradition itself. He took much more time than xieyi, a spontaneous way of ink painting, therefore the piece looked like a mixture of abstraction in form and gongbi in “coloration,” in which colors are painted layer by layer. It was, however, a double denial of both Western abstraction and Chinese ink tradition, because, on the one hand, it was neither the “cold” abstraction of Piet Mondrian, nor the “hot” one of Willem De Kooning, but a construction of a monumental object on its own. On the other hand, it negated both xieyi and gongbi, since there was neither spontaneous and expressive brushwork as practiced in a xieyi piece, nor a

meticulous and delicate rendering of any figurative object as executed in a gongbi work. Instead, he produced a neutral, somehow sublime image. Yang Jiecang was invited, together with Huang Yongping and Gu Dexin, to show in the historical exhibition, Magiciens de la terre, at the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Grande Halle at the Parc de la Villette, Paris, France, from May 18 to August 14, 1989, curated by Jean-Hubert Martin (see Sect. 5.2.3). The most striking work in Gallery 20 was probably Song Gang’s installation “Loose-leaf Diary” (Fig. 4.121) because of scale occupying half of the central area and two booths. This was a mixture of various kinds of objects: more than twenty scrolls were hung in five groups, including cursive calligraphy, light-ink paintings, and splash-ink painting (Fig. 4.121b); about ten banners with both white circular paper-cuts put on red or brown ground and spontaneous ink drips were either laid on the floor or covered the columns. Finally red balloons were randomly tied on the floor or the columns. With this festival atmosphere, Song Gang seemed to celebrate free

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Fig. 4.121 (a) Song Gang, “Loose-leaf Diary,” 1988, ink art installation, (b) detail

expression with a spontaneity and excitement in execution, far beyond the meditative tradition of literati art. In those light-ink pieces, Song Gang applied ink onto every inch of rice paper, with rows of undecipherable symbol, to show some kind of order in a chaotic world. Gallery 21 was assigned to the art of so-called “language exploration,” referring to oil painting that concentrated on expression and the application of variety of materials. This categorization aimed at differentiating experimental art in oils from the vanguard that focused on an ideological or discursive revolution, a curatorial concept similar to the one in Gallery 20. In fact, the artwork in this gallery covered various concepts, and methodological experiments, not a pure “play of art language.” Meng Luding, the artist who was known for the “In the New Era: Revelation of Adam and Eve” that he collaborated with Zhang Qun in 1985 (Fig. 4.6), was such a typical explorer of oil language. He showed the “Soccer Series” (Fig. 4.122) in which he gave up the realistic skill he learned from his four-year study, and experimented into abstract expressionism, perhaps inspired directly by Fredrick J. Brown, an African-American abstractexpressionist who visited the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, in 1985 and 1987 respectively, and held a short-term workshop at his second visit, when Meng taught at the academy. This series described the scenes at the academy’s

outdoor basketball field in the afternoons, where students and young faculty played soccer in an extremely limited space and on a simple or even dangerous condition (concrete surface). The excitement, energy and vitality of the play was represented through running, thus distorted figures, brilliant colors, and swift and expressive brushwork. Although dealing with authentic rationalist subjects, Shanghai individual artists were considered experimentalists in art language by the organizers, probably because of their scholarly characteristics and obsession with technical elements and calm language as painting their metaphysical pieces. Yu Youhan kept his inquiry into the micro/macrocosmic world starting from 1984 (Fig. 4.34), but the components or elementary units now lined up in a more orderly manner, probably indicating the evolution of the universe/nature initiated from chaos (Fig. 4.123). Zhang Jianjun’s “Yŏu,” literally meaning “to have,” “to exist” or “being,” was a series, made from 1983 to 1990, which probed existence as a temporal entity (Fig. 4.32). Several wood-stake pieces protruding from the canvas were arranged as a clock-face, and variety of materials themselves could be referred to the elements that consisted of the existence. The intriguing part of the work was the object that extended from the vertical canvas to the third dimension, which was presumably related to the “Hang-up” by Eva

260 Fig. 4.122 Meng Luding, “Soccer Series, #2,” oil on canvas, 1987

Fig. 4.123 Yu Youhan, “Circles Series, #1, 1987,” acrylic on canvas, 1987

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Fig. 4.124 Zhang Jianjun, “Yŏu,” oil, ink, rice paper, wood, and debris on canvas, rope and stone, 1988

Hesse, made in 1966, in which a steel rod extended from an empty painting frame into the space. Rather than blur the space of the artwork and that of the viewer, as well as the boundary between painting and sculpture, Zhang was concerned with the incarnation of the essence. With a stone wrapped in paper pulp, he made the piece isomorphous with the universe because stones were part of the basic matter which formed galaxies. The wrapping paper pulp weakened the aggressiveness of the stone on the one hand, and added something civilized on the other (Fig. 4.124). “The Appearance of Crosses Series” was painted by Ding Yi, another Shanghai artist (Fig. 4.125). This could be one of the earliest works of “Maximalism,” as Gao Minglu coined later (Sect. 6.3). Started from his attitude of antirepresentation and anti-expression, which imposed meaning on the work and forced audience to accept it, Ding Yi tended to freeze his

expressive desire and eliminate his intention, not using his brain but hands only instead. He painted repetitively crosses, a simple sign for measurement in printing, in an extremely orderly manner, thus art making became an operation as a machine, precisely and coldly, without subjective or emotional intervention. However, the execution of this monstrously boring process, in turn, either tortured the artist mentally or cultivated him in manner of religious penance. We can see that the exploration of art language by these artists was not for a formalist goal, which focused on aesthetic aspect of art form, rather, they tended to find the most suitable language for their sentimental expression or spiritual pursuit. In fact, Ding Yi’s painting with pattern-like form was based on his anti-formalist concept. He thought that painting was neither a display of pure visual form nor a presentation of reality or nature, rather, it was the product of the methodology of the artist.

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Fig. 4.125 Ding Yi, “Appearance of Crosses Series II,” 1988, oil on canvas

The reason that Lü Shengzhong’s paper-cut installation was assigned to Gallery 21 was more likely spatial instead of thematic (Fig. 4.126a). Rather than focusing on an artistic language, the artist, a faculty member in the Department of Folk Art, CAFA, was fascinated by folk culture in northern China, including its visual form, literature, and religious elements. He constructed an installation with a form like a Sacred/Spirit Way (shendao) in a royal cemetery: a red-carpet-like road, flanked by decorated polls that functioned as statues of guardian animals or ornamental pillars as in a royal cemetery, led to the “tomb” (Fig. 4.126b), a maze with no way out, full of red, brown and white rush footprints, all papercuts. Though a format of royal cemetery, the interest of the artist seemed to be on the folksy rather than the magnificent or monumental. Papercut has been a popular form of folk art in China, especially in the country of northern China. Not only for decoration in festivals, it has variety of functions, including celebrating happiness in wedding, calling back the spirit in funeral, and warding off evil spirits in festivals

and religious rituals. With all these functions in an art temple as the national art museum, this installation transformed the folk tradition into a myth of modern art, which could be read as a symbol of anxiety or predicament of destiny of an art form, a generation of artists, or in general, a culture.152 Gallery 19 was in fact a corridor between the Gallery 20 and Gallery 21. This small space was assigned to the documentation of new architecture in the 1980s, in addition to a small installation, “Ceremony of Ascending and Descending” that paid homage to the western Modernists Cezanne, Van Gogh and Giacometti, by Hu Jianping, and a large collage of photographs, entitled “1989 - √,” by Yang Jun, Wang Youshen 152

In fact, Lü Shengzhong and Xu Bing had a two-person exhibition at the National Art Museum of China in October 1988, which featured their “Slow Walk” and “The Mirror Reflecting the World.” The Preparatory Committee invited them into the China/Avant-Garde show after the committee members saw these two giant installations. As Xu Bing’s concern was about the crises of culture, Lü Shengzhong had the similar concern, popular in the intelligentsia in the 1980s China.

4.3

China/Avant-Garde Exhibition

263

Fig. 4.126 (a, b) Lü Shengzhong, “Slow Walk: Sacred Way, Calling the Spirit Back, Exorcising Evil, and Nine Turns,” 1988, papercut installation

and Ai Shen, that mocked court bulletin in a violent and poignant way. China’s architecture of the 1980s imported Modernism and PostModernism synchronically, ahead of other fields. Because Post-Modernism occurred in architecture first, the Post-Modernist architecture was introduced into China prior to the one in visual arts, as the monograph Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966), which criticized Modernism in architecture and discussed major principles of Post-Modernist architecture, by Robert Venturi, a leading figure in PostModernist architecture, was partially translated into Chinese in 1981. By contrast, vanguard visual artists were still attempting to comprehend Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, or Cubism in the early 1980s. The China International Exposition Center, designed by Chai Feiyi, could be one of the earliest representatives of Modernist architecture in China (Fig. 4.127). Completed in 1985, it became immediately, with its exhibitions of modern technologies and industrial design, one of the most attractive buildings in Beijing. Wang Mingxian cheered the achievement, “It is a new architecture with then rarely-seen Modernist style. . . To provide a giant scale and sense of vigorousness, upwardness, and uniqueness, in addition to the need of complex multi-function for modern exposition space, the architect made a series of exploration. He divided

a three-hundred-meter long unit into four sections, namely, four exhibition halls with entrance and three connections. The repetition of laconic geometrical forms made the façade rhythmic. The corner windows on the ground level and high windows on the second floor created a contrast between the sparse top and solid bottom, so that the whole architecture appeared sculptural. The arcs of arcade and architrave were in contrast with repetitive squares and rectangles that established the identity of the entrance.”153 One of significances of this Modernist architecture was to bring audience physically into a modern era as China was basically still in a pre-Modern or essentially agricultural nation.154 Almost at the same time, several architects were experimenting with a Chinese-version of Post-Modernism in their design. One of the examples was the design of Beijing Xidan Shopping Mall, perhaps the earliest attempt at Post153 Quoted from Gao Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, p.586. Wang Mingxian, then the editor of Jianzhu Xuebao, wrote the chapter 6, “The Trends of Architecture in the 1980s.” 154 I visited the China International Exposition Center right after its opening in 1985. The excitement and awe of novelty and modernity brought about a cultural shock that I had never experienced.

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Fig. 4.127 Chai Feiyi, China International Exposition Center, Beijing, 1985

Fig. 4.128 Guan Zhaoye, Fu Kecheng, Liu Xiaodu, Han Baoshan, Wang Yu, Beijing Xidan Shopping Mall, model, 1985

Modern architecture in China (Fig. 4.128). Xidan was one of the most crowded and historical commercial centers in downtown Beijing. The

architects brought “Beijing dialect,” referring to indigenous architectural elements, into the design to pay respect to the local history, cultural context

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China/Avant-Garde Exhibition

265

Fig. 4.129 Zhou Yan in front of stele-like device, designed by Xu Bing, and the logo of the China/Avant-Garde, designed by Yang Zhilin, NAMOC, 1989

and environment. The archway with towering columns (chongtianzhu pailou), seen in traditional commercial or residential areas in Beijing, were brought onto the roof, and combined with Chinese pavilions and corridors. Inspired by Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet, the major body of the building was treated as if it grew up from the ground, as the size of window shrunk from top to bottom. A new image for a commercial center, this design received an award with great deal of praise, though it was not constructed. The historical significance of the exhibition China/Avant-Garde is hard to over-estimate. In the forty-year history of PRC, there had never been such a radical, provocative, and scholarly national vanguard exhibition in China. Its shocking value was reflected in reports and reviews with sensational headlines on nearly all national and international major newspapers and magazines. It summed up the achievements made by avant-garde artists in the 1980s, raised a variety of issues regarding law, politics,

aesthetics, sociology or culture in general, and challenged authorities of art, public security and administration, as well as the general public, through its Chinese version of Modernism and Post-Modernism that dealt with subjects from the physical to metaphysical, the sociological to the aesthetic, the traditional to the modern, and from the domestic to the international. It carried forward the cause pioneered by those Modernist predecessors of the first-half of twentieth century China, whom artists and organizers paid homage to on the device (Fig. 4.129), designed by Xu Bing, placed in the entrance to Gallery 3, the first floor, stating that “this exhibition is dedicated to generations of artists who devoted themselves to China’s modern art.” It forged ahead into the future, as most of trends since then can find their sources, prototype or origin from this show, such as Political Pop, Cynical Realism, Maximalism, and Apartment Art of the 1990s, and Way of Ink, and institutionalization of contemporary art of the twenty-first century.

5

Art Under Impact of Globalization (1989–1999)

5.1

1989 Incident and After, Market-Oriented Economy, Urbanization and Fetishism

The year 1989 was a watershed in China’s politics, economics and culture. The student demonstration in Beijing started in late April following the death of Hu Yaobang, the former general secretary of Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and lasted about forty days, was cracked down by the authority, reigned by Deng Xiaoping behind the curtain, on June 4. Reforms, both political and economic, established in the 1980s, was halted. It seemed that China would go back to its Mao era. Ironically, Deng Xiaoping, who was responsible for the suppression, made a tour of southern China to reassert his policy of economic reform. China returned to its reformist track and joined the global economy in the mid-1990s but retained its old political and social systems. With great passion and enthusiasm, art students and artists took part in the 1989s Democracy movement in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and other cities all over the nation. Hangzhou artists hung their large paintings of the Beijing demonstrations on the overpass in downtown Hangzhou. Students of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), Beijing, took advantage of being close to Tiananmen Square, twenty-minute walking distance to the school, to get involvement. When Hu Yaobang suddenly

passed away on April 15, CAFA students painted a large-scale portrait of him and brought it to the front of the Monument of People’s Heroes on Tiananmen Square, which was surrounded quickly by crowds, wreaths, and banners that showed people’s respect and admiration to the late leader. As the memorial activity developed into a movement for democracy, graphic art students from CAFA made flyers and distributed them on the square and joined their schoolmates in demonstrations and hunger strikes (Fig. 5.1a, b). The woodcut flyers used simple black-andwhite images to show support for the demonstrations, asking PLA soldiers not to suppress the student activities, as the army was deployed in Beijing after Martial Law was announced in the middle May. Ironically, the graphic language in these flyers originated with the New Woodcut Movement during the war years, when left-wing and communist artists created similar woodcuts to support the AntiJapanese War and the war against the Nationalist government. In late May, CAFA sculpture students received a commission from the Capital College Students Union Headquarters, the leader of the movement, and worked day and night from May 26 to 30 to construct the Goddess of Democracy. The work was inspired by the Statue of Liberty in New York, but students applied their realistic skills, that were acquired from their Sovieteducated faculty (Fig. 5.2).

# Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020 Y. Zhou, A History of Contemporary Chinese Art, Chinese Contemporary Art Series, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-1141-7_5

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Fig. 5.1 (a, b) CAFA graphic art students, “Flyers of Supporting Students’ Demonstration,” 1989, woodcut

Many students and artists became very depressed after the Tiananmen Incident. Some artists painted lots of portraits in the following decade that showed the aftermath of the massacre, at the same time, it worked as a catharsis for these youngsters to recover from the great trauma. Mao Yan, a Hunan artist who was in his senior year in 1989, witnessed the bloody night of June Fourth, which became a nightmare that haunted him for many years. He painted a series of portraits in which audiences could see and feel the horrified features of his sitters’ faces, recollecting Francis Bacon’s “Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X” (1953) and Geng Jianyi’s “Second Status” (1986, Fig. 4.23). In his “Young Guo Li – In Memory of Delacroix” (Fig. 5.3), which references to Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People,” the pale face painted with sensitive brushwork showed vulnerability, and might have reflected the artist’s own mentality. In addition, he transplanted Bada Shanren’s fish or bird’s half-white eyes to human that could be read as

disdain or scorn, as what his predecessor did three centuries ago.1 Mao Yan added Delacroix to the portrait to imply a hope, though distant and indistinct. Sui Jianguo was in the last year of graduate program in sculpture in 1989. His liberation from the mental trauma after graduation was to go to the mountains to find rocks and boulders to create his powerful, non-figurative sculpture, that confronted the severe political condition on the one hand, and fought the tradition of Socialist Realism in sculpture on the other. In the process of boulder-breaking and stone-hewing, he exhausted his energy on these materials on which he left a trace of his life, producing the “Series of Structure” in 1992. However, his depression could not be resolved, and he attempted to find another way out. The solution 1

Bada Shanren, original name Zhu Da, an imperial descendant of the Ming Dynasty, was an eccentric monk artist in the early Qing Dynasty.

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1989 Incident and After, Market-Oriented Economy, Urbanization and Fetishism

269

Fig. 5.2 CAFA sculpture students, “Goddess of Democracy,” May 28, 1989, Styrofoam, steel pole, and cloth with plaster, construction site, next to the ladder is prototype of the stature

Fig. 5.3 Mao Yan, “Young Guo Li – In Memory of Delacroix” 1996, oil on canvas

was to compress and consolidate the “Series of Structure,” leading to his series “Sealed Memories,” “Earthly Force” (Fig. 5.4) and “Space of Memory.” In “Sealed Memories,” he hewed boulders into about one-ton cubes, then sealed them with steel plates. Thus those “heavy” traumatic memories were closed off by a strong external power, a metaphor for the authority that tried to erase the collective memories of the crackdown on the demonstration, but the invisible memories of tragedy persisted forever. The idea of “Earthly Force” was similar to the “Sealed Memories,” but the boulders here referred to the force of the people. This force was confined or imprisoned by welded and imbedded steel bars, a poignant allegory of the great tension between repression and resistance. The boom of market-oriented economy, in which the Gross Domestic Product, GDP, was the only index of the nation’s economy,

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Fig. 5.4 Sui Jianguo, “Earthly Force,” 1992–94, boulder and steel bar

accompanied a new round of urbanization, which changed the nation’s demographic distribution. Tens of millions of peasants migrated from lessdeveloped rural areas into ever-expanding towns and cities and changing their societal status to migrant laborers. Hundreds of thousands of old communities in urban areas were demolished in order to construct hotels, restaurants, office and apartment complexes, and shopping malls. This urban development caused what I called “doubleuprooting,” which, on the one hand, uprooted peasants from rural areas where they had lived for centuries, and threw them into the urban environment where they lived on the periphery and were alienated; and on the other hand, uprooted urbanites from their traditional communities and neighborhoods where they had lived for decades, were packed into the nearly identical apartment complexes, called the “cold concrete forest” by some commentators. The uprooting is an irreversible process and the consequences are tremendous and traumatic to many victims. Zhang Huan, an artist from Henan, acted with more than forty migrant laborers in suburban Beijing “To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond,” to create a poignant metaphor of laborers’ living conditions and contribution they have made in the course of urbanization (Fig. 5.5). As a migrant artist in the 1990s, Zhang Huan had moved many times and finally lived with workers

from all over the country in a slum-like area called “East Village” in an eastern suburb of Beijing. There was a huge landfill in the village where migrant laborers worked as garbage collectors, vegetable or fish venders, Tofu makers, movers or construction workers. The laborers in the action were in their twenties to sixties, in addition to a five-year-old child. As contributed to the urbanization to raise the life quality of urbanites, implied by the higher water level, invisible but not trivia, they had lived in poor conditions as the disfranchised of society, hinted by the contaminated water, as if they lived in “deep water and scorching fire,” shuishen huore in Chinese, a phrase that the propaganda machine had described, in the 1950s and 1960s, lives of people of Taiwan or even the US. As “double-uprooting” occurred, the urbanization caused another ideological crisis, that is, fetishism or mammonism. In the period of Seventeen Years (1949–1966), the equalitarian and ascetic essence of mainstream ideology had dominated China, reaching its climax during the Cultural Revolution, when money, the epitome of capitalism, became one of the major enemies of the revolution. While “becoming wealthy” by any means was the superior ideology in the era of Deng Xiaoping, the 1990s in particular, Chinese who once was in extreme poverty was eager to get

5.1

1989 Incident and After, Market-Oriented Economy, Urbanization and Fetishism

271

Fig. 5.5 Zhang Huan and migrant laborers, “To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond,” 1997, Action Art

rich. Thus, the fetishism or mammonism could be seen as a response to the long-term suppression of people’s basic desires and needs on the one hand, and as escapism as the reform of political institutions and cultural enlightenment, part of ideological liberation campaign, was terminated in the early 1990s, on the other. Wang Jin, a Shanxi artist, built an ice wall, assisted by Jiang Bo and Guo Jinghan, to expose the insanity the fetishism could cause. In January 1996, he received a commission from the Zhengzhou municipal government, Henan, a central China province, to construc a sculpture for the re-opening of a shopping mall in the city, renovated after a fire. Assisted by two friends, he built an ice wall in front of the mall, measuring 30  2.5  1 meters, and consisting of about six hundred ice bricks in which a variety of valuable commodities, including cell phones, gold rings, watches, lipstick, perfume, and TV sets, etc. in addition to photos of the building on fire taken a year ago, were embedded. Immediately after the opening ceremony, tens of thousand of people “participated” in the artmaking in an extremely aggressive way as they could not wait for the thaw-out of the wall. At first, they tried to use their hands to reach those goods. Gradually, they found no interruption or interference, therefore

used all kinds of tools to dig into the wall. The action continued until all the valuables were taken and the wall collapsed (Fig. 5.6a, b). Attaining materialistic fortune by fair means or foul, a stance that was repudiated by the propaganda machine of official ideology as an evil of capitalism decades ago, now became an acceptable value and practical strategy in China. The transparent and cold ice, a symbol of purification and catharsis, appeared weak when facing the mania of fetishism from all levels of society. The great impact this work generated could be seen from the reaction of the local and national media who reported it immediately and opened a debate on issues such as competition in business, art creation, and morality. This scenario became a crucial context for Chinese contemporary art of the 1990s. The tightened situation in cultural activities left little room for contemporary art in terms of exhibitions and publications, which forced some artists to find opportunities abroad and others to return to an underground status. Some settled in suburban villages or made art in their apartments. Thus, the circulation of artwork went back to the traditional coterie mode, the one familiar to literati art, in which artists exchange their ideas as showing their work in private space, say, in artists’

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Fig. 5.6 (a, b) Wang Jin, “1996, Central China: Ice,” 1996, installation and action, Zhengzhou, Henan

apartment. Subjects reflecting political sarcasm and cultural escapism, reflected on Political Pop and Cynical Realism respectively, became popular overseas, as issues of urbanization and aftermath, as well as fetishism and mammonism drew lot of attention at home. The conceptual approach of Anti-Art in the mid-1980s continued in the Apartment Art of the 1990s. At this moment, Chinese contemporary artists attempted to involve themselves in the global contemporary art scene, as they want to claim a Chinese cultural identity. Some critics and artists advocated the development of a contemporary art market to attain legitimacy on the one hand, and promote their materialistic conditions of living and artmaking on the other.

