What Makes Contemporary Chinese Art So Attractive
While setting up his version of the Rent Collection Courtyard at the Venice Biennale in 1999, Cai Guo-Qiang asked me why I had invited so many Chinese artists? I told him that in the west especially in New York and Paris, everything had become so boring and uncreative. After the interpreter had translated what I said, I was full of anticipation, expecting an affirmative response. But Cai informed me that he was living in New York.
That detour is unnecessary in order to put it in positive terms: since the last revolution of the arts at the end of the sixties, there has been no subversive art; good artists, yes, but the subcutaneous rebelliousness has disappeared in the west, and that explains my interest in China. Whether work is traditionally painted or sculpted, whether painting is undermined by rolling picture scrolls or by videos, subversiveness is always part of the message. This may be explained by the context: artists who stay in the country want to change things and want to gain freedom of action. However, recognition from outside, from the west is important to them as well.
In terms of iconography and composition, Chinese artists have surprised the west. They have all had academic training but have broken with it because of the content. Scratching movements are turned into a sculpture through projected multiplication on several monitors. Western press photographs of current events are translated from two into three dimensions, and the sculpture, placed at the edge of the depicted, breaks off abruptly as an interface. Since there is nothing left to see in the source image, the sculpture need not be complete either. Everywhere one senses that the Chinese are beginning to flex their muscles, not just politically or economically but also artistically. Aware of their importance, they dare to invoke ancient dreams where the spiritual wedding between orient and occident ironically takes place by laundering a lavish western and eastern book. Piles of lacerated paper are the result. Globalisation generates symposia, summit meetings and conferences. But on tables connected to each other – eastern chairs lined up on one side, western ones on the other – one reads: “the eternal misunderstanding” And the manipulated cover of Spiegel magazine shows an empty throne that competes with the ratings of Western financial papers but also outmanoeuvres them by flaunting the top story: who will garner the art throne in China. Sarcastic? Yes, but also refreshing. As well as the fact that their taboos are so very different from ours. The human body is sacred to us; in China its every part is available for experimentation.
Equally remarkable is the fact that the most serious, most talented, most unassuming and consequently most exciting painters also come from China. I am still intrigued: with Rainbow¡¯s whiplashes across a back, with Chinese superwomen floating triumphant with their own currency above spent representatives of the dollar, with gaggles of cloned babies at the movies watching the atrocities committed by un-coned people.