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Art and China after 1989

Theater of the World

May 11, 2018 – September 23, 2018

Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World presents the creative expressions of a bold contemporary art movement born of the most transformative period of modern Chinese and recent world history.  Organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Art and China after 1989 presents work by seventy-one key artists and groups active across China and worldwide whose provocations aim to forge reality free from ideology, to establish the individual apart from the collective, and to define contemporary Chinese experience in universal terms. Bracketed by the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the Beijing Olympics in 2008, it surveys the culture of artistic experimentation during a time characterized by
the onset of globalization and the rise of a newly powerful China
on the world stage. The exhibition title derives from an installation by Paris-based artist Huang Yong Ping. Theater of the World (1993) is a cage-like form whose interior holds different species of insects and reptiles. Constituting a metaphor for the era of globalization, it is inspired both by Chinese cosmology and by Western enlightenment ideas of the panopticon as a structure of control, together with Michel Foucault’s critiques of modernism.

For art and China, the year 1989 was both an end and a beginning. The June 4 crackdown on the student movement in Tiananmen Square signaled the end of a decade of relatively open political, intellectual, and artistic exploration. It also marked the start of
reforms that would launch a new era of accelerated development, international connectedness, and individual possibility, albeit under authoritarian conditions. Artists were at once catalysts and skeptics
of the massive changes unfolding around them. Using the critical stance and open-ended forms of international Conceptual art, they created performances, paintings, photography, installations, and video art, and initiated activist projects to engage directly with society. Their emergence during the 1990s and early 2000s happened at the moment the Western art world began to look beyond its traditional centers, as the phenomenon of global contemporary art started to take shape. Art and China after 1989 shows how Chinese artists were crucial agents in this evolution.

Cocurators: Alexandra Munroe, Philip Tinari, Hou Hanru

Chen Shaoxiong
5 Hours, 1993/2006
DSL Collection. Performance view: The Third Artistic Event of the Big Tail Elephant Working Group, outside Red Ant Bar, Guangzhou, November 24, 1993
© Chen Shaoxiong
Photo : Cortesy of the artist

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