5.2 5.2.1

Exhibitions Abroad and at Home New Generation and China’s New Art, Post-1989: Political Pop and Cynical Realism

In 1993, the exhibition China’s New Art, Post1989, co-curated by Chang Tsong-zung, director of Hanart Gallery, HK, and Li Xianting, an art

critic based in Beijing, was held at the Hong Kong City Hall and Hong Kong Arts Centre from January 1 to February 25, then travelled to Australia and opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sidney, in June. As an art critic, and past editor of Meishu and Zhongguo Meishubao, Li Xianting was engaged in China’s avant-garde movement from its beginning. He reported the exhibitions and art of Stars Society in Meishu, issue 3, 1980, and edited a series of articles on the beauty of abstraction in 1983, and as one of the major editors of Zhongguo Meishubao, he publicized the work of a series of vanguard artists. Li Xianting was also a member of the Preparatory Committee for the exhibition China/Avant-Garde, held in Beijing in 1989, in which he was mainly in charge of layout and installation of the show. His cooperation with Chang Tsong-zung brought Political Pop and Cynical Realism onto the global stage when Chinese contemporary art faced its chilly winter at home in the early 1990s. There were six sections in the exhibition, Political Pop Art; Cynical Realism; the Wounded Romantic Spirit; Emotional Bondage: Images of Fetishism and Sado-Masochism; Ritual and Purgation: Endgame Art; Introspective and the Retreat into Formalism: New Abstract Art, and

5.2

Exhibitions Abroad and at Home

featured about three hundred works by fiftyfour artists.2 Political Pop and Cynical Realism, however, became the harshest voices in the show; their première abroad instead at home brought about the tremendous drama and influence on Chinese contemporary art and market in the 1990s. If we consider cynicism as the aesthetic tactic of Political Pop, then the phenomenon of political critique with a cynical edge could be traced back to the illustration for novella “Maple” by Liu Yulian, Chen Yiming and Li Bin in 1979. These artists directed their critical reflection toward the Gang of Four and the Lin Biao clique, but they also produced positive images of people who were usually caricatured in the art of the Cultural Revolution. A “neutral” and even “positive” treatment was applied in order to deconstruct the ideology behind those images. When Wang Keping of Stars Society made his statue “Idol,” Buddha’s merciful appearance was combined with the image of Mao in a military cap to denounce the absurdity of the Cultural Revolution’s “god-building campaign” (Fig. 3.17). In the Avant-Garde Movement, vanguard artists created pop art with cynical characteristics. Mao Xuhui, for instance, produced a collage, “David and Venus” (Fig. 5.7) while Chen Lide put a bandage on Buddha’s head (Fig. 5.8), chiding cultural tradition and aesthetics. In general, cynicism employs a neutral, or sometimes mocking, method of imitation, reappearance and duplication to create a scenario, and then suggests a completely different context to create the effect of fakeness, or even masquerade, achieving the satirical effect. The very beginning of Political Pop, however, is in the year 1988, when some major Rationalist painters repudiated notions of Grand Narrative and idealism reflected in Rationalist Painting and turned to pop. In 1988, Wang Guangyi of the Northern Art Group criticized “the modern myth” and proposed “purging humanist zeal” at the Mt. Huang Conference (see Sect. 4.3.2). Like Andy Warhol, he proclaimed that art’s 2

See China’s New Art, Post-1989, Hanart T Z Gallery, Hong Kong and Taipei, 1993.

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Fig. 5.7 Mao Xuhui, “David and Venus,” 1986, watercolor and collage on paper

Fig. 5.8 Chen Lide, “Wounded Buddha,” 1986, relief and bandage

sole purpose was to achieve stardom in the media and the market and described art as merely a game of strategy. Before he painted the controversial “Mao Zedong #1” in 1988 (Fig. 4.92), Wang produced a number of paintings designed to mock his earlier Rationalist work, which appeared as industrial, mass-produced

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Fig. 5.9 Wang Guangyi, “Great Castigation Series: Coca-Cola,” 1991, oil on canvas, 200  200 cm

commodities, such as “Red Reason – Revision of the Idol” with its simplified images of Michelangelo’s “Pieta” and van der Weyden’s “The Descent from the Cross” (1987), and “Mass-Produced Nativity” with nine identical images of Christ as a new-born baby “beneath” the grids (1987). In the descriptive caption next to the triptych “Mao Zedong #1,” displayed at the China/Avant-Garde exhibition in 1989, Wang claimed, under the requirement of the authorities and assistance of Gao Minglu, that Mao, as a revolutionary leader who stood for utopia in China, was put within the measurable confines of frame for rational analysis (see Sect. 4.3.3). A critical and conceptual purpose rather than an overt commercial goal was essential to the pop art in this period. By definition, a work of Political Pop should have sheer political image or factors with elements of pop culture, either mass media or mass production/reproduction. In the China’s New Art, Post-1989, sixteen artists were classified in this category. Strictly speaking, some of them

might be better suited to other categories, say, Cynical Realism or the Wounded Romantic Spirit, since some lacked conspicuous political imagery, as well as elements of pop culture. Typical Political Pop could be seen in the paintings by Wang Guangyi, Yu Youhan, Li Shan, Wang Ziwei, Feng Mengbo, Hong Hao, Liu Dahong, and Ren Jian. The artists employed a variety of methods in Political Pop. The juxtaposition of the iconography of socialist realism with another, pertinent or contradictory, discursive system could be the major method, represented by Wang Guangyi and Yu Youhan. Wang Guangyi painted a series “Great Castigation” which combined political and commercial imagery (Fig. 5.9). It appropriated the heroic characters of workers, peasants and soldiers from propaganda posters in the Cultural Revolution, together with cooperate logos, representative symbols of capitalism, such as Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Kodak, Nikon and Canon. This series reflected the artist’s belief that the mass-media and mass production together

5.2

Exhibitions Abroad and at Home

Fig. 5.10 Yu Youhan, “Mao in a Colorful Lounge Chair,” 1992, acrylic on canvas, 118  98 cm

overwhelmed the population with propagandist images, true in both Mao’s art campaign and the current ubiquitous corporate advertisement and entertainment symbols, which are from two contradictory ideologies but share the methodology in popularization. Thus, in this series there is essentially little value judgment or criticism but merely strategic manipulation. Its success in the market later proved the efficiency of the strategy. In Yu Youhan’s pop, Mao, the center of the revolutionary visual discourse was represented by the discursive context of folk art (Fig. 5.10), conforming Mao’s belief that art should be “pleasant to hear and look at for masses,” the aim of socialist realism. As Mao was surrounded by a garish display of flower blossoms, the kitsch of revolutionary art was revealed and mocked. Liu Dahong’s methodological maneuver reconstructed the revolutionary history employed by socialist realism (Fig. 5.11a–d). In Chinese New Year prints, four vertical format pictures with the motif of the four seasons are popular in folk culture. They carry metaphor of happy life

275

and harmonious seasonal circle in an agricultural China, a theme which even influenced the urban literati art in the turn of twentieth century, seen in Wu Changshuo’s “Four Seasons” (1911). Liu Dahong appropriated Mao images, highly popular in the Cultural Revolution, and placed them in the center of his composition, surrounded by peasant uprisings, mythical characters, Red Guards, ogres of all kinds, and four pests, respectively.3 In the background, he displayed traditional gongbi shanshui, delicate mountains-andwaters ink painting. Through a gaudy mishmash of motifs and figures of socialist realism, folk culture and even ink painting, the artist mocked the history of revolution, represented by Mao, and the imagery that had visualized and popularized it. Iconoclasm was not new in vanguard art. It could be seen as early as Wang Keping’s “Idol” (1979, Fig. 3.17), then in Chen Lide’s “Wounded Buddha” (1986, Fig. 5.8). However, Li Shan pushed the iconoclastic art to the extreme. Once brightly painted, omnipresent Mao portraiture was darkened and juxtaposed with large flower blossoms, recalling Georgia O’Keeffe’s enlarged semi-abstract flowers. However, as O’Keeffe promoted and celebrated women’s individuality through her astounding flowers, symbols of female beauty, the flowers in color of rouge in Li Shan’s painting were imbued with erotic significance, implying the indecent history of the once great revolutionary leader, who was deified before his death in 1976 (Fig. 5.12). Wang Ziwei, also a Shanghai artist, tended to neutralize the ideological significance of Mao’s imagery, the collective memory of all Chinese who experienced the Cultural Revolution, through taking out its essential components, either eyes or all details of body (Fig. 5.13).

3

Ogres of all kinds, niu gui she shen, a popular phrase in the Cultural Revolution, literally ox, ghost, serpent and evil spirit, refers to class enemies, namely five categories of disgraced people, landlords, rich peasants, counterrevolutionaries, rascals, Rightists, plus capitalist roaders. Four pests are rats, flies, mosquitos, and sparrows, an idea from “Campaign against the Four Pests,” initiated in 1958 as a hygiene campaign by Mao Zedong.

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Fig. 5.11 (a–d) Liu Dahong, “Four Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter,” 1991, oil on canvas, 70  40 cm each

Fig. 5.12 Li Shan, “The Rouge Series, #22,” 1992, acrylic on canvas, 140  258 cm

Fig. 5.13 Wang Ziwei, “The Great Wave: Revolution,” 1992, oil on canvas, 122  204 cm

5.2

Exhibitions Abroad and at Home

277

Fig. 5.14 Alexander Kosolapov, “Symbols of the Century,” 1982, acrylic on canvas, 117  188 cm

The major figure of Political Pop, Wang Guangyi, who launched the Great Castigation in art, became the main object of criticism, because of the basic contradiction between his early idealism and current embrace of pop art, behind which was what Gao Minglu called “complicity” and “double kitsch.” Many artists of Political Pop did not criticize the discourse of power in Mao’s ideology and propagandist art. Rather, some of them still worshipped and desired to gain this power. By contrast, Wu Shanzhuan mocked and whipped this power in his “Red Humor” in mid-1980s. Through neutralization of direct critique of reality, Political Pop, in fact, exhibited an ambivalence toward the increasing nationalism of Chinese intellectuals in the 1990s, and was like Sots art, a Soviet avant-garde movement in Moscow in the 1970s, in terms of ideology. Alexander Kosolapov, for instance, applied woodcut technique in his “Symbols of the Century,” to juxtapose the well-known profile of Lenin with Coke’s logo and slogan, “It’s the Real Thing.” Though originating from different ideologies, these images became interchangeable masscultural, consumable products (Fig. 5.14). It might not be a coincidence that both Kosolapov and Wang Guangyi appropriated Coca-Cola logos in their art, because the logo, one of the most popular in the world, demonstrated the

quintessence of international capitalism and market economy.4 Political Pop emerged during and after the period when the communist world was in decline, and the Cold War was ending, so it drew much more international, institutional, and marketing attention than the Sots art. None of the major Political Pop artists immigrated to the West, as Sots artists did in the late 1970s. Most of them became wealthy in the changing Chinese economy. They no longer strove to generate a confrontation with authority and the public, not to mention the market. They changed from elite, avant-gardists to professional, careerist artists. The nationalism and materialism of Political Pop, based on transnational political and economic circumstances, shared common roots with government policies, Mao’s concept of mass line, thus it was an art that undoubtedly occupied a position of complicity.5 The aesthetic allegory of both propagandist art and consumerist mass culture that functioned in Political Pop demonstrated It is noticeable that “Coca-Cola” is translate into kekou kele in Chinese, meaning “palatable and pleasurable,” close to Mao’s phrase, “being pleasant to hear and to look at.” 5 See Gao Minglu, “Meisu, Quanli, Gongfan: ‘Zhengzhi Bopu’ Xianxiang” (Kitsch, Power and Complicity: The Political Pop Phenomenon,” Xiongshi Meishu, November 1995, No. 297, pp. 36–57. 4

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what Gao Minglu called “double kitsch,” because the artists of this group, represented by Wang Guangyi, were producers, and their trademark works were real commodities, as they were complicit with authorities in policies and ideology. In the show China’s New Art, Post-1989, the art of Fang Lijun, Liu Wei, Wang Jinsong, Liu Xiaodong, Xin Haizhou and He Sen were classified as Cynical Realism. It is disputable because there was little cynicism in He Sen’s painting, while Song Yonghong and Zeng Fanzhi, two representatives of Cynical Realism, were put in the section of “Emotional Bondage: Fetishism and Sado-Masochism.” In addition, Zhao Bandi and Li Tianyuan had a joint exhibition in Beijing in 1991, and displayed their art with strong cynical flavor. Yu Youhan, Li Shan, Wang Guangyi, Zhang Xiaogang, Fang Lijun and Liu Wei, the major featured artists of this exhibition, also participated in the Twenty-second São Paulo Art Biennial, Brazil, from Oct.12 to Dec.11, 1994. As the first three were classified as “the Remaking of Mass Culture,” similar to “Political Pop,” Zhang, Fang and Liu were read as “Wakefulness and the Weightless Present,” indirect indication of Cynical Realism, by Chang Tsong-zung, the curator of Chinese section of the biennial.6 In July 1991, the exhibition New Generation Art, which initiated Cynical Realism, was held at the National Museum of Chinese History, on Tiananmen Square, Beijing. This was a group show, featuring sixteen artists: two graduates from Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, the rest, from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, organized by a group of critics, Fan Di-an, Zhou Yan, Yi Ying, Kong Chang-an, Yin Jinan, all from CAFA. The exhibit was sponsored by Beijing Qingnianbao (Beijing Youth Daily).7 Not all works were cynical, but those with variety of cynical favor were not difficult to recognize and draw attention, and thus the tendency was 6 See Chinese Contemporary Art at São Paulo, exhibition catalogue, Hong Kong, Hanart TZ Gallery, 1994. 7 See the twelve-page brochure, Xinshengdai Yishuzhan (New Generation Art), published by Beijing Qingnianbao in 1991.

5 Art Under Impact of Globalization (1989–1999)

captured by critics. While Wang Huaxiang, Shen Ling, and Wang Yuping, from the CAFA, cautiously described the life of the petit bourgeoisie or scenes from the lower-classes, Song Yonghong and Wang Jinsong of ZAFA denounced anything with which they were not happy. From 1988, Wang Jinsong painted a series of oil paintings that poked fun at boring meetings, propagandist choruses and stage performances, Qigong as a mass movement or mysterious therapy, the Great Wall as a symbol of commerce and entertainment, etc. When faced with the criticism that his oil painting was unskillful because of his ink painting major background, he simply directed his spearhead at the academic technique of oil painting itself. He made a post-modern simulacrum of Sun Zixi’s iconic piece, “In Front of Tiananmen” (Figs. 1.24, 1.25), and lashed out at superstition and insanity in mass qigong that ran rampant in China in late 1980s and early 1990s (Fig. 5.15), all in a manner of Cynical Realism. In this series, he intentionally left some images unpainted to imply an emptiness or nihilism on the one hand, and mock those who insisted upon the superiority of academic skills on the other. The objects of Song Yonghong’s cynicism were people in his everyday life, such as various peepers or voyeurs, pseudo-professionals, and those with bored lives, Romances with fate, or insipid relationships. He had already showed his cynical flavor in his paintings, “Self-Service in Bus” and “The Weather Will Change,” in the exhibition China/Avant-Garde. In “Real Fantasy,” the peeper acts in a public place, where the bus passengers are all immersed in their own worlds of Romance, daydreaming, or reading (Fig. 5.16). Voyeurism, for the first time since the 1950s, became a subject in art, a step forward from the discovery and celebration of sexuality in the Current of Life of the mid-1980s. Fang Lijun is considered a leading figure of the Cynical Realism, because his images represented the trend of free-floating cynicism unrelated to any dogma or belief system. His words on the disillusion of his generation, “only bastards would be fooled again after having been cheated one hundred times, and we prefer to be called the

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Exhibitions Abroad and at Home

Fig. 5.15 Wang Jinsong, “Mass Qigong,” 1991, oil on canvas, 149.5  149.5 cm

Fig. 5.16 Song Yonghong, “Real Fantasy,” 1991, oil on canvas, 81  100 cm

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Fig. 5.17 Fang Lijun, “Drawing #2,” 1988, drawing

Fig. 5.18 Fang Lijun, “Group Two, #2,” 1992, oil on canvas

lost, the idle, being in crises, the mischievous, or the perplexed, but never the fooled anymore,” became a manifesto-like statement of Cynical Realism. After graduating from the Department of Graphic Arts, CAFA, Fang Lijun lived for a couple of years in Yuanmingyuan village, an artist community in the early 1990s. He started creating his trade-mark images, shaven-head men who looked like villagers of his home province, Hebei, in northern China, in 1988 (Fig. 5.17), which were shown in the exhibition China/Avant-Garde. The shaven head had a great deal of significance of resistance,

disdain, or profanity to youngsters who were disillusioned by the 1989 Tiananmen Incident, because it signified ruffian, as guilty defendants’ heads were shaven before being imprisoned in the PRC. These shaven-heads were caricatured and distorted, with their small eyes, stupid smiles or exaggerated yawns, out-of-proportion to their heads (Fig. 5.18). As Fang Lijun had a shaven head, these images were seen as self-portraits, or portraits of his generation by some critics. As a schoolmate of Fang Lijun, Liu Wei also painted ugly images of his contemporaries,

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Exhibitions Abroad and at Home

Fig. 5.19 Liu Wei, “The Revolutionary Family: Dad and Mom,” 1990, oil on canvas, 80  80 cm

Fig. 5.20 Mao Xuhui, “The Patriarch Sitting on a Chair,” 1989, oil on canvas, 100  80 cm

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babies, and his parent generation. He painted drunk painters, his girlfriend and himself, new-born babies, and finally, his dad, a military officer, and his mom, all in an unsightly way. In a culture where filial piety is one of the most important moral codes, Liu Wei’s disgraced renderings of his parents was derogatory and offensive. In “The Revolutionary Family: Dad and Mom,” both figures were deformed: showing the whites of their extremely small eyes, out-of-proportion or displaced noses and mouths with buckteeth, distorted faces as rugged slope, plus mom’s messy hair (Fig. 5.19). While Mao Xuhui critiqued social institutions in his “Patriarch Series” in late 1980s (Fig. 5.20), Liu Wei’s target of ridicule was more individual rather than collective.

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Fig. 5.21 Liu Xiaodong, “Together,” 1988, oil on canvas, 138  120 cm

Liu Xiaodong, a graduate of and teacher at CAFA, participated the show China/AvantGarde, in which he displayed his early cynical paintings, “Together” and “A Smoker.” Inspired by Lucian Freud, a British painter, Liu Xiaodong retreated to his small circle to paint everyday life of his friends, schoolmates and neighbors, as well as his wife and himself, in a modestly cynical manner. His protagonists either slept, smoked, swam, dived, or simply did nothing. In a typical school dorm with simple furniture, cardboard box and electrical stove, two students reclined on the bed during the day, one staring into space, the other, daydreaming in an awkward posture (Fig. 5.21). Both Political Pop and Cynical Realism had an internal cultural and aesthetic logic in their response to the 1989 Tiananmen Incident, an impression that had been reinforced by the exhibition China’s New Art, Post-1989. When Wang Guangyi, representative of Political Pop, painted “Mao Zedong #1” and proposed “purging humanist zeal” in 1988, he gave up an idealistic belief in

the Enlightenment and embraced pop. Liu Xiaodong, Fang Lijun, Song Yonghong, and Xin Haizhou, a cynical painter from Sichuan, participated in the China/Avant-Garde exhibition with their early cynical painting, two months prior to the beginning of student demonstrations in 1989. From an aesthetic perspective, these young artists, with their four-year academic training, remained on a realistic track to distance themselves from both academic and vanguard trends and an ideology of cultural escapism and self-indulgence. The aftermath of the June Fourth Incident in 1989 provided an environment that completed both “purging humanist zeal” and divorcing from the Enlightenment thoroughly. Zhou Yan commented on Cynical Realism in his article “Ridicule and Self-Deprecating,” The artists with this tendency can be found in Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan, Guangdong and Zhejiang. While cynicism could appear in any times, the academy graduates of the late 1980s and early 1990s retreated to their personal, private experience, playing and obsessing with formal distortion, exaggerated coloration, and strange space.

5.2

Exhibitions Abroad and at Home They ridiculed society, official ideology, moral codes, as well as their own beliefs and values. It emerged from their frustration to the suppression of social environment on the one hand, and because they were tired of idealism and humanism with utopian elements in the Avant-Garde Movement on the other. To our new culture its role is more corrosive rather than constructive. As Wang Shuo’s novels that were all the rage at the time, it could lead to fighting against societal corruption or dirty politics, but could also approach hooliganism as well, depending on the audiences’ mindset and values.8

Ironically, the project of political critique and cynicism turned out to be unsuccessful because it did not touch the essence of the mainstream discourse besides mockery of its signifiers, while the artists themselves were gradually corroded by the new art market of the 1990s. Some of them became millionaires, while their art slid into either a network of complicity or gaudy kitsch. The irony was even reflected in the international media. Andrew Solomon, an American columnist, wrote a cover story, titled “Not Just a Yawn but the Howl that Could Free China,” in New York Times Magazine, December 19, 1993, to cheer Cynical Realism, Fang Lijun’s “Group Two, #2” in particular, as a clarion call for political or art freedom (Fig. 5.18), as Fang himself enjoyed his luxurious life in his giant mansion in suburban Beijing, where a big gate separated him and his assistants from those ordinary villagers he was “supposed” to liberate.

Zhou Yan, “Tiaokan yu Zichao: Houbajiu Zhongguo Dalu Xiandai Yishu zhong de Quanru Zhuyi Qingxiang” (Ridicule and Self-Deprecating: the Cynical Trend in Mainland China’s Modern Art after 1989), Xiongshi Meishu, November 1995, No. 297, p. 61. Wang Shuo, a Beijing-based author, has written more than twenty novels and short stories in description of life of the generation, those from Beijing army compounds in particular, who grew up in the Cultural Revolution, in a satirical manner. Because of his protagonists’ rebellious behavior and Beijing-dialect obscenities, his writing has been labeled as “hooligan literature” by some critics. Essentially Wang Shuo’s literature and the Cynical Realism were produced from the same mentality, namely, as disillusioned by the revolution, they detested and rejected all ideologies, either communist or Confucian.

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5.2.2

Magazine Yishu • Shichang (Art • Market) and Guangzhou Biennial: Toward Art Market?

There was essentially no art market for China’s vanguard art, or Chinese art in general, in the 1980s. A few galleries in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai sold ink painting, in which many were watercolor block print reproductions, along with a variety of crafts, like embroidery, porcelain, ivory carving, and cloisonné, targeted foreign diplomats and tourists. No commercial institution existed for the sale of artwork, not to mention radical vanguard art. Art students were assigned jobs by the schools from which they graduated as all students from other colleges and universities. There were no freelance artists who made a living by selling their art. Vanguard artists were concerned about the spiritual value of their art instead of their commercial value as a collectible object. It became thus understandable that Xiamen Dada artists burned their paintings after the show in 1986 and never regretted it (Fig. 4.81). In an article written in 1988 that discussed the cultural crises and possible solutions, Zhou Yan proposed “to build our cultural market,” It is more and more difficult to do scholarly and artistic research in today’s situation. Now that any scholarship and art are pertinent to human beings, to their existence, environment and development, we should start from here to investigate the relationship between culture and the environment of economic reform. We should cultivate the cultural market that we have never had before and try to make a positive interaction between the market and spiritual culture. To my knowledge, there are students of art who are studying system of gallery and art dealership of the West. . . . Our goal in constructing an art market should be the cultivation of professional artists, sales and collection of artworks, and pertinent institutions such as appraisal services, dealerships, commercial galleries and auction houses. It depends on economic development and emergence of a new generation of art management professionals with cultural foresight.9

8

Zhou Yan, “Women neng Zouchu Wenhua Digu ma?” (Can We Walk Out of Cultural Downturn?) Dushu, issue 12, 1988, p. 9. There were more specific suggestions on the ways of building up an art market in the manuscript, which were cut off because of limit of length in publication.

9

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This proposal reflects the idealistic idea of vanguard artists and critics in the Avant-Garde Movement. In the exhibition, China/AvantGarde, 1989, Kong Chang-an, the director of the gallery of the Central Academy of Fine Arts and a member of the Preparatory Committee of the show, was appointed to oversee featured artwork sales, though no deals were made. The first issue of the magazine Yishu • Shichang (Art • Market) was published by Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House in January 1991.10 The forward of the first issue claimed that, through the promotion of China’s art market, the value of an artwork would be verified by its price in the market, rather than by art institutions or critics. It believed that only an “economical culture” could bring Chinese contemporary art into circulation with the world’s “art industry.” It is hardly conceivable, the forward continued, that an art or culture could be effective without “economic verification.” To those dealers, buyers and collectors, the magazine would introduce and advocate for creative artists and their work, while it would attempt to help artists in terms of exhibition, publication and commercial activities in the international art market.11 The editors believed that only a new market could make Chinese contemporary art legitimate or enable it to gain recognition in China’s cultural life. This legitimacy could not be bestowed by the government or art administrators, or attained simply through the effort of artists and critics. The magazine introduced one or more artists in each issue, such as Wang Guangyi (issue 1), He Duoling (2), Zhang Peili (3), Ding Fang (4), Zhou Chunya (5), Shang Yang (6), Shen Xiaotong (7), Wang Guangyi and Li Luming (8), Shi Chong, Zeng Fanzhi and Zhang Yajie (9). Wang Guangyi was selected twice because his art and ideas suited the goals of the magazine. Wang’s

10

Ironically, this magazine promoted commercial approach for development of modern art, but it was terminated after nine issues because of monetary reasons in 1993. 11 See Yishu • Shichang, issue 1, 1991, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House.

