中国美术馆｜NATIONAL ART MUSEUM OF CHINA (2011.08.21–2011.09.07)
(Chinese version is posted on artforum.com.cn, 中文版 here）
[马秋莎 Ma Qiusha，Ashes to Ashes，2011，single channel video，3′15″]
The Taikang Collection’s vision for a corporate art collection in China occupied the entire third floor at China’s national art gallery (NAMOC) for two weeks late this summer. Collection shows don’t always provide much to speak of in a critical sense, but the much talked about and rigorous programming at Taikang Space in Caochangdi has been generous in facilitating discussion on emerging artists and experimental practices, so the show was widely anticipated by art professionals.No small number of touchstone works in modern/contemporary art history are currently entrusted to the Taikang collection, and the selection of works displayed here dropped all the most recognizable names of the contemporary market, while nodding to the art historical key points that have come to embody the general narrative on China’s evolving avantgarde. But the show pushes the beginning of its story into the mid-1960s, or earlier, predating the conventional citing of 1978 as the “birth” of Chinese contemporary art.
Xiao Lu’s twin phonebooth installation, Dialogue 《对话》, scene of the notoriously over-cited gunshot performance from the 1989 China Avantgarde exhibition significantly makes a return to the scene of the crime. The work is now unequivocally attributed to Xiao Lu alone, her co-conspirator Tang Song left off the roster, makes for an interesting bit of historical revisionism twenty years after the fact. It might have caused most discomfort for museum director Fan Di’an, who was rumored to have nervously sidestepped the piece at the opening, on display in the NAMOC again Dialogue was an underwhelming and static reincarnation. This art world “incident,” although important, has received so much exposure via media and critics that it has tragically overshadowed other works that from the same historical exhibiton. Nearby, that surrealistic canvas that has become the visual manifestation of the enlightenment of the mid-eighties, The Enlightenment of Adam and Eve 《在新时代——亚当夏娃的启示》(1985), by Meng Luding and Zhang Qun, hangs behind a glass frame. It is in good company, with works by Chen Yifei and Wu Guanzhong.
[吴印咸 Wu Yinxian, Building Enterprises Under Hard Conditions《艰苦创业》, 1942, B&W photo]
Rarely included amongst “contemporary” narratives are two icons from the xinzhongguo meishu, or Maoist, era: the first is Jin Shangyi’s Full Length Portrait of Chairman Mao 《毛主席全身像》 (1966), its celebrity status matched only by the 1942 print from Yan’an documentarian and photography master Wu Yinxian. Wu’s Building Enterprises Under Hard Conditions《艰苦创业》 is arguably the most recognizable image of Mao from the Yan’an years, and was significantly captured during the Talks on Literature and the Arts. Despite what feels like a vast psychological barrier between works from the 1960s and today, it subliminally suggests that the talks are still important to art production today. The reiterative display of Mao’s portrait in this broader context made for a curious, if not explicitly self-reflexive exercise in historical reflection. There is a feeling that the exhibition has created a peculiar historical space by making a fold in history from the cultural revolution to the contemporary, many issues were lost in the fold, forgotten, but we seem to be standing where the two ends meet.
While it was disappointing not to see more of the collection’s early works on display, or artworks outside familiar market-driven narratives, the show does provide an important opportunity for such a collection to interact with the general public. Not only does it introducing to the general public a sense of corporate cultural responsibility, its unique success is in providing non-art saavy, average citizens with the possibility of seeing contemporary art as the equivalent to Wu Yinxian’s portrait, or Jiang Zhaohe’s From Now, The Chinese People Have Stood Up 《中国人民从此站起来了》 (1949).Conservatives are likely to dismiss “contemporary art” because it exists in uncharted territories and outside the “approved canon,” but here, they are quietly introduced to some of the most avantgarde trends in the art world, direct from distant Heiqiao artist studios on Beijing’s peripheries well outside the 5th ring road. Doubtless, few casual visitors will critically examine whether or not the juxtaposition of red classics with contemporary art implies the latter are “good” or meaningful works within the “new” tradition of Chinese art (after 1949), but what other occasion might we have reason for Chen Yifei’s Eulogy of the Yellow River《黄河颂》 (1972) displayed alongside Zhao Zhao’s 5113 rat droppings?
On the last Sunday of its opening, most visitors did not linger in the first room, “Revolution and Enlightenment,” where the benchmarks of history are proudly displayed (although they are perhaps familiar only to “specialist” visitors); nor did visitors linger in the second room, “Pluralistic Patterns,” where calling cards from almost all the “super star” artists are dropped such as Wang Guangyi, Cai Guo-qiang or Huang Yongping. Although, in this room the “most photogenic artwork award” goes to Hong Hao and Yan Lei’s conceptual work Taikang Project 《泰康计划》 (2006). Here children were posed, and adults postured themselves before the enormous recreation of Van Gogh’s Ward in the Hospital in Arles (1889), (into which Hong Hao and Yan Lei inserted their own visages a la Van Gogh self-portraits), visitors carefully framed their snapshots to exclude the life insurance documents that occupy the right half of the enormous baroque frame. It looked like a “masterpiece,” and here it was in the museum, so it proved itself worthy of photographing one’s self infront of it––is this a shanzhai version of the Western art historical canon? Perhaps the irony of this display, the naïve appropriation of Western works by casual audiences, was anticipated by they artists when they first exhibited the work in the small Taikang Gallery in 2006.
[ 肖鲁 Xiao Lu,《对话》Dialogue, 1989, 2011 installation at NAMOC ]
This last room “Extended Vision” is filled with a selection of artists from Taikang’s 2010 to 2011 “51m2” young artist series, and represents the close of the Taikang story. Perhaps it was the mundane nature of digital video, or the habitualized captivation by flickering screens, but in this last room viewers were enthralled by two works. First was Liu Chuang’s Untitled (Dancing Partner)《无题（舞伴）》 (2011), a video of two cars traveling in perfect company, side-by-side on Beijing’s ring roads, never speeding, never slowing, but dictating the flow of traffic around them through this simple gesture of solidarity. The next was Ma Qiusha’s large screen projection of Ashes to Ashes《黎明是黄昏的灰烬》 (2011), although hers is a provocative treatment of this celebrated state iconology, viewers lingered comfortably before the floor to ceiling screen. Adults were rapt, and children danced, projecting themselves as shadows onto the familiar streets and the bullhorn-laden lampposts surrounding the square. Rendered in this “contemporary mode,” and with a distinct criticality, the political heart of contemporary China still has the power to mesmerize, even if the context has completely changed.
The construction used to make these art pieces are quite advanced. I am impressed!