5 Art Under Impact of Globalization (1989–1999)

reputation as a vanguard artist in the AvantGarde Movement, China/Avant-Garde exhibition and Political Pop enabled his name to appear on the list of potential best-selling artists, and he became a passionate advocate of commercialization of artwork around the 1990. He believed that an artist needs to construct a myth that would be directly proportional to the market price of his artwork. The artist explained, I guess both art and money are good. Men finally realized, after thousands of years, that only art and money could bring happiness and meditative joy. Every artist, like anyone else, loves money, but the difference is that an ordinary man will live a luxurious life with money, an artist uses it to retain his mythic image. The more attractive an artist’s myth is, the more valuable his work will be. There is a law of transformation from mythic metaphysics to mythic mundanity that takes effect. Only the active interrelationship between these two can carry art forward. We should say that it is the “Matthew Effect” (accumulated advantage) that dominates, in contemporary art, the birth and death of myths of artists, critics, and the art market.12

Sounding more like a strategist, Wang Guangyi contrived a vision of commercial success that was based on myth of the artist. This mythmaking was not a project of individual artists, but of collective and institutional effort. To be sure, Wang Guangyi did not conceal his opportunist stance in art, that is, success was the goal no matter what measures one used to reach it. Huang Zhuan, a critic, echoed this contrivance. So far, the history of Chinese modern art has been a history of its journalist effect, a history without rules of art competition, arbitration, even legitimate stage for (modern) art activities, and a history full of Courbet’s complex. In this context, the art is incompatible with society in a contorted way, and the immaturity and weakness of China’s modern art is reflected in its dependence on the political climate. Therefore, the most imperative issue to us is, should we change the way of history-making? Should we break away from the passionate status of movement and remake history in a more realistic way?13

Wang Guangyi, Yishu • Shichang, issue 1, 1991, quoted from Lü Peng, Zhongguo Dangdai Yishushi: 1990–1999 (90’s Art China), Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, China, 2000, p. 118. 13 Huang Zhuan, Yishu • Shichang, issue 6, 1992, quoted ibid. p. 119. 12

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Exhibitions Abroad and at Home

Huang Zhuan continued, even the Van Gogh “myth” has been demystified, “an artist, who detested the world and its ways, and was penniless and frustrated with only one single painting sold at a low price in his life time, has become one of the most popular figures in the western art market, while the way of his posthumous recognition is just monetary: eight-digit price.”14 The issue of art arbitration was addressed by Lü Peng, a critic, in a manner of manifesto, A history in which art development is looked over from a metaphysical perspective will end soon. In other words, Chinese art of the 1990s is stepping into the market in an all-round way. The nature of the art-to-market is to seek monetary support. The essential meaning of the art-to-market is that art must be produced for sale.

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way of commercialization of art is the goal of the campaign. He argued, The most important scenario in (China’s) art world in the 1990s is the blurring of the role of critic and curator, caused by the market, in which the person (s) who built reciprocity and equilibrium among government, enterprises, media, legislative and judicial institution, and other sources of power became the critical figure(s) in art events.16

The blurring of roles of critic and curator, not simply a critic as a guest curator, seemed, to Lü Peng, to be the way to legitimize China’s contemporary art. This critic/curator works as a negotiator among variety of powers, maximizes the interest of artists and enables their art to enter unto circulation as commercial goods. He used examples of artists who participated in international exhibitions, such as the Venice Biennials, to advocate this solution,

The basic requirement for art-to-market is to bring investment instead of sponsorship to fruition.

They were even clear that the ideological power of an art critic is far inferior to the operational power of a curator, who may have a fundamental impact on their art destiny.17

The art-to-market means also going to the order. The art-to-market is to, eventually, let the spiritual world open and display fully and effectively. . . . In a commercial society, pricing with money is the most effective way (of working). As all scholarly disputes become endless because of the lack of god’s judgement, money will be the most effective arbitrator.15

As one of the major advocates of art-to-market, Lü Peng proposed several principles for his strategy. First, monetary instead of metaphysical approach is the way out for Chinese modern art. Second, an artwork is, first, a commodity rather than an aesthetic object. Third, the dominating force in an art market consists of businessmen instead of sponsors, institutional or individual, thus profit-making or return on investment is superior to the aesthetic value of artwork. Finally, the market will take over the power of arbitration from political and cultural authorities. To Lü Peng and other advocates of the art-to-market project, attaining the power of discourse through restructuring the institution of arbitration in the 14

Ibid. Lü Peng, “Toward Market,” quoted from ibid. pp. 121–122.

15

To the editors and many contributors of Yishu • Shichang, building a Chinese art market, for contemporary art in particular, was a necessary step for the legitimacy of new art, and provided a new institutional structure for contemporary art and artists that was a compatible and stable environment. The corrosive and corrupt power of the art market and a capital-oriented ideology was ignored by these advocates. To implement the ideas and strategies of building a Chinese art market, advocates organized an exhibition, entitled Guangzhou • the First 1990s Biennial Art Fair, in which they generated and practiced a series of principles, rules, and measures to set a paradigm for future operation.18 The exhibition was held at the International Conference 16

Lü Peng, ibid. p. 124. Lü Peng, Ibid. 18 The show’s English title, Guangzhou • the First 1990s Biennial Art Fair, is different from Chinese one, 广州 •首 届九十年代艺术双年展, as the organizers added “art fair” to it awkwardly. This addition is interesting because it admited its commercial nature to overseas guests and potential buyers but attempted to retain a non-commercial appearance to domestic audiences. 17

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Fig. 5.22 Organizers and featured artists take picture at the Guangzhou • the First 1990s Biennial Art Fair, 1992, Guangzhou, Guangdong

Hall, Central Hotel, Guangzhou, Guangdong, from October 23 to 31, 1992 (Fig. 5.22), and featured about 350 artists, mostly Chinese artists, in addition to a few British and Italian ones. The organizers set up a group of juries for the show, including an art host, art jury, credentials committee, a legal advisor, notaries, and secretariat. Critics Lü Peng, Shao Hong, Yang Xiaoyan, Yan Shanchun, Yi Dan, Zhu Bin, Huang Zhuan, Peng De, Yin Shuangxi, Pi Daojian, Yi Ying, Chen Xiaoxin, Gu Chenfeng, and Yang Li were members of either the art jury or credentials committee. Thus, it was an event that was proposed and implemented by critics, most of whom were the ones who had written on and promoted contemporary art since the mid-1980s. In the jury system, the art host was central, accompanied by jurors and members of the credentials committee, while the latter selected the featured artists, the former chose their works for exhibition. Finally, they voted for the winners of awards, including “Document,” “Scholarship”

and “Excellence.” To introduce a commercial element into the system, the standard for the selection included a “scholarly criterion complemented by a commercial one.” The compensation to the jurors and members of the credentials committee was 3000 RMB/person (about $554 in 1992—the average monthly wage for a Chinese worker was less than $100), this was the first time that critics dominated an art exhibition from its very beginning to the end with very high monetary reward. Although the organizers of the show claimed that the Guangzhou Biennial was the event that started the process of constructing China’s art market, they did in fact two different things. Firstly, they created an institutional framework in which the circulation of artwork, including selection, display, criticism, sale, and collection, was manipulated, by critics, now curators, who were at the center of that framework. Secondly, curatorship immediately expanded into a role that controlled both the exhibition and sale of artwork.

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Exhibitions Abroad and at Home

The question is, what are the differences between this institution and the one under the CAA that had dominated all aspects of art, from its creation to final collection, for decades? How could a curator also sell works of art without a conflict of interest? Without an independent system of criticism and curatorship, the art market becomes corruptive and corrosive to both criticism and art creation, which was proven to be true in the late 1990s and 2000s.19

5.2.3

Premiere in the Magiciens de la Terre and Participation in Venice Biennial

Magiciens de la Terre (Magicians of the Earth) was a contemporary art exhibit, curated by JeanHubert Martin, and assisted by an international team including Aline Luque, Mark Francis and André Magnin, which was held at the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Grande Halle at the Parc de la Villette, Paris, from May 18 to August 14, 1989. Featuring 106 artists from 51 countries,20 this exhibition for the first time attempted to “treat contemporary art production on a global, worldwide scale,” and will “invite [a] half of its approximately 100 artists from marginal contexts, and will include artists who are practically unknown in the contemporary art world,” anticipated by the curator.21 The significance of this historical exhibition for Chinese contemporary art is that it invited three Chinese contemporary artists, Huang Yongping, Gu Dexin and Yang Jiecang, active in China’s avant-garde movement of the 1980s 19 The factual sources in this part are from Lü Peng, Zhongguo Dangdai Yishushi: 1990–1999 (90’s Art China), Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, China, 2000, pp. 112–133. 20 There are two artists whose names are in the catalogue but did not participate the show, as the curator counted Tibet as an area rather than part of China, in addition to (Comunità) Aboriginal community of Yuendumu (Australia). 21 Jean-Hubert Martin, “The Whole World Show: An Interview with Jean-Hubert Martin by Benjamin H.D. Buchloh,” Art in America, May 1989, p. 152.

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(Fig. 5.23). This exhibition provided the contemporary art world, for the first time, the opportunity to see a general picture of contemporary art that was created by non-western artists. To Chinese artists, they had an opportunity to show the world that they were dealing with contemporary issue in their creation of powerful quality art. For those audience who were used to the linear logic of modernism to post-modernism in the West, the art created by Chinese and other non-western contemporary artists provided an alternate modernity and modernism, in addition to contemporary art. Hou Hanru, a Paris-based Chinese critic and curator, commented on the show in a complimentary tone, The curatorial intention of Jean-Hubert Martin and his colleagues was clearly to subvert the traditional division between center and periphery of civilizations and challenged the Eurocentric illusion of superiority in the field of artistic representation and the vision of the world that was inherited from the colonial age . . . This project is a truly historical event marking the beginning of [the] end of the hegemony of the West in the realm of artistic creation and institutional representation. A rightly global art world was now imagined. . .22

Huang Yongping, Gu Dexin and Yang Jiecang were featured in China/Avant-Garde, which was held in Beijing, three months prior to Magiciens de la terre. Martin, however, went to China in 1987, visited artists and studios, assisted by Fei Dawei, a critic from Central Academy of Fine Arts. He made selections, which turned out to be insightful decisions with acumen: Huang Yongping was one of the best conceptual artists in China, Gu Dexin had great potential and sensitivity in a variety of media and issues, and Yang Jiecang explored the relationship between ink art and abstraction in a profound manner. Huang Yongping continued his way of book wash, implemented in his well-known piece “History of Chinese Painting and A Concise History of Modern Painting Washed in a Washing Machine for Two Minutes” in 1987 (Fig. 4.84). Instead of Hou Hanru, “In Defense of Difference: Notes on Magiciens de la terre, 25 Years Later,” Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, May/June, 2014, Vol. 13, No. 3, p. 8.

22

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Fig. 5.23 Huang Yongping, Gu Dexin and Yang Jiecang (from left to right) in front of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1989

Fig. 5.24 Huang Yongping, “Reptiles,” installation, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1989

simply displaying the paper pulp as in his 1987 piece, he created a large tomb-like construction with the paper pulp generated from the books, newspapers, and photographs, washed in the

machines, and representing “culture,” as he claimed (Fig. 5.24). This form of tomb, seen mostly in southern China, was like a turtle. Although it seemed to be dead, it was alive,

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Fig. 5.25 Gu Dexin, “Untitled,” 1989, recycled plastic, installation, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

crawled, like a turtle, “Wash newspapers, wash culture. The design of ‘culture’ must be always rewashed and re-dried,” he claimed in his statement.23 Therefore, the target of the critique shifted from art history to culture in general. Both Gu Dexin and Yang Jiecang continued their approaches shown in the China/AvantGarde show (Figs. 4.105, 4.120). Sensitive to a variety of materials, Gu Dexin was obsessed with the tactile quality of media. In 1988, with his comrades in the New Calibration group, he contributed his idea to the group work “Tactile Art” (Fig. 4.107). In the China/Avant-Garde show, the verisimilitude of the animal entrails in color and texture struck the audiences, who seemed be able to smell the blood of the slaughterhouse. As these intestines were, in fact, readymade, namely waste plastics stolen by the artist from a factory, one might refer the cold-blooded objectivity of the artwork to the inhumanity of modern industrialization or mechanical culture. In the Centre Georges Pompidou, Gu Dexin expanded the entrails into larger, longer and more colorful pieces, hung on the walls (Fig. 5.25). Their verisimilitude and visual Huang Yongping, “A Statement,” Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou: Magiciens de la terre, 1989, p. 153.

23

warmth contrasted with the cold and artificial plastic, creating a paradox between visual perception and physical tactility. Yang Jiecang’s continuation of his work featured in the China/Avant-Garde show reflected on the multiple-layer painting of ink, but he expanded the scale tremendously and painted four pieces instead of one (Figs. 5.26, 5.27). Among the three Chinese participants, Yang was the one who contributed to the issue of cultural identity the most, though in a subversive way. As the ink piece confronted the stubborn tradition of ink art at home, it brought about more cultural significance on the global stage. While the media of traditional Chinese ink painting recalled the rich meaning of Chinese culture, history and aesthetics, Yang Jiecang’s way of painting, layer by layer with dark ink, was subversive to that tradition because of the lack of traditional inking, brushwork, the texture method in particular, that covered every inch of the surface. However, the meditative nature generated shared a foundation upon which literati art was based, thus it could be perfunctory or superficial to read these ink pieces as similar to works by Robert Motherwell or Mark Rothko. It was a profound denial of the ink art tradition in terms of aesthetics but came to terms with the

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Fig. 5.26 Yang Jiecang, working on site with his ink pieces, 1989, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Fig. 5.27 Yang Jiecang, “Hundred Layers of Ink,” 1989, four paintings, ink on paper, 420  280 cm each, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

reclusiveness and detachment essential to literati art. The Forty-fifth Venice Biennial from June 14 to October 10, 1993 was very significant because for the first time, it exhibited Chinese contemporary art and brought China into the international art world. Led by Li Xianting, a passionate critic since the late 1970s, and

assisted by Francesca dal Lago, called “Fulan” by Chinese artists, an enthusiastic Italian activist and critic who had studied and worked in China since the early 1980s, the Chinese section “Passaggio a Oreinte” (Passage to the East) featured fourteen artists (Fig. 5.28). Mainly selected by Achille Bonito Oliva, the director of the Forty-fifth Venice Biennial, thirty-three works

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Fig. 5.28 Chinese artists and critics in front of the gallery where Chinese section “Passage to the East,” The Fortyfifth Venice Biennial, 1993. From left to right, Wang Youshen, Wang Guangyi, Xu Bing, Li Xianting, Fang Lijun, Feng Mengbo, Wu Shanzhuan, Geng Jianyi, Liao Wen

ranging from Political Pop (Wang Guangyi, Li Shan, Wang Ziwei, Yu Youhan, Zhang Peili, Geng Jianyi, Feng Mengbo), and Cynical Art (Fang Lijun, Liu Wei, Yu Hong, Song Haidong, Sun Liang), to early Maximalist painting (Xu Bing, Ding Yi) (Fig. 5.29).24 Wang Youshen and Wu Shanzhuan participated in the section “Aperto ‘9300 (Open ‘93). Li Xianting wrote an article, entitled “Nationalistic Contemporaneity: Notes on the Venice Biennale and Journey to Europe,” and commented on the featured works as well as These labels might not fit several artists, such as Zhang Peili, Geng Jianyi, Song Haidong and Sun Liang, but the works they contributed to the biennale were close to those categories of art.

24

Chinese contemporary art in general. With little excitement, Li recognized that these works showed the sensitivity of Chinese artists to contemporary issues, but pointed out that their art language was not as strong as their western counterparts, because of their academic realist training which, in his opinion, lacked the directness, radicality and uniqueness, characteristics possessed by many western artists, such as Hans Haacke, Damien Hurst, Francis Bacon, Georg Baselitz, among others, who were featured in the biennale. Li touched a sensitive issue in his article, namely, nationalism. He proposed a Chinese national character that is internationalized, a “nationalistic contemporaneity,” by which he meant that “Chinese art should be created in

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Fig. 5.29 Works by Wang Guangyi (top and bottom right) and Feng Mengbo (left) on the wall of Chinese section “Passage to the East,” The Fortyfifth Venice Biennial, 1993

dialogue with international modern art.”25 The emphasis on “international” rather than the “national” was controversial because pursuit of Chinese cultural identity, or “Chineseness,” in a global context, became gradually a consensus of many Chinese intellectuals, including contemporary artists, in the 1990s. He made revisions to the concept in a presentation, entitled “Introduction and Re-creation: about the Notion of Nationalistic Contemporaneity as a Cultural Strategy,” at the conference Prospect for Modern Art in East Asia, held in Seoul, Korea, in 1995. He argued that art must connect the local and national cultural contexts: “nationalistic contemporaneity is based on western modern art and emphasizes the artist’s concern for contemporary issues that are the most sensitive and impactful to her/him.” The process of creation “puts the individual’s encounter with his own unique living environment as the

25 Li, Xianting, “Yishu de ‘Minzu Dangdai Zhuyi’— Weinisi Shuangnianzhan ji Lü-ou Duanxiang” (Nationalistic Contemporaneity in Art: Notes on the Venice Biennial and Journey to Europe), Yijian de Mingfang: Cong Guojia Yishixingtai Chuzou (Airing of Artistic Views: Fleeing from the State Ideology), Taipei: Artists Press, 2010. p. 243. The article was published originally on Jiangsu Huakan, issue 11, 1993.

important starting point.”26 This revision made the notion of “nationalistic contemporaneity” similar to the idea of “thinking globally, acting locally,” a popular expression of globalization in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Among the thirty-three works, mostly oil painting, featured in Venice, more than a half were included in the exhibition China’s New Art, Post-1989, held in Hong Kong five months earlier. These included paintings by Ding Yi, Fang Lijun, Feng Mengbo, Geng Jianyi, Li Shan, Liu Wei, Wang Guangyi, Wang Ziwei, Xu Bing, and Yu Youhan. The exception was Zhang Peili, who displayed “Flesh Pink and Gray” and “Pink, Purple and Gray,” two oil paintings instead of video pieces shown in Hong Kong that tortured the audience with boredom. “The Scent of Peter Süskind,” consisted of tens of clay hands on a silk-screen surface by Song Haidong, the only installation besides Xu Bing’s “The Mirror Reflecting the World.” Inspired by the famous novel “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” by the German writer Patrick Süskind in 1985, the installation displayed sixty-eight mysterious hands that surrounded the central silkscreen piece, a work with little Chinese content. 26

Ibid. pp. 244–245.

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Exhibitions Abroad and at Home

Yu Hong, the only woman artist in this group, contributed two paintings, “The Fashion Sport” and “Princesses of China,” which featured images of her friends, often seen on a blank background, shown in the New Generation show held in Beijing in 1991. Sun Liang’s oil paintings, titled “16 Figures” (Fig. 5.30), “19 Figures,” and “21 Figures,” fabricated out of a variety of grotesque images, included female body with fish scales and two bold heads, which senselessly connects to the heart of a hermaphrodite with an eagle head, a fish with a crocodile head, human breasts and a penis, and conjoined hermaphrodite twins who kiss each other. These grotesque images might have reflected a chaotic and whimsical reality in the artist’s mind but can be traced back to Shan Hai Jing (Classics of Mountains and Seas) of 2000 years ago, in which hundreds of mythically monstrous animals, usually combination of different creatures, including humans, were recorded and illustrated. In the beginning of civilization, Fig. 5.30 Sun Liang, “16 Figures,” (changed to “Man-Birds” later), 1992, oil on canvas, 130  130 cm

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this could be a visualization of primitive perspective of nature in which human was part of nature, a visual reality rather than a conceptual one, as we see in Shan Hai Tu Jing (Illustration of Classics of Mountains and Seas). To the artist who was fascinated by fantasy, hermaphrodite, combination of human and animal, as well as the one of animals, could be an incarnation of his primitive way of imagination and thinking.

5.2.4

Inside Out: New Chinese Art— The First Comprehensive Demonstration in the West

The exhibition Inside Out: New Chinese Art is the first comprehensive demonstration of contemporary art of China in the West, and featured Chinese artists from the mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and overseas. This exhibition exemplified the notion of a “cultural China,” that existed

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within and outside China’s geographical borders, and was rooted both at home and overseas. This concept was proposed by Tu Weiming, a professor at Harvard University, in 1991.27 It was first held in two venues, the Asia Society Galleries and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, from September 15, 1998 to January 3, 1999. Then the show travelled to San Francisco; Monterrey, Mexico; Seattle; and several Asian cities, in three years.28 The goal of exhibition was “to understand contemporary Chinese art as simultaneously belonging to the international art community as well as the new ‘Chinese’ culture,” according to Vishakha N. Desai, director of the Asia Society Galleries, and David A. Ross, director of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.29 To Gao Minglu, the curator of the exhibition, modernity and identity, or more specifically, transnational modernity and transitional identity, were central issues on which the exhibition had been constructed.30 Based on this perception, Gao Minglu focused on the evolution of Chinese contemporary art in the 1990s, namely the ideological and conceptual change in art after the historical exhibition China/Avant-Garde and the Tiananmen Incident in 1989. Therefore, the word “new” in the title refers to both new and contemporary art in China in general as seen by western audiences, and See Tu Weiming, “Cultural China: The Periphery as the Center,” Dædalus, Spring 1991. 28 In fact, there was another plan in the same period that would display China’s contemporary art in a comprehensive manner in the West. The exhibition China: 5000 Years, held at the Guggenheim Museum in 1998, included three sections, namely the ancient, the modern and the contemporary, in the initiative proposed around 1995. After two-year preparatory work in China and the United States led by Julia Brown Turrell, the curator for special exhibition at the Guggenheim who was in charge of the contemporary section, assisted by Zhou Yan, a then doctorate student in art history at the Ohio State University, the contemporary art section was aborted abruptly months prior to the opening. 29 Vishakha N. Desai and David A. Ross, “Forward,” catalogue Inside Out: New Chinese Art, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1998, p. 7. 30 Gao Minglu, “Toward a Transnational Modernity: An Overview of Inside Out: New Chinese Art,” ibid. p. 15. 27

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to the latest avant-garde movement of the 1980s in the eyes of the Chinese contemporary art world and scholars who were familiar with development of Chinese contemporary art. In the keynote essay in the exhibition catalogue, “Toward a Transnational Modernity: An Overview of Inside Out: New Chinese Art,” Gao Minglu discussed the conceptual history from a Chinese modernity to global modernization. The former, to him, is a project of salvation started in the early twentieth century, in which the Chinese attempted to define modernity on their own terms as a reaction to western influence. This is a “defensive modernity,” focused on the articulation of a national identity and subjectivity, thus an internal issue rather than part of an international project. The interaction with the west instead of self-focused consciousness of modernity did not occur until late 1980s, after avant-garde movements under the context of cultural fever returned to the project of Chinese modernity through a social and cultural critique in a radical tone. The interaction brought about tremendous change in Chinese contemporary art, in other words, an elite avant-garde changed their attitude toward the international system of art institution and transnational art market.31 Under this circumstance, the public culture shared economic priorities with official one, as intellectual culture and the elite were relegated to the margin. The “transformation of antagonistic criticism and spiritual pursuits to Political Pop’s discourse of parody and pastiche may be interpreted as a mourning for both Mao’s revolutionary utopia and the avant-garde enlightenment movement,” Gao Minglu pointed out.32 Accordingly, the name of the exhibition “Inside Out” refers to the ideological shift from a Chinese modernity to a global modernization on the one hand, and the practical transition from a local political and cultural reality to an involvement in the international arena on the other. To be a comprehensive Chinese contemporary art show highlighting transnational modernity, the curator defined Chinese contemporary art by 31 32

Ibid, pp. 15–40. Ibid. p. 21.

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Exhibitions Abroad and at Home

geographical regions, namely, mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and overseas. This transnational modernity appeared differently because of variety of geopolitics in the decades prior to the new millennium. In mainland China, individual subjectivity with a strong sense of nationalism was the major issue, as the “contradiction between self-salvation and anti-tradition caused an ambivalence to the nature of Chinese modernity.” Nativism became the primary issue in Taiwan, and native religion, local culture, and folk art in conjunction with Chinese traditional and western elements were explored in a subversive way. In Hong Kong, the issue was about regional culture, a reaction to the end of the colonial period and reunification with the mainland. Chinese artists overseas communicated with an international cultural mainstream, as their identity and visual world were shaped by and shaped a “third space” between the East and the West.33 Accordingly, the catalogue essayists analyzed Chinese contemporary art within these geopolitical contexts: “From Elite to Small Man: The Many Faces of a Transitional Avant-Garde in Mainland China” (Gao Minglu), “Striving for a Cultural Identity in the Maze of Power Struggles: A Brief Introduction to the Development of the Contemporary Art of Taiwan” (Victoria Y. Lu, a critic from Taiwan), “Found in Transit: Hong Kong Art in a Time of Change” (David Clarke, a critic from HK), and “Strategies of Survival in the Third Space: A Conversation on the Situation of Overseas Chinese Artists in the 1990s” (Hou Hanru, a Chinese critic based in Paris, and Gao Minglu).34 There were seventy-nine pieces, created by seventy-one artists from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and overseas in the exhibition. To the general public, it was difficult to differentiate the works by their different cultural and regional context, thus they all looked Chinese. However, most of them carried distinct characteristics and were concerned with specific issues, rather than a universally Chinese one.

33 34

See ibid. p. 19. See ibid. 5.

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Gao Minglu summarized contemporary art on the mainland of the last two decades as a development “from elite to small man.” As a chief curator, he wrote a brief history of Chinese contemporary art from 1978 to 1998, which he described as the “rise and decline of humanism.” The change from Rationalist Painting to Pop suggested the shift from “utopian world to double kitsch.” Similarly, Current of Life to Cynicism was described as “individuality in difference and indifference.” Then new face of ink painting— scholar painting and universal current—reached its transcendental realm. With conceptual art, he defined three trends, anti-subjectivity and antiauthorship, Apartment Art, and performance as social or political happenings. Compared with overseas exhibitions of the early 1990s, Inside Out provided audiences of the West with artworks that were more globalized in conception but dealt more profoundly with regional or transnational issues. Victoria Lu, a L.A. and Taipei-based Taiwanese critic, discussed the development of contemporary art of Taiwan in her article “Striving for a Cultural Identity in the Maze of Power Struggles.”35 After World War II, modernism in Taiwan was reflected mainly in the art of the Fifth Moon Painting Group and the Eastern Painting Group who adopted Abstract Expressionism. Until the 1980s, artists dealt with the notion of cultural identity that was tangled up with the political and cultural gap between the Greater China and Taiwan after the three-decade long separation. The New Nativist Movement, the cultural identity of feminine art, Pluralism, and the reinvention of the tradition, were the most important trends in Taiwanese art of the 1980s and 1990s. Gao Minglu added that artists from two sides of the Taiwan Strait were interested in the issue of materialism in late 1980s and 1990s. Though all faced the conflict between materialism and spiritual purification, the avant-garde artists on the west side of the strait saw materialism as their social project rather than an aesthetic utopia, while the ones in the east attempted to combine 35

Ibid. pp. 167–173.

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a purified spiritual ideal with a reflection on self and the exploration of the individual’s role in society.36 The article “Found in Transit: Hong Kong Art in a Time of Change” by David Clarke, a professor at Hong Kong University, focused on art during the transition when Hong Kong would be returned to China in 1997.37 Unlike other countries and regions, Hong Kong’s identity did not proclaim a religious, ethnic or nationalistic inheritance, rather, it opposed such characteristics, perhaps due to long separation from the mainland as well as the fear of communist rule, enhanced by the Tiananmen Incident in 1989. The art of this period was politicized, expressing fear, anxiety, and helplessness. From the late 1980s, some vanguard artists from mainland went abroad and confronted global conditions that were entirely different from those within China. Under what Gao Minglu called “Post-Orientalism in the Third Space,” they had to negotiate, exchange and interact with the mainstream of western contemporary art. As the notion of authenticity was abandoned, strategies such as appropriation, allegory, masquerade, and cynicism were applied, and ideas of moment, nomadism and transformation were also pursued.38 There were seventy-one artists who were featured in the show, among them, forty-five from mainland China (including thirteen from four art groups), eleven from Taiwan, eight from Hong Kong, and seven from overseas. While twentytwo works were made in the 1980s, fifty-seven were works of the 1990s. Qiu Zhijie is an artist who was only sixteen when the Avant-Garde Movement started, but he soon inaugurated an on-going project, “Writing the ‘Orchard Pavilion Preface’ One Thousand Times” (1990–1997), which was displayed in the form of both video documentation and ink on paper in the show (Fig. 5.31). The “Orchard Pavilion Preface,” lanting xu in Chinese, is a paradigmatic masterpiece of calligraphy by 36

Ibid. pp. 31–32. Ibid. pp. 175–181. 38 See ibid. pp. 33–35. 37

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Wang Xizhi (303–361) of Eastern Jin Dynasty. While the original is lost, the earliest copy that has been treated like an original is from Tang Dynasty.39 For centuries, it has been acclaimed as the highest achievement in history of Chinese calligraphy, as Wang Xizhi was deified as “the supreme calligrapher of China.” Copying masterpieces in painting and calligraphy has helped beginners learn these arts, and the high level of resemblance to the masterpieces in skill and style as copying became a goal of students, and even a criterion for good artists. The conceptual project by Qiu Zhijie spearheaded this long tradition. Instead of copying on many sheets of rice paper, a routine practiced by Chinese children, he had copied the “Orchid Pavilion Preface” on the same surface from 1990 to 1997. There are manifold denials in this work. First, it denied the function of written language as the way of documentation, because the repetition of the text was transformed into a kind of image. Second, it denied calligraphy as an object of aesthetic appreciation, and as the copying continued the surface became dark and eventually black. Third, it denied, conceptually, the traditional method of copying as a means of learning calligraphy and painting since the content became entirely illegible in the end and thus meaningless. Finally, it even denied the aesthetics of imitating masterpieces as an important means of becoming an artist, a calligrapher in this case. It suggests an aesthetic or even cultural critique, since it revealed that cultural reproduction through the internalization of social authority was the force that endowed text with power, as Norman Bryson implied.40 In the 1990s, Zhang Xiaogang returned to the mindset of early 1980s, in which self-indulgence, 39

There are a variety of copies made by Tang calligraphers, and the whereabouts of the original is a mystery. Most historians believe that the original was buried with Tang Taizong, the second emperor of the Tang Dynasty and a lover of Wang Xizhi’s calligraphy, in the Zhao Mausoleum, Shaanxi. 40 See Norman Bryson, “The Post-Ideological AvantGarde,” Inside Out: New Chinese Art, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1998, p. 57.

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Fig. 5.31 Qiu Zhijie, “Writing the ‘Orchard Pavilion Preface’ for One Thousand Times,” 1990–1997, ink on paper

as well as the relationship between men, nature and culture, appeared in his works. The incident of 1989 is one of the factors that reshaped his view of life and art. As he said, “To me, art and

life are the same, thus how to make art means how to survive. This idea seemed solidified up to the late 1989. I, as an individual, felt paltry and powerless as facing a forceful monster –

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Fig. 5.32 Zhang Xiaogang, “Bloodline: Big Family #2,” 1995, oil on canvas, 180  230 cm

destiny.”41 This sense of the powerless brought him back to an introspective and meditative state of mind because it was the status he could control and felt safe. He used the phrase “introspective soliloquy,” ziwo dubai xing, to define himself and his art. Under this context, he created his “Bloodline Series” began in 1994 as a visual monologue. Neither Political Pop that used popular political and commercial symbols, nor Cynical Realism that focused on the triviality of daily life,42 this series possessed more elements of history and unique artistic achievement that made it an extraordinary work in the 1990s. The standard family picture had been a new tradition for Chinese since the 1950s in which family members, young or old, man or woman, in uniform at times, posed stiffly with little facial expression. The 41 Zhang Xiaogang, “1989–1991: Return to the World of Men,” quoted in Luo Tian, “Zhang Xiaogang: Envisioning Himself as Kafka plus Van Gogh, but Defined as (China’s) Andy Warhol by History,” http://www.wallpost.cn/article5526-1.html, July 16, 2014, originally from web-version New York Times – Chinese Edition. 42 It is doubtful that Zhang Xiaogang was put in the group of either Political Pop or Cynical Realism, as some critics did, since there are few elements in his “Bloodline Series” that associated with the incident of 1989 and appeared cynical in mood.

artist recollected the inspiration of old family photos in making “Bloodline Series”: “Perhaps precisely because in these times such old photos do more than fulfill people’s nostalgic yearnings, or perhaps in their visual language that is pure and direct, yet full of illusion, they justify my loathing for enigmatic formalism and exaggerative romanticism.”43 The featured piece “Bloodline: Big Family #2” portrayed a family of three in a standard format, in which hair style and dress were typical of the 1950s (Fig. 5.32). There are real and surreal elements in this painting. Seemingly an urban family, but husband and wife appeared inactive. Under an unworldly lighting, their faces were unhealthily pale, as the child was yellowish like a jaundiced baby. Furthermore, the vitiligo-like marks on everyone’s face reinforced a sense of morbidity. The most striking element was their grotesquely vacant stare that demonstrated a collective unconsciousness, fear, anxiety, dullness or sheer emptiness. Both husband and wife showed a similar attitude, as did between parent and child, physically surreal but 43 “Zhang Xiaogang on Himself,” Umbilical Cord of History: Paintings by Zhang Xiaogang, Hong Kong and Paris: Hanart T Z Gallery and Galerie Enrico Navarra, 2004, p. 17.

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299

Fig. 5.33 Wu Mali “Epitaph,” 1997, video, sandblasted glass, the photo provided by Taipei Fine Arts Museum

psychologically true in Mao’s China. Although a picture of a small family, this piece became a reflection of a generational destiny with weirdness and absurdity. Wu Mali, a female artist born in Taipei, Taiwan, was educated in both Taiwan and Germany. Her study at the Staatliche Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf, Germany, provided her with profound comprehension of conceptual art, as well as Beuys’ art, his Social Sculpture in particular. Her work was a video installation, “Epitaph,” shown previously at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in 1997 (Fig. 5.33). The epitaph here is not a real one, but an interview with victim’s widow effected by the February 28 Incident.44 The content of the work was influenced by the books 45 Years of Loneliness and Sobbing in the Dark Corner, and by documentary film of the February 28 Incident, all by Mrs. Ran Mei-su, a female survivor of the tragedy. While most of the February 28 Incident, or February 28 Massacre, “was an anti-government uprising in Taiwan that was violently suppressed by the Kuomintang-led Republic of China government, which killed thousands of civilians beginning on February 28, 1947. Estimates of the number of deaths vary from ten thousand to fifty thousand or more. The massacre marked the beginning of the White Terror period, in which tens of thousands more Taiwanese went missing, died, or were imprisoned. This incident is one of the most important events in Taiwan’s modern history, and was a critical impetus for the Taiwan independence move ment.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/February_28_Inci dent In 1995, President Lee Tung-hui officially apologized for the government’s actions.

44

victims were male, a voice from a widow offered a specific perspective and poignant expression of the tragedy. In the video work, Wu Mali created images of sea waves that keep crashing on the shore while the “epitaph,” the text of the interview, was inscribed on translucent glasses: His-tory has been revised, The rioter may become the hero, What about her-story?

As the crashing sea waves could be a metaphor for a male-centered mainstream culture, the relatively indistinct but sometimes entirely illegible text on the glass, due to its rough texture and reflective quality, could represent women’s absence from the reconciliation process of this historical tragedy. While their husbands, brothers or sons died or disappeared, the women who survived suffered from mental trauma for decades, which had been ignored or considered trivial, and thus found no place in the collective memory. Although not acknowledging the feminist nature of the work, the artist contributed one of the first feminist artworks in Taiwan. There is no doubt that Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 was the most important political and cultural event in public life during the 1990s, thus one of the major issues Hong Kong artists dealt with in this period. Ironically, anxiety and fear instead of joy and excitement were the moods in artworks produced in this British colony, in contrast to a celebrational

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Fig. 5.34 Kum Chi-keung, “Transition Space,” 1995, bird cages, yellow mud, and mechanical birds

atmosphere in other colonies that were about to divorce from their sovereign countries. Kum Chi-keung’s “Transition Space” is representative of this mood (Fig. 5.34). Two identical elongated bird cages were posited on two sides, referring to suzerains, as mechanical birds, operated with solar energy, were flying from one to another. Different from a colony’s independence, Hong Kong was returned to China when the 99-year lease ended.45 The artist used allegory to express

his fear of entering another era of confinement, an emotion shared by many Hong Kong people. The idea for Cai Guoqiang’s “Borrowing Your Enemy’s Arrows” came from ancient Chinese history while commenting on globalization (Fig. 5.35).46 Known as an artist of gunpowder and fireworks, Cai Guoqiang contributed his gunpowder painting to the exhibition. However, his installation drew more attention in the show. This piece recalled a variety of Chinese strategic idioms, such as yizizhimao, gongzizhidun, literally using someone’s spear to attack his shield, namely

45

In fact, Hong Kong’s territory was acquired from three separate treaties: the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, the Treaty of Beijing in 1860, and The Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory in 1898, which gave the UK the control of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon (area south of Boundary Street), and the New Territories (area north of Boundary Street and south of the Sham Chun River, and outlying islands), respectively. Although Hong Kong Island and Kowloon had been ceded to the United Kingdom in perpetuity, the control on the New Territories was a ninety-nine-year lease. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Transfer_of_sovereignty_over_Hong_Kong, March 7, 2017.

46

The work appropriated the legend from Sanguozhi, or Annals of Three Kingdoms. In an episode Zhuge Liang, the military counsellor and famous strategist, faces an imminent attack from the enemy, and manages to “borrow” arrows from them to replenish a depleted arsenal. A thick mist spreads over the river at early dawn. When Zhuge Liang’s fleet, full of scarecrows, gets close to the enemy’s camp, he orders his soldiers to shout and beat drums to fake an attack. Mistaking the pandemonium for a surprise attack, the enemy showered the decoys with volleys of arrows. Thus the strategist returns triumphantly with a freshly captured store of weapons.

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Avant-Garde in Alternative Space and Orientation

301

Fig. 5.35 Cai Guoqiang, “Borrowing Your Enemy’s Arrows,” 1998, installation, on view at P.S. 1, New York wooden boat, straw, bamboo, arrows, flag, fan, c. 10 m in length

turning someone’s battery against himself; jiangjijiuji, turning somebody’s trick against him, or beating somebody at his own game; or jielishili, gathering strength from one’s opponent (in martial arts). On a global stage, these are all strategies or tactics in the eastern war theory. Noticeably there was a Chinese national flag on the boat claiming its identity, therefore the work challenged the established power structure with a borrowed weapon, military, economic or cultural. Similarly, in the situation of the 2010s when China rose as an economic superpower, this challenge seems more real than virtual, as the audience looks at the boat at the P.S.1, New York, in the late 1990s.47

5.3

Avant-Garde in Alternative Space and Orientation

After the 1989 Incident, China’s avant-garde experienced a low ebb. Some critics used the phrase “bankruptcy of knowledge” to describe the status quo of culture in this period. Zhongguo 47 This work was installed at the PS1, New York, the second venue of the show, where I saw it at the opening and thought it was as if a virtual ambition with little aggressive feature.

Meishubao was forced to terminate publication in the end of 1989, as Gao Minglu, the editor of Meishu who was responsible for editing most of the reports, reviews, and critical essays on the Avant-Garde movement on this CAA-run art journal, was ordered to take a year off to study Marxism at home. From Beijing, Shanghai to the provinces, few exhibition spaces were opened to vanguard art. After the avant-garde hurricane swept the country in the second half of the 1980s, an oppressive silence spread throughout the nation. As mentioned in the beginning of this chapter, this situation left little room for contemporary art and forced some artists to find opportunities abroad, and others to return to an underground status, either settling in suburban villages or making art in their apartments. Political sarcasm and cultural escapism became popular themes that found more opportunities abroad, followed by commercial success. The conceptual approach continued from its Anti-Art phase of the mid-1980s, exemplified mostly in Apartment Art and Maximalism, names created by Gao Minglu. Action Art of the 1990s expanded its horizon from focusing on personal experience and transcendental awareness to an interference with reality or masochism. Video Art was really new to

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most of Chinese artists in the early 1990s, with the exception of Zhang Peili, who made China’s first video artwork in 1988. The second half of the 1990s was the period that Video Art, combined with Action Art, gradually became a favorite medium for Chinese artists. At the same time, woman artists with their unique perspective created feminine art in the 1990s.

5.3.1

Conceptual Art on Routine and the Current: Apartment Art and Proposal Art

Creating as a daily routine and focusing on the current, namely this moment in this place, either in artwork or the process of artmaking were the essential features shared by Apartment Art and Maximalism, conceptual art of 1990s’ China, overlapping tendencies in some cases.48 The term “Apartment Art” was created by Gao Minglu in 1998, in his catalogue essay for the exhibition Inside Out: New Chinese Art. Apartment Art referred to conceptual art that withdrew into an artist’s private space, most of the time in urban apartments, because of its rejection by official and commercial galleries, and the ignorance of the media and the organizers of overseas Chinese avant-garde exhibitions.49 This notion reminds us of “Humble Room Art” (loushi yishu) of the 1980s.50 These conditions affected many vanguard artists in early 1980s. Usually 48

The exhibitions, Chinese Maximalism, curated by Gao Minglu, and Buddhist Prayer Beads and Brushwork, curated by Li Xianting, held in 2003, shared and concentrated on an art trend which started in 1990s and continued in the 2000s. See detailed discussion in Sect. 6.3. 49 Gao Minglu, “From Elite to Small Man: The Many Faces of a Transitional Avant-Garde in Mainland China,” Inside Out: New Chinese Art, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1998, pp. 161. 50 The word loushi, humble room or simple hut, comes from the poem “Inscription of Humble Room,” loushi ming, by Liu Yuxi (772–842), a Tang poet. One verse from it reads, “My home is humble, but it enjoys the fame of virtue so long as I am living in it,” as the last verse is, “Confucius once said, ‘how could we call a room humble as long as there is a virtuous man in it?’”

underneath their beds in a really small living space was convenient storage for their painting and small sculpture. The difference is that they didn’t “withdraw,” as did the Apartment Artists in the 1990s, because they had never enjoyed prominence, visibility and publicity. For instance, many art groups held their exhibitions or actions indoors, such as in their classrooms, or in their own or their foreign friend’s apartments with a few friends as audience,51 or outdoors in public parks, ruins, or beaches. If the artists stayed in their “humble room” with great passion for their ideal modern art in the 1980s, those who withdrew from the public sphere into their confined spaces in the 1990s continued this idealism, but with a transcendental awareness of the oppressing political status quo and tempting commercial opportunities. If the “Humble Room Art” was a prototype of Apartment Art, the period of 1990s was its peak. Due to its unexhibitable and unsellable nature, Apartment Art opposed both societal suppression after 1989 and the “double kitsch,” Political Pop and Cynical Realism. This was also an internal critique within the avant-garde camp, in addition to the external critique of art institutions. Compared with the 1980s when collective artmaking and the exchange of ideas among vanguard artists were popular, Apartment Art artists acted individually most of time in the 1990s, with little public engagement, a self-imposed exile from society. The term “apartment” signifies private space, thus usually relates to the everyday life of artists and their routines, and focuses on their current condition, namely a tangible, visible, immediate physical context. As we can see later, these features are shared by Maximalism. To be clear, 51 The Diplomatic Residency Compound (DRC) on Jianguomen, Beijing, a strictly guarded apartment compound for foreign diplomats, had played an important role in Chinese contemporary art from late 1970s to the 1980s. Some ambassadors, cultural officials of western country embassies or international journalists invited artists to their apartments to hold gathering, art show, and even purchased artworks that might be difficult or even impossible beyond the compound then. Interestingly, most of artworks for this venue were made in style of expressionism or abstract-expressionism, a manner that was still under the ideological taboo. Also see Sect. 6.2.2.

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Fig. 5.36 Wang Youshen, “Nutritious Soil,” 1995, nutritious soil on artist’s apartment, Beijing

apartments in China had not been private spaces until the middle of the 1990s, when housing reform took place. Apartment housing was originally distributed to employees of state-run institutions or enterprise by the government and gradually gave way to commercial properties that the public purchased or rented. At the same time, mostly two-story apartment buildings, where residents usually shared kitchens, bathrooms and even restrooms with little privacy, were replaced by ten-to-twenty-story high apartment buildings, which provided residents with more privacy but a less amicable surrounding.52 This is significant because it changed the lifestyle and way of communication in urban areas and became fertile soil for a relatively isolated, indifferent, intimate, individualistic, anti-social and meditative Apartment Art. Wang Youshen lived at an apartment, Tuanjie Complex, West Xizhimen Blvd, Xicheng District, Beijing, and created “Nutritious Soil,” a typical Apartment Art piece in 1994 (Fig. 5.36). The There are literary works that described “high apartment halls” as “concrete forest” which created alienation among residents. For instance, many residents never knew their neighbors and in fact did not care about them, thus even assumed next-door break-in robbery as a regular move-out. 52

nutritious soil was purchased from the Northeastern China and shipped to Beijing, then spread on the floor of his small apartment. It reads on the caption, Nutritious soil is a high-quality soil found in the Changbai Mountains in Northeast China. The soil contains many nutrients. It will enhance the natural environment in other places.

Sensitive to the polluted environment, an unpopular awareness in the early 1990s, Wang Youshen introduced what he believed was healthy element into his home. In fact, this soil was what his father used to grow flowers. Giving up the expressionist manner of his previous works, Wang Youshen withdrew from both Grand Narrative and passionate style, and concentrated on family affairs. This work recalls Walter De Maria’s The New York Earth Room (1977), a 127.3-ton-earthwork displayed as an on-going piece at 141 Wooster Street, New York City. As opposed to De Maria’s idea of a grand sanctuary for the public soul, or an interior earth art with a metaphor sense, Wang Youshen’s “Nutritious Soil” dealt with a personal concern for his home environment in a smallscale manner with biological vitality. In addition, the work was unavailable to a regular audience

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Fig. 5.37 New Calibration group members: (from left) Chen Shaoping, Wang Luyan and Gu Dexin, in 1990

except for the artist’s friends and could not enter the market due to its site-specific nature. The artists of the group New Calibration are no doubt the earliest practitioners of Apartment Art, as they made their “Tactile Art” at home in Beijing at the end of 1988 (Fig. 4.107). The group was officially founded in November 1989, when the political atmosphere became severe after the Tiananmen Incident (Fig. 5.37) and disbanded in 1995. There was no opportunity to exhibit conceptual art except for its display at the China/Avant-Garde in February 1989. The venues of the show were all overseas institutions, including Japan (1991), Hong Kong (1993), Germany (1995), Spain (1995), and USA (1998).53 Their artwork tended to eliminate individualistic sentiment, expression, and style

53 According to Wang Luyan, a member of New Calibration, as Julia B. Terrell, curator of Contemporary Section of Guggenheim Museum’s exhibition China: 5000 Years (1998, as the Contemporary Section was cancelled prior to the opening), led by Zhou Yan, curatorial assistant of Julia B. Terrell, met group members to see their work at Wang Luyan’s home in Beijing, in 1995, three members decided to dissolve the group, to avoid an institutional recognition. The decision was made by following the rule they set, namely, vote if agreement cannot be made. The result was that two were for it and one, against it, thus the group was disbanded immediately.

through strict rule of cooperation. The group explained, The analysis can be described as this kind of process: the individuals who participate the analysis (indicated as a1, a2, a3. . .) enter the cooperative status (called “A Status”) under rules of artmaking and measurement that they together draw up and follow. The “A Status” goes through the whole process. The a1, a2, a3. . . will be transformed into “A” as the “A Status” develops, so that the individuality of a1, a2, a3. . . will be abandoned. Diagrams of implementation of analysis are called “measurement.” The process of measuring will be edited and printed into booklets for reading.54

The nature of Apartment Art reflects on the way of doing homework. Children would do homework together, to help each other, have fun or do something social. However, the group did the opposites, doing the boring “homework” in an extremely unpleasant way, meaning the whole procedure was a process of gradual elimination of individuality (Fig. 5.38). The group set up very strict rules, a language system that prescribes people’s behaviors, for their artmaking, and the purpose was to minimize the role and subjectivity of individuals to reach a high level of uniformity. The audience was selective and limited in coterie. Critics, who were friends of the New “Explanation of ‘Analysis’,” “New Calibration” Files, provided by Wang Luyan, unpublished, 1992.

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Fig. 5.38 New Calibration group, “Module of Analysis,” diagram, 1990

Calibration group, were invited into Wang Luyan’s home, to listen to artists, analyze the works, and exchange ideas (Fig. 5.39). Not only did the cultural environment and art market dismiss Apartment Art, but also some artists within

the vanguard circle did not understand it. Thus, it circulated within an elite environment only. Song Dong was not involved in the avantgarde movement of the 1980s when he studied art at Capital Normal University, Beijing. He,

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Fig. 5.39 Critics discussing works by New Calibration group at artist’s Wang Luyan’s home, from left (clockwise), Zhou Yan, Kong Chang-an, Hou Hanru, xxx, xxx, xxx, Gao Minglu, Yin Shuangxi and Chen Shaoping, 1990

however, was a sincere inheritor of the vanguard spirit. In 1990, Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen, his artist wife, founded an artist’s group with another couple, named “Wooden Stool Group” (bandeng xiaozu), a humble name that originated from a small piece furniture, used by most Chinese families.55 His “Water Writing Diary” could be seen as a radical example of Apartment Art because of its absolutely traceless feature (Fig. 5.40). From 1995 on, Song Dong wrote diaries in Chinese brush on a stone with water instead of ink. Replacing the rice paper and ink of traditional calligraphy, the stone surface and clear water made this routine a work of conceptual art. Recording a totally private action, the ancient art of calligraphy was radicalized into an intimate dialogue between the artist and the medium, or between man and nature in general. Not only was 55 He actually used wooden stools in many of his works later on, thus the furniture became one of the symbols of Apartment Art because of its popularity, humbleness and recollection of childhood memories.

it unsaleable and uncollectable, but also it was invisible and unpublicized. The subversion was twofold here. On the one hand, as a form of letting one’s heart bare to the Party, diary writing was a practice common in the Cultural Revolution, and was only recently returned to the private sphere; on the other hand, the diary’s nature as memoir was challenged, and its function as historical record was neglected. Thus, it became un-trackable, a mere channel for intimate communication between man and nature, not unlike a meditation or religious ritual in which people converse directly with god. Wang Gongxin, an artist from Beijing, moved to New York in the middle of the 1980s and lived in Brooklyn. He went back to Beijing in 1995. His life experience in two metropolitan centers provided him a special viewpoint regarding the cultures of the West and the East. He brought back to Beijing a video of Brooklyn’s sky, blue with a few idle clouds, that he shot in NYC. In the courtyard of his home in Beijing, he dug a threemeter-deep hole, put a monitor in the hole and

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Fig. 5.40 Song Dong, “Water Writing Diary,” water, Chinese brush, and rock, 1995-present

Fig. 5.41 (a–c) Wang Gongxin, “Brooklyn’s Sky,” 1995, installation of Video Art, (a) working on the project; (b) playing video; (c) critics and artists visit this home project

played the video, and with a repetitive voice that asked, “What are you looking at? There is nothing to see.” (Fig. 5.41a, b, c) The idea of digging a hole derived from a New York slang, “dig a hole to go to China,” referring to two cities on opposite sides of the world. Symbolically, Wang Gongxin dug a hole at home in Beijing and could see Brooklyn’s sky! Yi Ying, a critic from CAFA, read it as a symbol of China seeing the West. In the 1980s and 1990s, many Chinese

were eager to know more about the West, but curiosity was replaced quickly by national pride, thus “there is nothing to see” might express the mentality of some Chinese with only a superficial knowledge of the West.56 Fang-an, literally Proposal Art, was a special form of artmaking and distribution in Apartment See Yi Ying, “Guanyu ‘Bulukelin de Tiankong” (on “Brooklyn’s sky”), Beijing: Shijie Meishu, issue 2, 1995, pp. 32, 37.

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Art.57 Artists drew pictures and images, wrote statements, directions, and descriptions on paper, to provide an image-text proposal for their artistic idea. Proposal Art could be economic as well as conceptual. It was easier to make than projects that needed to be realized, and thus more artworks could be made conceptually instead of physically. An early example of Proposal Art is the “Proposal for Hauling Away the National Art Museum of China” by Huang Yongping and his Xiamen Dada comrades of 1989 (Fig. 4.103). The Black Cover Book, consisting of mainly Proposal Art, edited by Zeng Xiaojun, Ai Weiwei, and Xu Bing, with Zigong (Feng Boyi) as text editor, was published and circulated as an underground publication in July 1994. Zeng Xiaojun and Ai Weiwei subsequently edited and published White Cover Book and Gray Cover Book in 1995 and 1997, respectively. Zhang Shengquan, nick named Datong Dazhang (meaning Big Zhang from Datong), a Shanxi artist, also made many Proposal Art pieces in the 1990s that demonstrated his ideas on art, politics, and culture. “Heathendom” was a proposal for Action Art, that dealt with the issue of religions (Fig. 5.42). According to the description of the action, a person dresses up as a Ku Klux Klan member and wears gloves that are made of fresh pork, but stitched with catgut. He’ll stroke mutton and sacred books—the Torah of Judaism with Israel’s national emblem on the cover and the Quran of Islam—on the chopping board in front.58 Zhang Shengquan addressed one of the most sensitive issues in global politics. Ironically, these apparently incompatible religions—Judaism and Islam—shared a food tradition, that is, pork was considered unclean thus never consumed in both cultures, while mutton was a delicacy to Jews and Muslims. This was one of the first artworks that dealt with this critical issue in the twenty-first century. 57 Gao Minglu translated fang-an into “Projects on Paper,” see “Fang an, or ‘Projects on Paper’,” Gao Minglu, Total Modernity and the Avant-Garde in Twentieth-Century Chinese Art, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2011, pp. 287–298. 58 Zhang thought the sacred book of Judaism was the Holy Bible, as he said in the proposal, but in fact, it is Torah.

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In the 1990s, Art emerged silently but it was powerful because of its conceptual strength. As some projects were eventually realized, most remained in artists’ sketch books, or were published in underground publications that circulated among artists and their friends, such as Chinese Contemporary Artists’ Agenda (1994), edited by Wang Luyan, Wang Youshen, Chen Shaoping and Wang Jianwei, in which nineteen artists participated, including the editors (1994); Agree to the Date November 26, 1994 as a Reason (1994) and 45 as a Reason (1995), featuring Geng Jianyi, Qian Weikang, Shi Yong and other seven artists; Wildness: Starting from the Day of Jingzhe, organized by Song Dong and Guo Shirui, with twenty-seven artists (1997). Some publications, such as Black Cover Book, White Cover Book and Gray Cover Book, were published in magazine format containing art documents, art news, interviews, and most importantly, Proposal Art.

5.3.2

Action Art and Project

Action Art started in the mid-1980s, mostly as part of Anti-Art trend, in which artists’ bodies, wrapped in many cases, were transformed into a metaphor with sense of ritual.59 In the 1990s Action Art expanded from a quasi-ritualistic practice which focused on personal experience and transcendental awareness to self-masochism, showing a new direction that either touched directly social issues or showed individualistic suffering and reaction to ever-changing living condition, thus the introspective and the transcendental were replaced by the extroversive and the immersive. This extroversive feature increased the intensity of antagonism against social rules, moral norms and authority, likely a reaction to the violent suppression at the end of 1980s. The artist’s body became a battlefield where they fought social taboo or tortured their own bodies. If we could say that the Action Art of the 1980s was As for the reason to use the term “Action Art” instead of “performance” or “Happening,” see footnote 4 in Chap. 4.

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Fig. 5.42 Zhang Shengquan, “Heathendom,” 1990s, Proposal Art

more artistic or aesthetic, the actions in the China/ Avant-Garde show added fortuity and politicscharged significance, which in turn prepared the Action Art of the 1990s. As most of Action Art involves the body, the Project is usually a collective action, in which body-art like Action Art may or may not be part of it. As artists needed to voice their opinions on art, society and culture through a collective thus stronger manner, they contrived and implemented

the project. Unlike the collective activities in the 1980s when art groups, like Xiamen Dada, primarily attacked artistic institutions and discourse, the Projects in the 1990s were more concerned with social or cultural tendencies, and their relationship to art. There was usually a plan with a mission statement, detailed phases and steps of implementation, drafted by core members of the Project. It engaged not only art affairs, but also politics, law, public relation, and censorship.

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over, he ran into a polluted pond and immersed himself to get rid of the flies on his body. This masochistic act affected nearly all his senses, that is, vision, hearing, smell and tactility, and tested his endurance in an extremely uncomfortable way, while reflecting the adverse living condition in which migrant laborers and artists lived in the 1990s. This Masochism combined with sympathy for the disfranchised continued and were embodied in his later action, “To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond,” in 1997 (Fig. 5.5). Ma Liuming, a Hubei artist, also lived in the East Village in the 1990s. In October 1993, Gilbert and George, London-based performance artists, had an exhibition at the National Art Museum of China, and were invited by Chinese artists to visit the East Village. Ma Liuming performed a “Dialogue with Gilbert and George,” in which he was topless and stood on a table in the center of the room. When probing the ceiling, his finger was cut by a crack there and blood dripped down his arm and body. The first Action Art in the East Village, according to the artist, made artists from abroad and home excited, and was an effective artistic conversation between them.60 The spectacular Action Art by Ma Liuming Fig. 5.43 Zhang Huan, “Twelve Square Meters,” 1994, comprised several actions called “Fen • Ma Action Art Liuming.”61 In a party, he and his friends exchanged clothes and took pictures. It turned Action Art executed by Zhang Huan and Ma out that everyone found out that he had an attracLiuming had attributes of both Apartment Art and tive female beauty. His slender figure, elegant, Action Art, because these actions took place in beautiful face and long hair inspired him to use their home or neighborhood. One of the most his own body to make art. He wore make-up, striking actions was Zhang Huan’s “Twelve dressed in beautiful woman’s gown, and had Square Meters” executed in a public toilet near pictures taken by a professional photographer his studio, located in the East Village, in suburban (Fig. 5.44a). After a while, he found out that he Beijing (Fig. 5.43). The area indicated in the title was misunderstood as a transvestite, a person who is the dimension of the toilet, used by hundreds of tended to be a transgender woman, or simply a residents in the neighborhood and swarming with homosexual man. Therefore, he took off his thousands of flies. Zhang Huan tested material to clothes demonstrating his male gender, while attract flies beforehand and found out that honey and fluid from rotten fish worked well. Naked, he 60 See Liu Chun, “Ma Liuming Fangtan” (Interview with covered himself with this mixture and sat on the Ma Liuming), Zhongguo Dangdai Yishu Fangtan: toilet in the summer heat, which made the smell Yishujia Juan (Interviews of Chinese Contemporary Art: even worse. Spending an hour on the toilet, Artists), Taiyuan: Beiyue Arts Press, 2005. 61 Fen 芬 means fragrance and is mostly used for women’s Zhang Huan did not move and simply let large name. At the same time, 芬 is a homophone of 分, meannumber of flies creeping on his body, face, mouth, ing separate, or divorce, implying a double-gender identity ears, eyes and private parts. When the action was in Ma Liuming’s action.

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Fig. 5.44 (a, b) Ma Liuming, “Fen • Ma Liuming,” 1993, Action Art

retaining his feminine appearance (Fig. 5.44b). In a nation where homosexual, bisexual and transgender issues were essentially taboo thus unacceptable to the public, Ma Liuming touched an even more sensitive and provocative issue, namely, hermaphrodite. This hermaphrodite was not a biological one, but a special artistic identity. A biological male, he held a bi-gender identity as he acted. In other words, there were two separations here, namely, the real vs. the artistic, and the genetic and the perceptual. The price he paid for his provocative action was to be detained when he acted in the yard where he cooked lunch nakedly in 1995 and stayed two months in jail. On May 22, 1995, ten artists, eight men and two women, who mostly lived in the East Village, Cang Xin, Duan Yingmei, Gao Yang, Ma Liuming, Ma Zongren, Wang Shihua, Zhang Binbin, Zhang Huan, Zhu Ming, Zuoxiao Zuzhou, made a collective Action Art, titled “To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain.” The action was organized mainly by Zhang Huan and Kong Bu, and the photographer was Lü Nan. Zhang Huan and Kong Bu selected the area of Mt. Miaofeng, remote suburbs of Beijing, because there would be no interference from the authorities or residents. They took off

their clothes and weighed in to determine who was on the bottom and who lied on the top of the stack of human bodies, based on the rule they had set beforehand (Fig. 5.45a). After making a fivelayer stack, 3-2-2-2-1 from bottom to top, a professional surveyor measured it to ensure the height of the mountain was increased by exactly one meter (Fig. 5.45b). Though done in an apparently scientific manner, this action had an entirely non-scientific purpose. According to Zhang Huan, the action was related to the conception in Chinese philosophy, that addresses the unity between nature and man, tianren heyi in Chinese. Rather than conquering nature, people should try to be part of it. In other words, what the people had done was in vain, as shown by this action. The mountain remained the same height after the artists left, and nature runs on its own.62 The naked bodies echoed the anonymity, wildness and primitiveness of the mountain, a symbol of the unity of nature and man on the one hand, and

See Du Xiyun’s “‘Wei Wumingshan Zenggao Yimi’ Ershinian Fangtan (An Interview in the Twentieth Anniversary of the Work “To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain”), http://art.ifeng.com/2015/0523/98314.shtml available on June 3, 2019. 62

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Fig. 5.45 (a, b) Cang Xin, Duan Yingmei, Gao Yang, Ma Liuming, Ma Zhongren, Wang Shihua, Zhang Binbin, Zhang Huan, Zhu Ming, Zuoxiao Zuzhou, “To Add One

Meter to an Anonymous Mountain,” 1995, Action Art, Beijing, Mt. Miaofeng area. (a) weigh in; (b) status of completion

the abandoned and the forsaken on the other. Considering the lives of these artists in Beijing, what the media called mangliu with discriminating tone, meaning aimlessly drifting artists, the action could be a metaphor of powerlessness for artists. Lived in poor conditions and lacked freedom of expression. Zhang Huan, Ma Liuming, Zhu Ming and their friends had been detained by authorities when they were doing Action Art in the East Village. Some were released earlier, but others stayed in jail for months. Therefore the “nature” in this action could also be a synonym for almighty authority, and an action “in vain” became a silent political statement on the relationship between power and powerlessness, the ruler and the ruled. Comparing “To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain” with Li Xinjian and his comrades’ “8848, Hima-Langma,” executed in 1988 (Fig. 4.118), we can find some fundamental distinctions. As the latter took place on a wellknown, sacred mountain, the action was more like a solemn ritual of a pilgrim. The former, on the contrary, executed on the “anonymous” wild mountain, realized the unity of nature and man in a primeval state. Among all the artists who have made Action Art, He Yunchang, nicknamed A-Chang, could be seen as a pure Action Artists. He started his action in Kunming, Yunnan, his hometown, in the

mid-1990s, then moved to Beijing in 1998, and has continued his actions until today. With great passion and sacrificial spirit, He Yunchang used his body as his only medium to cope with issues of man and nature, endurance, and human conditions, etc. In 1999, he carried out two important actions, “Conversation with the Current” and “Golden Sunshine.” In the former, he “conversed” with the current through hanging on a crane upside down and attempting to cut off, with a sword, the river water underneath (Fig. 5.46). There is a verse in the poem, “Farewell to Uncle Yun, the Imperial Librarian, at the Xie Tiao’s Pavilion in Xuanzhou,” by Li Bai, a well-known Tang poet, “Water still flows though we cut it with our swords, and sorrows return though we drown them with wine.”63 He Yunchang’s cutting weakened the tone of sadness on a send-off, but emphasized the impossibility of changing nature’s course. Injecting a sense of sacrifice into the act he stabbed his arm and let blood drip into the river. In the latter, he had himself painted yellow, and hung from an eave, painting the part of wall that surrounded his shadow (Fig. 5.47). However, he went into Li Bai, “Xuanzhou Xie Tiao Lou Jianbie Jiaoshu Shu Yun” (Farewell to Uncle Yun, the Imperial Librarian, at the Xie Tiao’s Pavilion in Xuanzhou), Li Bai Quanji (Collected Poetry of Li Bai), edited by Bao Fang, Shanghai: Shanghai Ancient Books Publishing House, 1997.

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Fig. 5.46 He Yunchang, “Conversation with the Current,” 1999, Action Art

Fig. 5.47 He Yunchang, “Golden Sunshine,” 1999, Action Art

shock after ninety minutes under the summer sun and heat. He “conversed” with the sun this time and made a trial of physical pain and endurance. The failure might imply a mockery of the slogan “Man can conquer nature” (rending shengtian), propagated during the Cultural Revolution. Entirely different from the action that was executed in Beijing which focused on mainly the individual experience of personal or collective

suffering, as many Action Art of the provinces produced their Action Art as a group activity, which engaged in social life or an art ecosystem. Thus “Project” would be the best term for such activity. Lanzhou Art Corps artists in Gansu province continued a collective approach dealing with issues of art, politics, and economics, typical of art-making in the Avant-Garde Movement, although they claimed that they wanted to shake

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Fig. 5.48 Lanzhou Art Corps, “Funeral,” 1993, Project

off what they called “‘85 Complex,” referring to the artists’ spiritual and emotional affiliation with the ‘85 Art Movement. While most of the vanguard art groups were dismantled in late 1980s, Cheng Li, Yang Zhichao, Liu Yiwu, Ma Yunfei and Ye Yongfeng founded the Lanzhou Art Corps in the capital of Gansu, in 1992, to respond to what they considered commercialism, opportunism, and corruption in the avant-garde art world of the early 1990s. Using “corps” ( juntuan) as the group’s name was a way to identify with the early twentieth century Europe, when the term “avant-garde” carried the meaning of advance in military terms. They prepared an action on December 12, 1992, “Funeral,” a procession for Zhong Xiandai, a fictional name that literally means “loving modernity.” They placed an artificial corpse in a plexiglass coffin, posted posters, published obituaries in the news media, forged a “death certificate,” and prepared urns to mail “relics” to those who were responsible for Zhong’s disease and death. The obituary stated that Zhong Xiandai was an artist who had colluded with critics, art dealers, editors of magazines and newspapers to create a large network to peddle his work. He killed the avantgarde spirit of the 1980s, and in turn, he was

killed by Lanzhou Art Corps.64 On January 8, 1993, the corps mailed the obituary and death certificate to thirty artists and critics in Beijing, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Hubei, Henan, Sichuan, Yunnan, Shandong, Gansu, Hunan, in addition to Cheng Li, the leading figure of the group. The urns with walnut, chewing gum, and a Chinese hell bank notes,65 were sent out on January 13, 1993.66 The final action was a funeral procession and cremation, which took place on January 17, 1993. On this frozen winter day of minus 17  C, the funeral procession took about two hours on the streets in Lanzhou (Fig. 5.48). Upon their return, the corpse, coffin, banners and masks were burned, and the ashes were put into a box and buried. In the early 1990s, few artists reacted to the corruption in the vanguard camp as strongly as 64

See Gao Minglu, The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art, exhibition catalog, Beijing: Sunvale Culture, 2005, p. 174. 65 The hell bank note or spiritual money is the fake money printed on paper and is about to burn in front of tomb, meaning the money for the diseased to use. 66 As walnuts need to be cracked, referring to smashing, and chewing gum can blow bubbles, a synonym for bragging, these “relics” castigated those artists and critics with a sarcastic tone.

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did by the Lanzhou Art Corps, who criticized and resisted it in a highly sarcastic and radical manner. This was an indirect response to the opportunist shift in the name of “purging humanist zeal,” advocated by Wang Guangyi at the Mt. Huang Conference in 1988 (see Sect. 4.3.2), but a direct reaction to the idea and practice of promoting the art market put forward at the Guangzhou Biennial at the end of October 1992, about two months prior to the “Funeral” (see Sect. 5.2.2). Compared with the suppression by the authorities, commercial erosion was even more disastrous to Chinese contemporary art, Lanzhou Art Corps artists argued, and they have continued to hold memorial ceremonies on numerous anniversaries (one year, two years, seven years, and twenty years) to resist corruption in contemporary art circles in China. In addition to the action “Funeral,” Lanzhou Art Corps found another target for their antagonism from, again, within the contemporary art camp. This time, critics who put their art criticism on sale were whipped. In issue 4, 1993, of Jiangsu Huakan, an article lists the price of critical articles,67 which outraged many artists, especially those of the Lanzhou Art Corps. They drafted an open letter to those critics who had lost their objectivity and fairness in criticism, baseline qualities for an art critic, to claim their opposition. Corruption in art criticism became a real problem, that is, art journals were filled with flattering articles paid for by the artists. The payment ranged from one to ten RMB per Chinese character or even higher depending on the fame or official position of the art critic. In 1993, there was an aborted Project, entitled “Great Consumption,” organized by the New History Group based in Hubei, and led by Ren Jian, with members Yu Hong, Zhang Sanxi, Zhou Xiping, Wang Yubei, Ye Shuanggui, Zhu Xikun, Daozi, and Fu Zhongwang, that attempted to put the commercialism in art under the context of globalization. As a member of Northern Art

Group, Ren Jian went by different direction from Wang Guangyi, his comrade in the group, after the vanguard movement in the middle of 1980s.68 In October 21, 1992, Ren Jian, Zhou Xiping, Zhu Xikun, Liang Xiaochuan and Ye Shuanggui carried out an action named “Sterilization” at the exhibition hall of the Guangzhou Biennial. Acting like sanitary workers, they sprayed Lysol in the gallery, to clean the artworks, which made the gallery smell like a hospital. The goal was to disinfect the unhealthy art world because there were a variety of diseases, including a political virus (evil legacy on ideological ruin), red-eyes (red ocean consisting of red-Pop, red-cynicism, etc.), rabies (attacking everything as a modern Don Quijote), commercial virus, collusion between artist, critic and dealer, impotence or premature ejaculation (disability in or lack of spirit), Narcissist syndrome (Orient-centered mentality or ideology), and voyeurism (Sissy taste of literati aesthetics), according to the “Report of Art Action of ‘Sterilization’.”69 The scope of their critique went beyond the vanguard art circle and extended to the whole art world. This self-criticism continued the Enlightenment of the 1980s and was significant because many comrades of the vanguard art camp became corrupted by the two-way squeeze of governmental suppression and commercial erosion. Next, they carried out a project, titled, “New History: 1993 Great Consumption,” to “lower” Pop Art to an art of production in which the products could be consumed. The art making vs. production, artwork vs. commodity, exhibition vs. fair, collection vs. circulation, appreciation vs. consumption would be a reciprocal process ideally, in order to realize interflow between art and life. They designed and produced art products individually and collectively. Ren Jian made a “Stamp Collection: Great Consumption Series,” consisting of “Stamp Collection – Patterned Fabric” and “Stamp Collection – Ren

See “Bufen Meishu Pinglunjia Gongtong Liyue Weihu Zhili Laowu Quanyi” (Several Art Critics Set an Agreement to Protect Rights and Interests of Mental Workers), Jiangsu Huakan, issue 4, 1993.

67

68 In fact, Ren Jian and Wang Guangyi even have a more special relationship, that is, they married two sisters, a relation called lianjin in Chinese. 69 See “Xin Lishi Xiaozu” (About the New History Group), 1993, unpublished, provided by Ren Jian.

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Fig. 5.49 (a, b) New History Group, “Great Consumption: Stamp Collection,” 1993, designed by Ren Jian, part of aborted Project

Fig. 5.50 New History Group, “Great Consumption: Great Heritage Series,” 1993, designed by Liang Xiaochuan, part of aborted Project

Jian Jeans Series”. He transformed national flags of the world into a stamped pattern, then printed them onto cloth, which in turn was made unto jeans (Fig. 5.49a, b). Zhou Xiping painted “Great Portraiture Series,” consisting of portrait-posters of twelve well-known entrepreneurs, which looked like portraits of political leaders from

more than a decade ago, indicating transition from an era of politics to one of the economics. Liang Xiaochuan made a series of ceramic bombs, titled “Great Heritage Series,” which, to the artist, could be collected as a souvenir of war—weapons that could be popularized in peace time (Fig. 5.50). Ye Shuang-gui conceived

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“Great Ceramics Series,” which used the forms of ceramic masterpieces but replaced their decoration with contemporary cartoon images to create two-dimensional papercut, poster and greeting card of ceramics. He assumed that if these products become part of “Fair of Ceramics,” what people watch, purchase and consume would be two-dimensional thus intangible “art of ceramics” rather than tangible ceramic objects. Finally, the collective product was an album “1993: Great Rock-and-Roll of New History,” consisting of ten songs such as “Great Times,” “Great Production” and “Great Consumption,” etc. The group planned a reception at the McDonalds, Wangfujin, downtown Beijing on April 25, 1993, in which they would display and market their products. Everyone would wear jeans, both jacket and pants, designed by Ren Jian. After a briefing, artists would sing “1993 New History: Great Rock-and-Roll,” composed by New History Group artists. Invited celebrities, including artists, journalists, scholars, government officials, entrepreneurs, and businessmen, would discuss their purchases with New History Group artists. However, the event was cancelled on midnight of April 24, less than twenty-four hours prior to the reception, under the order of the Ministry of National Security. The group went back to Wuhan, Hubei, where they lived and worked, carried out their plan.70 Although the artists experienced various difficulties, the New History Group continued their experiments until the mid-2000s. The New History Group was unique because it was one of the few vanguard groups in the 1990s that remained active until 2005. As many vanguard artists of the 1980s were corrupted by commercialism, they inherited the idealism, activism and critical spirit of the Avant-Garde Movement. They resisted both political suppression and commercial corrosion and sought a new approach toward what they called the “construction of a new art of humanism” through “experimenting with a post-ideological art.” Pop Art to them was neither a means of complicity with official

ideology, nor a profit-making method, instead, a healthy force with the potential of constructing a new visual language, that would enable art expression and engagement in contemporary life. Shanxi artists who organized “Country Art Activity” in 1987 (Fig. 4.72) launched a Project, titled “Country Project 1993.” Named as “Shanxi Young Artists Creation Group,” sixteen artists, led by Song Yongping and Wang Yazhong, went to Xijucha, Liulin County, in Yellow River Valley, to use the Temple of Hua Tuo71 as their studio to make art, in the spring 1993. In 1987, they had brought their ceramic works to the country to share their art with villagers. This time, they brought their art materials and equipment to this remote village, a place which seemed to have been ignored by the world, according to Song Yongping. They painted in the temple, chatted with villagers, in addition to photographing, videotaping, and writing literary works (Fig. 5.51). Once idealistic artists of the 1980s, they felt they had lost their artistic and spiritual lives in the suppression from authority and corruptive tendency of fetishism and commercialism in the early 1990s. In response, they sought the least industrialized and urbanized parts of the country where they hoped to recover their vitality and idealism. Listening to the surf of Yellow River, they immersed themselves in simple country life. They wrote a manifesto-like statement for the project,

70

Ibid.

We are part of nature with instinct of growing, who have power of engagement with and transformation of today’s reality? Take off the cotton vest of those sentimental realism and so-called “critical realism,” and let them rest in peace. Move those ancestors who lie in the way into earthenware jug for pickling vegetable, because they need to be cared with solicitude. Kill four blowflies to hold a memorial ceremony for those warriors who play foreigners’ game, and we got to go. Go to mountain valley with yellow earth and hug the aunt in four-feet-wide pants, 71

Hua Tuo (c. 140–208) was a Chinese physician of Eastern Han dynasty, and record as the first person in China to use anesthesia during surgery in ancient history books.

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Fig. 5.51 (a, b) Shanxi Young Artists Creation Group, “Country Project 1993,” 1993, Project, (a) artists celebrate successful project with villagers; (b) a stone stele recording the project, 1993

her forty daughters, thirty-one sons and her ancestors of forty-eight generations. In her yaodong, smoke and enjoy a pipe of little blue flower, and spit without scruple. We are pests that need good-quality vegetable and chemical fertilizer.72

This statement sounds like the ones we read in the Current of Life of the 1980s, with its antitraditional stance in support of anti-academic art (i.e. Rustic Realism and Scar Painting were considered as “academic” because of their obsession with sophisticated oil painting techniques and embrace of folk culture). However, in their critique of vanguard artists and “wholesale westernization,” they went directly to the countryside to absorb what they considered primitive, uncontaminated and vital energy from the indigenous “Xiangcun Jihua 1993: Jianbao 1993 Nian 1 Yue, Diyi Hao” (Country Project 1993: Bulletin #1, Jan. 1993), provided by Song Yongping. The “sentimental realism” and “critical realism” here might refer to Rustic Realism and Scar Painting in early 1980s, see Sect. 3.2.1. “Warriors who play foreigners’ game” could be, to these Shanxi artists, the vanguard artists who advocated “whole-sale westernization” and ignored Chinese culture and art especially folk ones. Yaodong, house cave, is an earth shelter dwelling common in the Loess Plateau in northern China, generally carved out of a hillside.

72

cultures. If there was a natural insulation from commercialism in the 1980s’ avant-garde because of lack of art market, the vanguard artists in the early 1990s ought to have cold head and be actively resist possible erosion by approaching commercial upsurge and art market at home and abroad. When artists arrived in these remote villages, what they saw and felt was stunning and shocking. It was the 1990s, but they seemed to approach a corner of the world that was isolated from modern civilization. Poverty and ignorance hovered over the villages. The most stunning part was the fact that villagers bore this status with equanimity. The great contrast between their life and mindset and those in urban areas had a tremendous impact on the artists. What the artists created in their works was not only a reflection of this reality, but more importantly, their reaction to this apparently “surreal” world. The “Long Face” series by Wang Chunsheng created distorted or even deformed self-portraits. Tormented human bodies appeared in Wang Yazhong’s “Fin de Siècle – 9:28 a.m.” Song Yongping’s “Entering the Mountain” pictured grotesque images similar to those by Hieronymus Bosch, a Netherlandish painter of the late fifteenth to early

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Fig. 5.52 Song Yongping, “Entering the Mountain,” 1993, oil on canvas, 180  228 cm

sixteenth centuries but showing scenario of modern irrational activity. Various motor vehicles loaded fully with “passengers”—contorted or mutilated human and animal bodies—headed in different directions and were crammed in the mountain passes, with nowhere to move (Fig. 5.52). Interestingly, villagers loved these works and appreciated them, creating a spiritual consonance between the expressive art and folk culture. Eventually, the artists brought their artwork to Beijing and held a show at the National Art Museum of China on August 20–26, 1993.73

5.3.3

Video Art

As video technology became available to the public in the 1960s, when the Cultural Revolution was in its peak in China, a new art form, Video 73

Instead of a seven-day period, the show was shutdown on the fifth day by the museum because Song Yongping performed an action. He had his hair and beard cut at the museum to show the artists’ grievance about the censorship and arrogance of the museum officials.

Art, came forth. Nam June Paik, a Korean American artist is considered a pioneer of Video Art and his footage “Pope Paul IV’s Procession through New York City” (1965) was recognized as the first piece of Video Art. However, Video Art, yingxiang yishu in Chinese, did not emerge in China until the late 1980s, when Zhang Peili shot his “30 x 30” in 1988 (Fig. 5.53). Using analog tape, he videotaped a 180-minute VHS piece, in which he dropped and broke a piece of glass, measuring 30  30 cm, then glued the broken pieces back into original form. This action was repeated again and again throughout the tape. Continuing his art of “alienation” from the middle 1980s (see Sect. 4.2.1.3), the artist created a boring piece, which in fact, few watched the whole piece. It rejected pleasure in appreciation of art, or, repelled audience’s acceptance in general. Because of this groundbreaking work, Zhang Peili was recognized as “the Father of China’s Video Art” by critics and artists. In 1992, Zhang Peili invited Xing Zhibin, one of the most famous TV news anchors who worked in CCTV, the number one state-run TV

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Fig. 5.53 Zhang Peili, “30 x 30,” 1988, Video Art

Fig. 5.54 Zhang Peili, “Water – Standard Version of Reading Cihai,” 1992, Video Art

in China, to implement his Video Art piece, “Water – Standard Version of Reading Cihai” (Fig. 5.54). In the twenty-minute video, Xing read the definition of “water” from a Chinese dictionary, Cihai, literally “ocean of words.” Through this boring reading, Zhang Peili retained his sarcastic spirit and derided official propaganda. Xing Zhibin, a representative of such propaganda, was known to almost every Chinese. Her cold-blooded broadcast of the government’s crackdown in Tiananmen Demonstration in the summer of 1989 became an indelible collective memory in China. When she read the dictionary, in the same cold and calm tone, it insinuated that the propaganda news itself was tedious, repetitive, and insipid.

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The first time that Video Art was introduced into China systematically was in the Video Art exhibition in celebration of the 900-Year anniversary of the city of Cologne, curated by Professor Mijka of the University of Fine Arts, Hamburg, Germany. The exhibition was held at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in 1990. This display introduced an entirely new medium to art students of ZAFA, including Yan Lei, Tong Biao, Wu Meichun and Qiu Zhijie, among others, and triggered experimentation with Video Art in Zhejiang, in the 1990s. Zhu Jia, an artist from Beijing with a specialty on oil painting at CAFA, made his first work of Video Art, “Wardrobe,” in 1993. He put the camera into his wardrobe and tried to record what his eyes saw. The intention was to give audience a sense of seeing as a process. The concept was intriguing though the implementation was not successful because of the extremely dim light and small space of the wardrobe that made the distance between the camera and the action too close to be taped with good quality. In 1994, Zhu Jia shot his well-known piece, “Forever,” on streets in Beijing (Fig. 5.55). A video camera was attached to the wheel spokes of a flatbed tricycle, a popular transportation vehicle in Beijing. The camera recorded the city scenes in a slow but rotary motion as the artist rode the tricycle on streets in Beijing. Although the camera was set to manipulate the viewpoint, videotaped images were far beyond expectation. The rotary motion destroyed the normal way of seeing, and made viewers feel dizzy. This piece functioned as a metaphor for the hustle-bustle of urban life, reinforced by the process of urbanization which had started in the early 1990s. Phenomena/Moving Images: China’s Video Art Exhibition, held at the China Academy of Art (CAA, the new name for ZAFA since 1993) in September 1996, is the first of its kind in China. Curated by Qiu Zhijie and Wu Meichun, the show displayed sixteen Video Art pieces by fifteen artists—Chen Shaoping, Yan Lei, Zhu Jia, Li Yongbin, Wang Gongxin (from Beijing), Yang Zhenzhong, Gao Shiqiang, Lu Lei, Gao Shiming,

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Fig. 5.55 Zhu Jia, “Forever,” 1994, Video Art, stills of rotating images

Geng Jianyi, Zhang Peili, Qiu Zhijie (from Hangzhou), Qian Weikang (from Shanghai) and Chen Shaoxiong (from Guangzhou).74 Mainly displaying Video Art, the exhibition was accompanied by two publications, Archive of Video Art (luxiang yishu wenxian) and Art and Awareness of History (yishu yu lishi yishi) that translated and compiled text from English books and magazines on Video Art, brought in from the 74 See He Juxing, edited, 中国影像艺术 1988–2011, Moving Image in China: 1988–2011, bilingual catalogue for the exhibition at Mingshen Art Museum, Shanghai, Vision Art Publisher, 2011, pp. 641–642. Although fifteen artists were featured in the show, the catalogue provided only fourteen names.

US by Li Xianting, and were good for Chinese artists and audience to understand this new medium of art. In addition, lectures on Video Art were given during the exhibition: one was about the language of film making by Professor Zhou Chuanji, Beijing Film Academy; “Potentials of Video Art” presented by Qian Zhijian, a critic; plus a show of Video Art by Bill Viola and Gary Hill, introduced by Li Xianting. Chen Shaoxiong, a member of the Guangzhou artist group Big-Tail Elephant, contributed his Video Art installation “Sight Adjustor” to the show (Fig. 5.56). Two monitors with two bellows for two eyes respectively showed two sets

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Fig. 5.56 (a, b) Chen Shaoxiong, “Sight Adjustor,” 1996, installation of Video Art, (a) scene of installation; (b) three pairs of images on two monitors

of moving images, shot by the artist. According to the artist, these two sets of images “are connected sometimes, but disconnected other time, or even juxtaposed in a contradictory manner. One’s two eyes acquire different information that will force one’s brain to bring these images together and find the logic between them. Both eyes and brain experience predicament of seeing when perceiving and processing the information, and the adjustment of the viewer’s sight will be made in this process.”75 Like Zhu Jia, Chen Shaoxiong was interested in the issue of seeing and found that Video Art provided them with great potential to explore seeing as both biological and sociological behavior. As Zhu Jia manipulated the process of seeing through rotation, Chan Shaoxiong split it into two co-existing but sometimes rivaling agents that could be a simile of dilemma between what one sees and what one’s brain expect to see. The artist even extended this dichotomy of seeing onto another level in his “Landscape 2” piece (Fig. 5.57). To the artist, what we see may 75

Chen Shaoxiong, ibid. p. 233.

“Note

on

‘Sight

Adjustor,”

not be what we anticipate, as what we anticipate may not be what we are supposed to see. The “landscape” in his work was in fact a cityscape, undergoing urbanization. He shot the city scenes with a glass between the video camera and the objects. On glass, he made a variety of graffitied scene, including images of violence, war and even indecent activities. Doing this he blurred the boundaries between the cityscape of people’s minds and that which existed in the reality, and between private and public space, as these dichotomic images were juxtaposed and most of time confronted each other. Lin Yilin’s piece “Safely Maneuvering across Linhe Road” was an Action Art recorded by video camera (Fig. 5.58). The leading figure of the group Big-Tail Elephant, Guangzhou, Lin Yilin tended to combine Action Art with Video Art. A repetitive and tedious action was the primary part of the work, and the video seemed simply to record it. The artist built a wall with concrete bricks that blocked traffic on one side of Linhe Road. Then he moved the bricks from one side of the street to the other, making the wall gradually cross the street. The action took

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Fig. 5.57 (a, b) Chen Shaoxiong, “Landscape 2,” 1996, Video Art of city scenes through glass with graffiti

Fig. 5.58 (a–c) Lin Yilin, “Safely Maneuvering across Linhe Road,” 1995, videotaped Action Art, 340 2800 , 3 stills

hours. The video exhibited in the Documenta 12, Kassel, Germany, in 2007, and Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World at Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA, in 2017, was about a half hour in length. Interfering in society, reality and its order through tedious, apparently meaningless but a bit annoying action reflected the artist’s idea of nature of art. Also, it rebuked communist slogans, such as “labor is an honor” and “contributing bricks and tiles for socialist construction,” because the labor here was boring, interfering, or even annoying.76 76 I noticed at the Guggenheim show in 2017 that no one watched the full thirty-minute video piece because it was too tedious to finish, and also because audience could anticipate the result when they had watched it for a few minutes.

Song Dong is an artist who fuses his art with all kinds of media into a conceptual entity in a comprehensive way. With great versatility, Song Dong wanders freely among a variety of media, such as sketching, drawing, painting, calligraphy, sculpture, photography, Video Art, and Action Art, all serving as vehicles for his conceptual ideas (Fig. 5.40). From 1997 to 2011, Song Dong made an unplanned three-part piece that expressed his long-term ambivalent feelings about his father. In 1997, he shot a video of his hand that stroked air, then he projected the stroking hand on the body of his father thus only virtually stroking his dad, because he was afraid of touching him in person (Fig. 5.59a). His father took off his clothes and let the hand move on his skin. When his father passed away in 2002, the artist touched

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Fig. 5.59 (a–c) Song Dong, “Stroke My Father: Trilogy,” 1997, 2002, 2011, actions with Video Art, and recorded by video

and stroked him for the first and last time. The intimate contact was sad because his father could not feel this physical contact, as the artist touched a cold body that made him even more sorrow. The process was recorded through video, but it was too sad for him to watch it, so he decided to seal the video cassette up (Fig. 5.59b). Song Dong had aspired to stroke his dad one more time, but he hesitated for years. Finally, in 2011, when a video that recorded his father playing with his granddaughter was played, he had a chance to touch his dad’s image reflected on the water (Fig. 5.59c). In a short essay, the artist recollected his memories of his relationship with his father when he was a child, a teenage and an adult. During the Cultural Revolution, his father was sentenced as a counterrevolutionary by the CCP, and exiled to Hubei province, far from Beijing, his home. His dad did not return home until his was seven. After initially fearing his father, he then rebelled against him, thus creating an even greater distance between the two. In 1997, Song

Dong went to Berlin, when he was thirty-one. The physical distance and his maturity enabled him to rethink his relationship with his father, now an ambivalence of love, reverence with remaining fear. He thought to express his love, but the gap persisted. Therefore, Song Dong used the videotaped hand to touch and stroke his father through which a bridge was built between them. It was a miracle! His father had changed his attitude toward his son after that, no longer insisting “you should or shouldn’t do this or that” but now explaining “this is my suggestion but it’s up to you” instead. For this, the artist was grateful to art, Video Art in particular.77 Yang Fudong, a Beijing artist who graduated from China Academy of Art with a specialty in oil painting, is considered the best Video artist in China, though many of his works appear as film in general sense. In fact, he can be defined as an artist of Video Art, film and photography, as he 77

From Song Dong, “Stroking My Father,” unpublished.

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Fig. 5.60 Yang Fudong, “Otherwhere: Not Speaking for Three Months,” 1993, a silent Action Art, record of communication written on hands and papers

had moved around in these fields freely with great wisdom and versatility. All are images, to him, and the difference is just that some can move, as others do not. With poetic, beautiful, and enigmatic still and moving images, Yang Fudong created a virtual reality of contemporary China, which appears ethereal or down-to-earth, capturing the nature of today’s China, both urban and rustic. As early as 1993 when he was a student at CAA, Yang Fudong demonstrated his comprehension and intelligence in conceptual art, when he executed a silent action, “Otherwhere: Not Speaking for Three Months.” He did not talk to anyone, and communication was made through writing and gestures. In the exhibition Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World at the Guggenheim Museum, in 2017, the audience could see photocopies of such communication, recorded on his palms and the backs of his hands,

as well as on official documents (Fig. 5.60).78 A visual presence with audio absence made a special but uncomfortable relationship between the artist and the people around him, the experience as a dumb person usually has. It was, however, most likely a self-exile from the reality and society because, as one could see from those ink marks on his hands, interactions were confined to absolute necessities, such as “how much is this?” “I’m in library,” or “please lend me ten-yuan RMB.” In other words, no chat, no joke, no spiritual interaction at all. He lived in a small dorm with seven schoolmates, cut off spoken language with others, and retreated into his private world. His bed in the dorm became a 78

Ironically, the document shown here is the academy’s announcement of punishment on Yang Fudong’s voluntary absence in class, total forty hours, in fall semester 1993.

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Fig. 5.61 Yang Fudong, “The First Intellectual,” 2000, photography

poignant metaphor of a college student, or generally speaking, an intellectual’s living and spiritual condition, suppressed, alienated, thus suffocated. One of his few photographic works, “The First Intellectual,” reflected the artist’s concern in the early period of his art career, with a young intellectual’s life and fate (Fig. 5.61). In this work, an apparently white-collar office worker stands in the center of a broad street, against an urban skyline, an indication of urbanization in the 1990s. Nobody is around, blood flows from the top of his head to his face and drips to his shirt. There are holes in his trousers, seemingly right after a violent fight. With a brick in his hand, the young man appears to fight back. However, his eyes look empty, because he cannot find the people who bullied him. This is not a documentation

of real events, but a posed photograph instead. Looking at Li Xiaobin’s “A Petitioner from the Locality Appealing to the High Authority” (1977, Fig. 3.20), we can find stunning similarities between these two photographs that were shot two decades apart, that is, empty eyes! In the sense of powerlessness, hopelessness and desperateness, there is no difference between the whitecollar office worker in a suit and the appealing peasant in a ragged cotton-padded coat, except that the former carries a metaphorical significance that goes beyond a fight between individuals. It implies that the bullying could be initiated by an invisible agent, which you may not find but it interferes and hurts you. People may wonder what two bold solid lines that he steps on mean. As a traffic sign, they mean “you cannot cross over,” thus may indicate two worlds that are

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Fig. 5.62 (a, b) Yang Fudong, “An Estranged Paradise,” 1997–2002, film, 76 min

divided by solid lines and people cannot surmount. As the protagonist steps on the boundary between these worlds, he violates a taboo thus is punished. As Li’s photo is a poignant record of grassroots China, Yang created a symbol of today’s urban youth in this nation. His first film, “An Estranged Paradise,” astounded artists and critics from both the art and film worlds at home and abroad with its extraordinary inheritance of tradition of film in the Republican China and his idiosyncratic style (Fig. 5.62). Started in 1997, the film was not completed until 2002 because of financial difficulty. As in the Republican film “Spring in a Small Town,” directed by Fei Mu in 1948, the story of “The Estranged Paradise” took place in Hangzhou city, known as a “paradise on earth.” The plot is simple. In the context of the 1970s, Zhuzi, the protagonist, lived with his fiancée, Lingshan, who did not feel well when the rainy season started.79 With anxiety, he kept going to the hospital to have his vision, smelling, hearing, skeleton, etc. examined. Every doctor who examined him told him that he is healthy. Though he felt better physically, he feared his prosaic and boring life. His parents came, and Lingshan brought them sightseeing to the West Lake, the famous attraction in the city. When the rainy

season ended, Zhuzi calmed down and became composed. Although both are stories of lives of youth in urban areas, Fei Mu dealt with a poignant love story, as Yang Fudong directed a film of essentially routine life of a young man. What became alienating is the sense of surreal etherealness that ran through the seventy-six-minute film. Using black-and-white film, a minimal even sparse environment, many fade-out shots, and a confessional voiceover, he generated an atmosphere of a gossamer, sometimes eerie, dreamland. “Yang’s complex project fabricates fragments of memory, dream, imagination, mis-perception and arbitrary synchronicity into a coherent omnipresence,” wrote Huang Bingyi.80 An ongoing shift or ambiguity between daydream and awakening status, and between illusion and reality, can be seen in the protagonist again and again. Like Cynical Realism in the early 1990s, Yang Fudong turned his film camera onto his own generation. When Cynical Realist painters depicted, seemingly objectively but in fact obsessively, the status of being bored to death, Yang Fudong injected a philosophical absurdity into this status—boredom was upgraded into the meaning of life.

79

80

Rainy season occurs in Jiangnan area in late spring and early summer. Because the plums, mei in Chinese, are ripe, and food and clothes easily become mildewed, also mei in Chinese, due to high humidity, this season is called meiyu jijie, literally plum rain season, in China.

Huang Bingyi, “Screening Cinematic Space – On Chinese Experimental Films from the Last Decade,” in Gao, Minglu, The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art, bilingual exhibition catalogue, Beijing: Sunvale Culture, 2005, p. 282.

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5.3.4

5 Art Under Impact of Globalization (1989–1999)

Feminine Art

Although there were woman artists who participated actively with the Avant-Garde Movement, such as Luo Mingjun (Hunan), Huang Yali, Weiming, Wang Baijiao, Luo Ying (Hubei), Bao Jianfei (Zhejiang), Hou Wenyi, Fu Liya (Sichuan), to just name a few, and the exhibition China/Avant-Garde initiated China’s first cause célèbre of the year 1989 because of the most sensational Action Art, two gunshots, by Xiao Lu, a woman artist from Zhejiang, the awareness of Feminine Art did not emerge until the 1990s. In other words, women artists in the 1980s did not pursue feminine sentiments and ideas in art. In the middle 1990s, women artists raised questions about their role in Chinese contemporary art, and furthered awareness of issues of feminine art in their art. To be clear, notions of “women” (nüren) and “female” (nüxing) are different in Chinese. As the former carries more traditional properties of women, such as the even-tempered or mildmannered, the virtuous, the family-centered, the submissive and the introvertive, etc. defined mainly by Confucianist ideology in androcentric culture; the latter, a modern concept mainly imported from the West in the early twentieth century, refers to features of the modern especially urban woman, including the independent, the autonomous, the fashionable, the extroversive, and talented, which represents the goal of the New Female Movement (Xin Nüxing Yundong). The Feminine Art that emerged in the middle 1990s was based on this new concept of female as an independent agent and was inspired, in part, by the World Conference for Women, held in Beijing, in September 1995. The conference’s keynote address by Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese politician and Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1991), and speeches by Hillary Clinton, the First Lady of the United States, and Mother Teresa, an Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic nun and Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1979), all focused on the Conference’s theme, action for equality, development and peace. Mrs. Clinton’s speech “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” was one

of the most impressive speeches of the conference and had a great impact on Chinese, especially those who sought women’s rights in China. Feminism as a social and/or political movement, or ideology, as appeared in the West since late 1890s, has not come to China yet, or at least, “is very, very far from mainstream,” according to Luise Guest,81 but not because Chinese women did not want to embrace such a movement and ideology. As Mrs. Clinton’s speech emphasized, “women’s rights are human rights,” the issue of human rights should be the top priority in China. Not only the authority has downtrodden human rights, the public has little awareness of such rights in China. As a part of human rights, women’s rights could not be reached as violation of human rights has been a “normal” practice. Since the Chinese do not enjoy many rights that those in other western countries do, seeking women’s rights becomes part of the pursuit of the general human rights. For instance, as women in the West sought the right to vote in the first half of the twentieth century, there have never been fair elections in China. In the vocabulary of official ideology, feminism was replaced by Women’s Liberation Campaign ( funü jiefang yundong), in which there are two kinds, bourgeois one and proletarian one.82 To avoid becoming part of official ideology, and believe that there is only one feminism for all women, advocates of feminism in China have been reluctant to launch a feminist movement which could be easily used by authorities. In addition, Chinese translation of Feminism might have caused confusion that made it a sensitive issue in China’s political and cultural context. As nüxing zhuyi as translation of Feminism, meaning an ideology or discourse of femininity, sounds moderate thus neutral, nüquan zhuyi, an ideology or campaign for woman’s rights, seems aggressive thus implies political appeal or pursuit, unacceptable to the authority. 81

Guest, Luise, Half the Sky: Conversation with Women Artists in China, Dawes Point, Australia: Piper Press, 2016, p. 13. 82 See China’s Baidu Baike (Baidu Encyclopedia) entry, “Nüquan Yundong” (Feminism Movement), June 5, 2018, available at https://baike.baidu.com/item/女权运动/ 8634937?fromtitle¼妇女解放运动&fromid¼118562

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Fig. 5.63 (a–c) Weiming, “Series about Me,” 1986, watercolor, (a) “Attempt;” (b) “Omen;” (c) “Cut the Umbilical Cord”

Interestingly, there were two exhibitions of women’s art in 1995. Women’s Approach to Chinese Contemporary Art, curated by Liao Wen, a woman critic and wife of Li Xianting, a critic and one of the key figures of the Avant-Garde Movement, held at the Beijing Art Museum in May. Chinese Women Artists Invitational Exhibition, organized by several critics and artists who worked in art institutions, led by Du Jian, a Socialist Realist painter and CAFA faculty member, was held at the National Art Museum of China in August. As the latter was inclusive, featured thirty-nine artists, mainly academicians, in addition to several vanguard artists; the former was comprised of essentially twelve avant-garde women artists. There were four artists, Cai Jin, Lin Tianmiao, Shi Hui, Liu Liping, who were featured in both shows. As western feminist artists generally focused on the issue of women’s rights or equality in society, culture and art, the art of Chinese feminine artists have been more concerned about women’s lives and experiences in a male-centered society. Feminine life and experience were a rare subject in the Avant-Garde Movement. The “Series about Me” by Weiming, a Hubei woman artist, might be the only one that addressed this intriguing subject thus the artist became the pioneer of Feminine Art in China in the 1990s. Her watercolor “Series about Me” includes ten pieces, “Boundary,” “Analysis,” “Judgement,” “Vanity,”

“Attempt,” “Ascension,” “Penetration,” “Omen,” “Agony,” and “Cut the Umbilical Cord.”83 (Fig. 5.63) This is not a mere physical experience, rather, it is an odyssey of the 27-year-old woman artist’s physicality, emotional life, imagination and spirituality. In these subtle, dark, gloomy, and at times equivocal images, the artist visualized her unique experience as a teenager girl to an adult woman, from detachment, ambivalence, depression, fantasy, anxiety, desire, orgasm, suffering, fear, and relaxation, to sublimity. The unearthly light, seen in the Rationalist Painting, offered a veil that made the series ambiguous, unfathomable and mysterious. There were essentially no women artist groups, as seen individual woman artists worked on their own, as did most male artists, often defined as Apartment Artists.84 This independence enhanced, in a sense, the introspective nature of Feminine Art. As Liao Wen summarized, there were three unique characteristics in woman’s painting that showed the artists’ individuality: endless twine and

83

See Gao, Minglu, Zhou Yan, Wang Xiaojian, Shu Qun, Wang Mingxian, Tong Dian, Zhongguo Dangdai Meishushi: 1985–1986 (A History of Chinese Contemporary Art: 1985–1986), Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1991, pp. 426–427. 84 Gao Minglu, “Chinese Women’s Art,” in The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese, bilingual exhibition catalogue, Beijing: Sunvale Culture, 2005, pp. 249–263.

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Fig. 5.64 Yin Xiuzhen, “Woolen Sweaters,” 1995. Installation

tangle, ambiguous life experience, and spontaneous soliloquy.85 Fabric or textiles, including cloth, wool, cotton thread and string, was a material that has been used by some woman artists, which could be the source for the twine and tangle feature. Yin Xiuzhen, Lin Tianmiao and Qin Yufen are representatives of this kind of art. Needlework or sewing, nügong in Chinese, has been traditionally woman’s work in every culture, a heritage of agricultural civilization.86 However, passion for and virtuosity in nügong became a part of woman’s morals in traditional China. In the early twentieth century when the New Female Movement was launched, and women, especially urban women who worked in offices and industry, were less practiced in nügong, and thus considered less moral by traditionalists. Yin Xiuzhen, a woman artist and Song Dong’s wife, has been obsessed with weaving and knitting since her childhood. Having grown up in the Cultural Revolution, she loved knitting, not only

85

Liao Wen, edited, Zhongguo Dangdai Yishu zhong de Nüxing Fangshi (Women’s Approach to Chinese Contemporary Art), bilingual exhibition catalogue, Beijing: Beijing Art Museum, 1995. 86 There is a Chinese idiom describing this tradition, nangeng nüzhi, the man ploughs and sows and the woman spins and weaves.

because of its practicality (buying a new woolen sweater was much more expensive than knitting one) but more importantly, because she was fascinated with designs, styles, and patterns she could create. As a teenage girl, she saw her mother unravel small woolen sweaters to weave a larger one for growing child(ren) rather than buy a new one in order to save money, a popular practice in China during Mao era. In 1995, she collected sweaters and made her installation “Woolen Sweaters” (Fig. 5.64). Two piles of sweaters, one colorful and another, plain, belonged to her and Song Dong respectively. They were unraveled and formed two piles of curly woolen yarn. With the knitting needles between them, indicating the start of new knitting project that combined yarns from both sweaters! Not only showing austerity in their life, this piece also became a metaphor of love between the two artists. For educated Chinese, it was a contemporary transformation of Guan Daosheng’s beautiful and touching poem “Song of You and Me.”87 87 Guan Daosheng, wife of Zhao Mengfu, an artist and high-ranking official of Yuan Dynasty, wrote the poem “Song of You and Me” (ninong wonong) when Zhao was about to take a concubine as his second wife. It reads, “You and me, and me and you, so much in love are we; so much in love, like bathing in fire are we. We knead and shape a clod of clay into figures of you and me. We smash, trash our figures, add water to admix the debris to again

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Fig. 5.65 Yin Xiuzhen, “Ruined Capital,” 1996, installation with abandoned furniture, tiles and cement powder

Surprisingly, Yin Xiuzhen created a giant installation without textile in the following year, titled “Ruined Capital” (Fig. 5.65), to reflect the uprooted urbanites from their home in the nationwide urbanization. In an interview by Hou Hanru, a Paris-based Chinese curator and critic then, she expressed her frustration, anger, and powerlessness. . . . Things changed so fast in that year. It was all around you, visible every day. I’d ride my bike to work in the morning, and the old houses would still be there, but on my way back in the afternoon, they’d be gone. It was like this for a lot of neighborhoods. The old houses were constantly being knocked down, old memories ripped out, culture torn away. The homes and ways of life that had stood for centuries were destroyed for a quick profit. The peaceful coexistence of neighbors was disrupted by this illogical, blind “modernization.” . . . Intellectuals were sad and angry when they saw this ancient capital, the knead and shape fresh figures of you and me; in my clay then, you’ll abide, and in yours, there I’ll be. O me and you, in life, one single quilt we share; in death, in the same coffin, please bury me.” (translated by Andrew W.F. Wong, June 8, 2018 available at http:// chinesepoemsinenglish.blogspot.com/2013/08/guandaosheng-i-and-you-song-clay.html) Zhao was so moved and dropped his thoughts of taking a concubine, even stayed in widowhood till his death after Guan Daosheng passed away.

result of eight centuries of civilization, suddenly swept away. The short sightedness of the government and the masses catalyzed this irreversible tragedy.88

The consistency embodied on the everyday objects that she was familiar with. She collected abandoned furniture and tiles from demolished areas in neighborhood and on the way to work, which easily brought back memories of her, her neighbors, and urbanites of every city and town in China. Tons of cement powder covered those objects. “It was as if a cloud of cement and dust had suddenly fallen from the sky, burying our experiences, our emotions and our histories, turning them into spiritual ruins,” she sighed.89 The title “Ruined Capital” seemed to be inspired by the same title, once-banned best-seller novel by Jia Pingwa, a writer from Shaanxi, published in 1993.90 As Jia Pingwa described a decadent city, referring to Xi-an, capital of thirteen dynasties, “Interview: Hou Hanru in Conversation with Yin Xiuzhen,” Wu, Hung, Hou Hanru, and Stephanie Rosenthal, Yin Xiuzhen, London and New York: Phaidon Press, 2015, p. 10. 89 Ibid. p. 15. 90 The English version of the novel Feidu is titled Ruined City instead of Ruined Capital, translated by Howard Goldblatt, University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. 88

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5 Art Under Impact of Globalization (1989–1999)

Fig. 5.66 (a–c) Lin Tianmiao, “Proliferation of Thread Winding,” (b, c), details, 1995, installation

with corrupted, disgraced or even shameless urbanites, intellectuals in particular, Yin Xiuzhen presented a murky grey, familiar but strange, suffocating ruin of nation’s capital, a scene of doomsday. Similar to Yin Xiuzhen, Lin Tianmiao, a Beijing artist and wife of Wang Gongxin, a textile designer in New York for eight years, loves a variety of fabrics. Her treatment of these materials, however, is more open and aggressive, in comparison with Yin Xiuzhen. Featured in both Women’s Approach to Chinese Contemporary Art and Chinese Women Artists Invitational Exhibition in 1995, her installation “Proliferation of Thread Winding” became one of the representative works of Feminine Art in the 1990s (Fig. 5.66). The work consisted of a bed covered with cotton-padded mattress and rice paper, on which twenty thousand needles, each 12–15 cm in length, pierced a big hole in the center. The thread connected to the needles “proliferated,” with small balls wound into the cotton thread. Where the pillow would be, a monitor, covered by rice paper, played a video which showed the artist hands winding cotton balls. An extremely time-consuming project comprised of repetitive work, this installation had the characteristics of Maximalism, a word created by Gao Minglu (see Sect. 6.3). The visual effect was spectacular and stunning. With implication of sexuality, the needles created a power of resistance, seemingly against male aggression, indicated by the tens of thousands of points that looked like fur but

pointed dangerously upwards. This painstaking, protracted work also served as a metaphor of women’s housework, repetitive, boring, and exhausting. Thus, Lin Tianmiao’s “Proliferation of Thread Winding” is closer to Feminist Art in the West than Yin Xiuzhen’s “Woolen Sweaters” because of its critical stand against traditional domesticity. Qin Yufen has lived and worked in Beijing and Berlin since 1986 which made her way of thinking and language more global while retaining a Chinese spirit in her art. She used bamboo, silk, thread, china and rice paper, materials with Chinese implications, in her work. In “Chanjuan [The Beautiful (Woman or Moon)],” Qin Yufen utilized one of her favorite materials, silk, to make more than ten garments that she hung in the gallery (Fig. 5.67). These traditional men’s shirts with their “frog” buttons,91 made of yellow silk, were four meters long, thus unwearable. When hanging from the ceiling, they looked like randomly arranged banners in a Buddhist or Daoist temple, demonstrating a solemn, transcendent sense of ritual. The soft, fine, delicate, and gossamer appearance of the garments, combined with its title Chanjuan, appeared more feminine than

91 Chinese used cotton buttons in sewing prior to the age of industrialization. Made by hand, these buttons had a variety of type and pattern, thus the buttons themselves became one of art crafts in Chinese history of design.

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masculine.92 An ancient Chinese poem, recited softly by the artist in the gallery, reinforced the quietly elegant, harmonious atmosphere. Audience could experience a catharsis when walking through these hanging spirits. This work reflected Qin Yufen’s wisdom and cultivation as an independent female intellectual. She said, “My way of thinking is like this: intuitive, spontaneous, and feminine. Rather than flowing like water, it is instant, eruptive, as epiphany, at the same time, it is concise and terse.”93

Fig. 5.67 Qin Yufen, “Chanjuan [The Beautiful (Woman or Moon)],” 1998, installation with silk garments

92 Chanjuan originally means the beautiful, referring to women, later is used to describe moon. The most famous usage of the word chanjuan is the verse “Danyuan ren changjiu, qianli gong chanjuan” (May we all be blessed with longevity though far apart, we are still able to share the beauty of the moon) from the poem “Shuidiao Getou” (a name for a specific poem, ci, with certain amount of words each line and fixed rhymes) by Su Shi, a poet of Northern Song Dynasty. 93 See “Dang Zhongguo Zuibangde Chouxiang Yishujia zai Kan Tamen Ershinianqian de Zuopin shi, Daodi zai Kan Shenme?” (What They Look at as the Best Artists of Abstraction in China Look at Their Works Made Twenty Years Ago?), Sep. 5, 2016. Available on June 10, 2018 at https://news.artron.net/20160905/n864191.html.

6

Institutionalization and Identity of Contemporary Art (2000-Present)

6.1

Prelude Datong Dazhang: Farewell to New Millennium

Chinese contemporary art started its new era with an absolutely shocking event: Datong Dazhang (Fig. 6.1) hung himself and ended his 45-year-old life on the first day of the new Millennium (Fig. 6.2).1 While billions of people around the world celebrated the turn of a new thousand years, Dazhang’s suicide shocked his family, friends, and contemporary art community.2 Eight years later, Wen Pulin, an art activist and critic, held the exhibition Datong Dazhang at the Wall Art Museum, Beijing, in memory of this legendary and somewhat enigmatic artist. The exhibition revealed, for the first time, the life, art, and poetry of the artist.3 Born in Hebei in 1955, Dazhang served in the army from the age of fifteen to nineteen. After working as warehouseman in Guiyang, Guizhou, for six years after demobilization, he became a bank professional in charge of project budgets in “Datong Dazhang,” literally big Zhang from Datong, is called because he was tall, and original name Zhang Shengquan, from Datong, Shanxi province. 2 Because Dazhang had isolated himself from family and friends for months, his death was not discovered until Jan. 8, 2000, when his father and younger brother went to his apartment to check on him. The time of death was determined by the suicide letter Dazhang left in his apartment, dated Jan. 1, 2000. 3 Wen Pulin, Datong Dazhang, bilingual, Beijing: Wen Pulin Archive of Chinese Avant-Garde Art, 2008. 1

Datong, Shanxi, in 1980. As early as in 1974, he started to teach himself voice music, literature, history, and philosophy.4 From 1980 onward, he taught himself painting and art history. He organized the group WR—signifying the first letters of wu ren, or Five People—with Zhu Yanguang, Ren Xiaoying, Zhang Zhiqiang, and Yao Lin, in Datong in 1987. He held several outdoor shows in the Yungang Cave Complex in 1987 and, along with three members of WR group (Dazhang, Zhu Yanguang and Ren Xiaoying), created an Action Art in the opening of China/AvantGarde at the National Art Museum of China in 1989. This work, titled “Mourning,” showed the three artists, covered with white cloth,5 wandering throughout the museum, offering their condolences on what they called “death of China’s modern art.” WR became a loose gathering after 1993, when the group’s WR—93 Sharing Exhibition in Ammonal Gallery, Beijing, was shut down by the authorities prior to its opening. From 1993 on, Dazhang focused on making mailing art as a solo artist. His idea of mailing art reflected his belief that any substantial artwork was nothing but artistic goods. Authentic art only resides in the artist’s mind, as long as it is

4

Pianshan, an artist and Dazhang’s friend, recollected that Dazhang sang “O Sole Mio” (My Sunshine, Neapolitan song), “La Paloma” (Dove, a Spanish song) and “Nessun dorma” (None Shall Sleep, aria) when he visited Pianshan in Beijing in 1998 and that he sang it very well. 5 Also see Sect. 4.3.3.

# Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020 Y. Zhou, A History of Contemporary Chinese Art, Chinese Contemporary Art Series, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-1141-7_6

335

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6 Institutionalization and Identity of Contemporary Art (2000-Present)

Fig. 6.1 Datong Dazhang (Zhang Shengquan), 1989

not substantialized and so cannot be used by people. Mailing out art was also a way to spread his ideas of art widely, while retaining the art’s status as a spiritual entity. His mailing art included sketch-like proposals of installations and Action Art (Fig. 5.42) which used the text such as art notes and poems. The most astounding, brave, and somehow mysterious work of art Dazhang executed was, no doubt, his Action Art: his suicide in his apartment, the last work in his life. This was a project that he had prepared for more than a decade. He dealt with the subject of death as early as in the mid-1980s, when he painted a series of oil paintings entitled “Crematory,” and “Mortuary” was the title of one of his paintings done in 1991. As with many vanguard artists, Dazhang was entranced with idea of heroism and had a keen awareness of tragedy. From his many notebooks, we can track the odyssey Dazhang went through, beginning with his obsession with voice music, poetry, history, philosophy, and art. In there, he copied the lyrics of the theme song to Song at Midnight, a Chinese movie produced in the 1930s, I’m willing to be the man staying in the tomb, Let the vanity fair and fame be buried; I’m willing to be like an ancient official suffering from crucifixion. . .6

6 Quoted from Wen Pulin, Datong Dazhang, bilingual, Beijing: Wen Pulin Archive of Chinese Avant-Garde Art, 2008, p. 81. The “ancient official suffering from crucifixion” here may refer to those ministers who expostulated with the emperor regarding his ideas or policies but were rejected and punished severely.

His fascination with the subject of death, such as copying Le Cimetiere Marin (the graveyard by the sea), a long poem by Paul Valery, a French poet and philosopher of modern times, and reciting Li Sao by Qu Yuan, an ancient Chinese poet and minister,7 was actually the result of Dazhang’s inquiry into the meaning of life. He read a good deal of western philosophers from the modern period, as did many vanguard artists during the 1980s. Dazhang sought meaning in nature and the spirit and soul of life following four modern philosophical concepts: the “being” by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, the “superman” by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the “will” by another German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, and the “subconsciousness” by the Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud. On a wall of his apartment, he inscribed, “everything I do is to find ground for our existence,” and “the goal of reading is not to study, but to verify instead.” He even crazily envied Sylvia Plath, an American poet, for her verses such as, “Dying is an art, like everything else, I do it exceptionally well.” “. . . Out of the ash, I rise with my red hair, and I eat men like air.”8 Perhaps he thought it is what he was thinking, but was unable to express explicitly. Dazhang had been looking for an exchange of ideas, a dialogue with vanguard artists, and even an enemy who he could fight, throughout his art career. After the group show was shut down in 1993, he found that mailing art was the best way for him to exchange, dialogue with and fight. Some of the proposals for installation or Action Art he sent out were realized by other artists, and he was happy to see this result and he continued concentrating on his speculation and creative thinking. He turned out hundreds of sketch-like 7 The poem Le Cimetiere Marin (the place the poet was buried) is mainly concerned with mortality and immortality, body and soul, life and death, the inexorable passage of time. Li Sao implies allegorical significance in politics in which the poet bewails that his own integrity, virtue, and honor are unappreciated and in vain in a corrupt world. 8 Quoted from “Lady Lazarus,” Sylvia Plath, Collected Poems, London: Faber and Faber, 1981, p. 245, p. 247, respectively.

6.1

Prelude

Datong Dazhang: Farewell to New Millennium

337

Fig. 6.2 Apartment 13, Floor 5, Unit 3, Building 7, Zhenghua South St. Complex, Datong, Shanxi, where Datong Dazhang ended his life on Jan.1, 2000, as pointed by the arrow

proposals as proof of his artistic ideas, and these were recognized by those who received his mailings, especially artists who lived in Yuanmingyuan Artists Village, located in a northwestern suburb of Beijing. Dazhang executed only a few cases of Action Art prior to his last one, and “Crossover” is perhaps the one that best expressed his ideas of life and death and could be considered as his preparation for the one on Jan. 1, 2000. Tibet was the place where Dazhang felt most at home, as travelling to Lhasa, capital of Tibet, in 1996. Having achieved fame via his mailing art, he was invited by Dai Guangyu, a Sichuan artist, and Betsy Damon, an American activist, organizers of the project, “Public Art Concerning Water.”9 9 See website Keepers of the Waters: Visions and Solutions, a nonprofit organization directed by Betsy

Interestingly, because Dazhang himself was idiosyncratic, as reflected in his long hair and great height (190 cm or 60 200 ), wearing a military uniform and cloth shoes with the front vamp was cut out (a style described as “Political Pop in life” by Liu Chengying, an artist who lived with Dazhang during their stay in Tibet).10 Because of his calm, charming, but somehow pensive expression, he was considered as a respectful ascetic or gymnosophist by locals in Tibet, who even saluted to him. In Tibet he seemed to have found his spiritual home and enjoyed many pleasant days there (Fig. 6.3). The poems he wrote in Tibet were exciting and sunny, and he read them Damon, at http://www.keepersofthewaters.org/ BetsyResume2012.cfm, available on June 21, 2018. 10 See Wen Pulin, Datong Dazhang, bilingual, Beijing: Wen Pulin Archive of Chinese Avant-Garde Art, 2008, p. 184.

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Fig. 6.3 Datong Dazhang in Lhasa, Tibet, 1996

resoundingly in front of his artist friends with great enthusiasm, something he rarely demonstrated before. The artists who were invited made a variety of works during their stay in Tibet. Dazhang executed an incomplete work of Action Art, titled “Crossover.” It was basically a physical statement on life and death in a manner of ritual. He purchased a sheep from a local slaughterhouse and carried it cross the Lhasa River (Fig. 6.4). When the sheep was about to be killed as an oblation after the crossing, then buried, the sacrifice was stopped by Song Dong, a Beijing artist. This incomplete action spurred a heightened contention at the site, focusing on the role of violence in art, in this case, killing a living creature (Fig. 6.5). Dazhang and his supporters contended that the crossover and the expiation of the sins of the dead were two necessary steps for the action, just as Buddhist or Daoist priests do ritually. The “Crossover” in Buddhism, du in Chinese, assists you as you cross over the sea of tribulation to the Other Shore, creating a universal redemption. This is also seen in “expiating the sins of the dead,” chaodu in Chinese, which is like samsara (Sanskrit) or palingenesis, where one is assisted in entering the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is

bound. Therefore, these two steps are those that complete the process and cannot be finished when one is missing. The other party, led by Song Dong, claimed that crossover completed the work and setting the sheep free and letting it die naturally could do the same, thus it did not have to be killed. The debate lasted hours, and finally Dazhang announced that he “failed,” and he freed the sheep, and threw his knife into the river. Although the action had not completed as planned, it was significant because Dazhang seemed to come closer to his final destination through this work. Born in 1955, the year of sheep, he disliked his Zodiac sign,11 because to him, sheep represented weakness, innocence, helplessness, the unfortunate, and timidness. “I have been tormented by the genes of sheep in me,” said Dazhang.12 He admitted afterwards that Song Dong did right thing, “Why did I make an innocent sheep scapegoat of my grievances? . . . a true Action Art is to destroy 11 Chinese Zodiac includes twelve animals representing the years in which people are born, namely rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon (fictional), snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. 12 Quoted from Wen Pulin, Datong Dazhang, bilingual, Beijing: Wen Pulin Archive of Chinese Avant-Garde Art, 2008, p. 191.

6.1

Prelude

Datong Dazhang: Farewell to New Millennium

339

Fig. 6.4 Datong Dazhang, “Crossover,” August 29, 1996, Action Art, Lhasa, Tibet

yourself unconditionally, your mind and corporeality.”13 This statement seemed to provide an implicit, but ominous signal of his final action. In 1997, Dazhang performed an Action Art alone. Breaking two eggs on his palms, he watched their potential lives drip away between his fingers until every drop was gone. Dai Guangyu recollected that he was saddened when he saw the picture Dazhang sent to him and believed that Dazhang had a premonition of his own death.14 The explicit signal of his last action was the photo he mailed to his friends in December 1998, about one year prior to his death, inscribed with “I Saw Death” on the back (Fig. 6.6). His face was deformed, and brows knitted. Foam formed on

the mouth and there was terror in his eyes; the photo shocked his friends, who saw it an ominous sign. Even though through his poems people felt his power, wisdom, pride, and confidence, why he was obsessed with death? One of his statements might be the answer,

13

15 Datong Dazhang’s letter to a friend, quoted from ibid. pp. 254–255.

14

Ibid. p. 190. See Ibid. p. 303.

The greatest joy for men is to enjoy their own thoughts. Disillusion of thoughts and the disease that prevents you from thinking is the most dreadful (nightmare). I guess this is, mostly, the cause that led many geniuses to commit suicide. . . 15

He didn’t explain what the disillusion of thoughts meant. Wen Pulin assumed that it could refer to either the fatigue brought on by infinite thoughts, or sanyata, the emptiness after

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Fig. 6.5 Datong Dazhang, his artist friends and the sheep on the shore of Lhasa River, August 29, 1996, from left, Li Jixiang, Zhang Xin, Liu Chengying, Dai Guangyu, Dazhang, Song Dong, Zhu Xiaofeng, Yu Leiqing, Yin Xiuzhen

supreme enlightenment.16 As for disease, it could be an important factor that confirmed his determination to commit suicide. He suffered from longterm malnutrition, general convulsions and cramps, as well as (perhaps) an undiagnosed autism. Not since the middle 1980s had he seen a doctor, even though he had sat, rather than laid down, and slept for years. According to his poems, he dubbed this physical suffering or torture as a “touch of fear.” In 1999, Dazhang isolated himself from the world. He stopped mailing art, had no contact with friends, and only conversed with family members through the shut door of his apartment. Pianshan, his artist friend, left a message for Dazhang, telling him that he intended to shut himself in a black box in the desert for seven days

before the new Millennium and invited Dazhang to keep vigil for him. Dazhang rejected the invitation, declaring “I don’t have relationships with human beings.”17 As Pianshan opened the box from within by an axe to move towards the new Millennium, Datong Dazhang hung himself in his apartment. In the note he left in the room, he wrote, “It is destined I go this way. I said in 1992 that ‘fortyfive year’s old will be my final year.’ I simply carry out the promise.”18 As the purest artist in Chinese contemporary art, Dazhang is considered as a martyr who sacrificed everything for his art and his ideals. Wen Pulin commented, “He is an ascetic. Like a high-speed and ever-running machine of thought, he gave up his corporeality,

17 16

Ibid. p. 255.

18

Quoted from Ibid. p. 257. Ibid. p. 51.

6.2

Miaotang and Jianghu: China’s Old as New Institutions

341

In general, an institution is a structure that people use to guide and control behaviors of individuals through a sustained and collective manner. It is essentially a concept of sociology, containing two levels: substantial and spiritual. On the substantial level, there are people, buildings, and organizations, such as a cathedral or temple, as social values, norms, and conventions, more akin to Christianity, Confucianism or Buddhism, are on the spiritual level of institutions. In feudal China, the institution was primarily the imperial court, called “chaoting,” the central government led by the monarch and the ideology on which the chaoting bases, mostly Confucianism. In a literary aspect, chaoting is also called miaotang, temples and courts. The temple here is not for worshipping Buddha or Laozi, but the ancestral shrine of a ruling house instead, as the monarch and his ministers discuss and deal with national affairs in the court. Ancestral worship has been a tradition in Chinese culture, but it is Fig. 6.6 Datong Dazhang, “I Saw Death,” 1998, more significant in institutions of feudal China, photography because its power is hereditary. Compared to miaotang, there is a special burned himself, exhausted his genius, until his counter institution in China, that of jianghu, literbody could no longer carry his spirit.”19 Silently, ally rivers and lakes. In literature jianghu refers to Dazhang left for his solitary journey to Heaven, a a vagrant lifestyle of those who make a living by holy place for eternity. performing or selling herbal medicine, not unlike Starting with such a tragic but sublime event, Irish Travelers in Europe, though originally it Chinese contemporary art entered its age of insti- simply signified lakes and rivers as a great space tutionalization and the founding and evolution of for development in terms of etymology.20 Later, it cultural identity. was extended beyond miaotang, and even became an institutional entity acting in opposition to miaotang. In martial arts novels, jianghu is a 6.2 Miaotang and Jianghu: China’s world of villains and heroes, and evil and righteous agents. Most of China’s history, however, Old as New Institutions the people who served in miaotang or wandered In any culture in the world, an institution is nec- in jianghu were usually from same group, essary for a society to implement its ideology and so-called shidafu, class of scholar-bureaucrat or administer its subject. The word “institution” is literati-officialdom, because the dominating Congenerally translated into tizhi in China, but we can fucianism required them keep miaotang as their also see translations such as jizhi (mechanism), jianzhi (establishment), zuzhi (organization), and 20 Zhuangzi, “Xiangru yimo, buru xiangwangyu jianghu,” jigou (structure), and each contains certain literally means that to let two fishes to share water in a dry pond is no better than to forget each other in rivers and aspects of the term “institution.” lakes. Wang Xianqian, Zhuangzi Ji Jie (Zhuangzi: Selec19

Ibid. p. 295.

tion and Interpretation), Taipei: Wen Kuang Publishing Company, 1966, p. 38.

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top priority wherever they were. A famous motto for shidafu by Fan Zhongyan, a renowned statesman and writer of Song Dynasty, embodies this requirement, “Concern about your subjects when you live in high miaotang, and share your emperor’s cares and burdens as you stay far in jianghu.”21 In the first three decades of PRC, there was little space for jianghu because of strict governmental policy that restricted any non-official institutions. From the 1980s on, though joint power of non-governmental and inner-Party liberal forces broke through these confines and new jianghu emerged outside of official institutions. What is an art institution? An art institution . . . is a collective and historical structure that maps out and implements rules of art making, circulation, display, criticism, education, collection, and promotion. It includes, at least, groups of art workers (associations of artists/ critics/historians), art educational institutions (art schools/departments, art research institutions), art media, museums and galleries, auction houses, art foundations, and government administration of art. Art discourses (art history, theory and criticism, etc.) are also part of art institutions.22

As art institutions in the first three decades were all state-run (see Sect. 1.1), vanguard artists of the 1980s attempted to make a breach in this almighty structure through publication of semi- or non-official newspaper and magazine, such as Zhongguo Meishubao and Meishu Sichao, and founding of vanguard artist groups. In the 1990s, first in exhibitions, such as Guangzhou Biennial, and then in collective artist residencies, e.g. Yuanmingyuan Artists Village, contemporary art gradually made its breakthrough in the Chinese art world. The situation changed by the 2000s. There are four phenomena that made this period the era of

Fan Zhongyan, “Yueyanglou Ji” (Memorial to Yueyang Tower), Wu Chuchai and Wu Diaohou (Qing Dynasty) edited, Yin Falu translated and annotated, Guwen Guanzhi (A Collection of Ancient Chinese Essays), Beijing: Peking University Press, 1997, p. 745. 22 Zhou Yan, “Art Institution: Critique and Its Institution,” Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Vancouver, Canada, March 2012, p. 66. 21

institutionalization of contemporary art. First, more and more artists villages in big cities, though they survived with difficultly, provided contemporary artists, especially young graduates of art schools, with collective shelter supporting their daily living and art creation; second, art districts in metropolises became hubs where the display, sale, and collection of contemporary art took place; third, private galleries and museums were built and developed with an unprecedented scale and speed as operations of state-run museums absorbed elements of commercial galleries; finally, contemporary art started to enter art academies under the name of experimental art. These new kinds of institutions belonged to neither miaotang nor jianghu. In other words, we cannot consider them either the public or the private, as seen in the West. Essentially, they grew outside official art institutions and they were financially self-sufficient rather than being funded by the government. Nonetheless, its complicated leadership, administration, and ideology guided these non-official institutions—there were no distinct boundaries between public and private art institutions. They were connected and formed a network in a manner of jianghu with its complex correlation with official institutions.

6.2.1

From Shelter to Hub: Artists Village and Art District

Artists villages emerged in China in the early 1990s, with the Yuanmingyuan Artists Village in Beijing being the first. As state-run enterprises had collapsed in the late 1980s and early 1990s because of “reform,” the confinement on domestic migration was weakened. Graduates of art academies and schools found out that they either could not find a job or simply felt the job they were able to obtain extremely restrictive. Compared with the metropolis, the provincial and regional environment where many artists lived was limiting, thus young art students with more liberal ideals and a Bohemian spirit tended to find a place of shelter where they could live together and make the art on their own.

6.2

Miaotang and Jianghu: China’s Old as New Institutions

Yuanmingyuan, one of Summer Palaces of imperial China,23 was chosen by artists as the first artists village in China in 1989. Located in suburban Beijing, it was equipped with rental houses, owned by peasants, that were usually big enough to function as studios, and were affordable for artists. It was also near the QingDynasty royal gardens and beautiful woods and groves that met the needs of artists who sought shade off Arcadia or Fontainebleau Forest. Its location, close to two of top universities in China, Peking University and Tsinghua University, allowed artists access to dining, watching movies, attending classes and lectures, even taking showers on campuses. Artists could keep their own ideas, ideals, or conceptions of art, what held in common with village artists was their self-exile which allowed them to pursue a free lifestyle of art creation. Many artist-villagers recollected that it was a real utopia because the bond that held hundred freelance artists together was the spirit of freedom, reflected on their untrammeled Bohemian life and totally unstrained creation in art, even though most of the villagers were povertystricken. On December 3, 1992, artists of Yuanmingyuan Artists Village held an outdoor exhibition in Peking University, entitled Exhibition of Modern Art of the 1990s (Fig. 6.7a, b). Unfortunately, around 1995, the authorities cracked down on the Yuanmingyuan Artists Village in the name of controlling floating population, and all artists were evicted as mangliu.24 Led by Fang Lijun, who had succeeded in market with works of Cynical Realism, artists gradually moved from the northeast suburb of Beijing to the far east of the metropolis to Songzhuang or Song Village (Fig. 6.8). Songzhuang is actually a town composed of forty-seven villages, about twelve miles east of Beijing. The first village Yuanmingyuan artists settled is Xiaobao Village,

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then expanded to Daxingzhuang, Xindian and Lamazhuang. Inexpensive rent in Songzhuang was the primary attraction for artists in late 1990s. For example, a young artist couple renting a small apartment on the price of eight hundred yuan per month in downtown Beijing, could rent in Songzhuang a peasant’s house with courtyard for a month. In the beginning, peasants simply wanted to make money by leasing part of their residence to artists. Then, the leaders of Songzhuang discovered that the town could be developed and become prosperous in cooperation with artists. The project, “Building the Town with Culture,” was carried out in 2005. Roads were repaved and the sewer system renovated, improving the environment for art activities. Seeking to create a tradition, the local government, from 2005 on, held the annual Songzhuang Art Festival to promote Songzhuang artists. This transformed the artists village in Songzhuang into an art district, creating a new hub of art activities in proximity of Beijing. The number of artists has increased from hundreds to thousands, most of whom came from provinces. This transformation endowed the art district with a legitimacy which Yuanmingyuan Artists Village did not have. Rongbaozhai Art Academy, aimed at training artists, teaching academics and exhibiting Chinese painting and calligraphy, was established in Songzhuang in 2004.25 On October 6, 2006, the Songzhuang Art Gallery opened, and Li Xianting was appointed director of the museum. The Sunshine Art Museum was founded the same year and the Songzhuang Artwork Exhibition and Trade Center, founded in 2008, provided artists with a space to exhibit and sell their artwork, bring together dealers and collectors. Songzhuang grew rapidly, reflecting the large number of artists who settled there. By 2017, it had fourteen art museums, one hundred thirteen

23

Another is Yiheyuan. Mangliu, literally a blind influx, a discriminatory word used by government and media to designate those countryto-city migrants without any real employment prospects, typically referring migrant laborers who worked part-time as casual labor or who were unemployed in urban area. 24

25

Rongbaozhai, Studio of Glorious Treasures, founded in 1672 with the name of Songzhuzhai, Studio of Pine and Bamboo, in Beijing, is a famous traditional shop that sells stationery, calligraphy, and painting, and provides a variety of art services.

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Fig. 6.7 (a, b) Scenes of Exhibition of Modern Art of the 1990s, 1992, outdoor show in Peking University Fig. 6.8 Entering Songzhuang, Beijing, 2017, the sign reads, “Songzhuang, China”

6.2

Miaotang and Jianghu: China’s Old as New Institutions

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Fig. 6.9 Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), founded in 2007, 798 Art District, Beijing

galleries, thousands of art studios, fifty art-related enterprises, twenty-five art services, and hundreds of restaurants, hotels and supermarkets, as hundred thousand visitors and tourists pour in every year.26 Songzhuang became a comprehensive hub of contemporary art in China, where training, production, display, sales and collecting were supported by stationers and factories producing art supplies. It became a self-contained art ecosystem, part of new jianghu, relatively independent from official institutions. Not every artists village had the fortune to transform into an art district or to survive for decades like Songzhuang. Even when some became art districts, many of them were shortlived. Jiuchang Art District (built on the ruin of Chaoyang District Brewery), Huantie International Art District (formed within a circular railroad), Caochangdi (meadow) Art District, Feijiacun Artists Village are among the few that were founded in the twenty-first century and remain in operation, though often with great

Li Teng, “Songzhuang Yishuqu de Bianqian” (Development of Songzhuang Art District), available on July 3, 2018 at http://www.sohu.com/a/160546807_819453

26

difficultly. For instance, Suojiacun Art Camp was demolished by governmental authorities in 2005. The most famous and successful art district in China is, no doubt, 798 Art District or 798 Art Zone, also called Dashanzi Art District (DAD), located in Dashanzi area, northeast of Beijing (Fig. 6.9). It was once a state-run factory, Beijing Third Radio Equipment Factory, or Factory 798, constructed by Soviet and East Germany architects in the 1950s.27 It declined and closed in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the reforms of state-run enterprises. Its Bauhaus style lofts and the inexpensive rent attracted contemporary artists to establish their studios there in the early 2000s. Sui Jianguo might be the first artist who located his studio in the now-defunct Factory 798 in 2000. Robert Burnell, an American, opened his Timezone 8 Art Books bookstore,

27 State-run factories built in the 1950s and 1960s were usually named by serial numbers if they produced military or military-related products in order to keep their activities secret. The factory 798 was one of Joint Factories 718, that included six factories and was affiliated with the Ministry of Electronics Industry.

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Fig. 6.10 From left: Fei Dawei, director of UCCA, and Zhou Yan, at the opening reception of UCCA and its inaugural exhibition ’85 New Wave, Nov.5, 2007, 798 Art District, Beijing

gallery and publishing house office in a former canteen of the Factory 798 in 2001. He, along with Xiang Xiaoli, his employee and fashion designer, and Cang Xin, an artist and Xiang’s husband, helped other artists to find and rent studio spaces. They were founders of the 798 Art District. Beijing Tokyo Art Projects (BTAP), owned by Tabata Yukihito of Tokyo Gallery, Japan, opened the same year, becoming its first gallery. Its opening exhibition, Beijing Afloat, in 2002, curated by Feng Boyi, was likely the first art exhibition in the art district. Huang Rui, a member of Star Society, returned from Japan, and Xu Yong, a Beijing photographer, established 798 Space Gallery in 2002. Unique to this gallery is its multiple-arched ceilings in a huge, cathedral-like interior, where slogans of Cultural Revolution remained; it set a paradigm and quickly became a symbol of the 798 art space. The reputation of the 798 Art District spread quickly and galleries, publishing houses, a variety of design companies, fashion shops, and cafes and restaurants opened, moored at this new cultural hub in China. Ultimately, as the 798 Art District became more gentrified and commercialized, the rents increased quickly, and it gradually squeezed artists out, in a fate similar to that of New York City’s SoHo district. 798 Art

District became a less-congenial place for artists because of its urban nature, unlike rural Songzhuang, where artists and art institutions co-exist. Nonetheless, the 798 Art District continues to attract hundred thousand visitors and tourists every year, joining the Great Wall and the Forbidden City as a major tourist site in Beijing. Although most galleries are commercial, there are a few exhibition spaces which insist that their pursuit of pure cultural and aesthetic ideas have value. Among them, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), founded in 2007 by Guy Ullens, a Belgian magnate and art collector, and his wife, Miriam Ullens, has functioned as a platform where Chinese and global contemporary art is exhibited and exchanged in terms of ideas, conceptions and trends. By following international criteria for the administration and operation of art museums, the UCCA has become the flagship art space in the era of institutionalization of contemporary art in China. The inaugural exhibition ’85 New Wave: The Birth of Chinese Contemporary Art, curated by Fei Dawei, the first director of UCCA, opened on Nov. 5, 2007 (Fig. 6.10), and set up the direction of the museum for years to come. The exhibitions UCCA held in the following decade range from

6.2

Miaotang and Jianghu: China’s Old as New Institutions

group shows of emerging and promising artists to solo ones of extraordinary contemporary artists in China, such as Huang Yongping, Wang Jianwei, Gu Dexin, Wang Xingwei, Xu Zhen, to international surveys of a variety themes and solo shows of foreign artists such as Olafur Eliasson, Tatsuo Miyajima, and others. In addition to their excellent exhibitions, the UCCA provides Chinese artists and audiences with great public programs, that has made the museum comprehensive, presenting forums, lectures, live Action Art, workshops, and active art education programs for children—something new to Chinese museums. If there is a new jianghu in twentyfirst century China, the UCCA does not belong to it because of its relative detachment from China’s official and non-official institutions in terms of museum guideline and human resources, although interaction and cooperation with these are necessary. Pace Beijing, affiliated with the Pace Gallery, New York, which opened in the 798 Art District in 2008, is another space with a global background (Fig. 6.11). Representing Zhang Xiaogang, Sui Jianguo, Song Dong, Yin Xiuzhen, Hai Bo, among others, Pace Beijing

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has mounted several influential exhibitions, which earned them an excellent reputation in Beijing and in China’s art circle. Other reputable art spaces are now open in 798, including the Long March Space, founded by Lu Jie in 2002; the Beijing Commune, founded by Leng Lin in 2005; the Tang Contemporary Art—Beijing, founded by Zheng Lin in 2006; the Faurschou Foundation, founded by Luise and Jens Faurschou in 2007; and the Space Station, founded in 2009, to name just a few. Strictly speaking, all of these spaces are not art museums, except for UCCA, since they represent artists and sell artworks. As pioneers in the exhibition, sale and collecting of contemporary art in China, these spaces introduced the theory and practice of western art management, administration, marketing and sales, the relationship between dealer, artists, and collectors into China. Many of the founders of these spaces were either experienced art dealers from the West, often graduates of art management programs in western educational institutions. At the same time, they attempted to adapt their way of dealing art to match China’s situation and conditions, in order to succeed in this new art market.

Fig. 6.11 Exterior of Pace Beijing, founded in 2008, 798 Art District, Beijing

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Fig. 6.12 An artist’s ink painting studio, 2008, downtown Beijing

The counterpart of the 798 Art District in Shanghai is M50, or 50 Moganshan Road. Started almost the same time as the 798 Art District, M50, the former Chunming Slub Mill, was “discovered” by Xue Song, a local artist, who set the first art studio at the area in 2001 because of its low rent and its big industrial space. As part of the textile industry complex, this area consisted of textile mills that had been built from the 1930s to the 1990s, along the Suzhou Creek. Suffering a similar fate as the Joint Factories 718 in Beijing, the state-run textile factories in Moganshan Road area declined and closed in late 1990s. Their big, empty factory buildings were used by artists as studio spaces which in turn attracted art dealers who renovated spaces into galleries. Ding Yi, Wang Xingwei and Xu Zhen are among the first group of artists who opened their studios at M50. After ShanghART and the East Link Gallery were founded in 1996 and 1999 respectively, M50 became a center of non-official art institutions, including more than one hundred studios, galleries, design agencies, and other art businesses, in Shanghai. Along with the economic boom and burgeoning artists’ villages nationwide, artists, especially those who succeeded in the art market,

have built their luxurious, giant, and sometimes spectacular studios, while hiring tens or hundreds assistants and even adding exhibition halls and gardens to their studio. The nouveau riche mindset reflected in their building of these extravagant studios was popular when the global and China’s economies enjoyed prosperity in the first decade of the twenty-first century. When Chinese and international attendees of The First China Contemporary Art Forum visited several studios in Beijing in 2008, they were stunned by their giant dimensions (some studios measurements were similar to a regular soccer field), luxurious designs (such as a traditional garden surrounding the studio), and the large number of studio assistants and servants (Fig. 6.12), even if the quality of art was not always directly proportional to the dimension of the art studio.

6.2.2

Boom of the Art Museum: Public, Private or Hybrid

The most spectacular phenomenon associated with the institutionalization of contemporary art in China was the boom in art museums. They mushroomed throughout the metropolis and in

6.2

Miaotang and Jianghu: China’s Old as New Institutions

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Fig. 6.13 Nantong Museum, Southern Hall, built in 1906, Jiangsu

provincial capitals. Some museums were opened in renovated