The dragon awakes

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Culture -

A GEN­ER­A­TION of artists deeply marked by the Tianan­men Square mas­sacre, glob­al­i­sa­tion and the lib­er­al­i­sa­tion of China’s econ­omy is at the heart of a new ex­hi­bi­tion at New York’s Solomon R. Guggen­heim Mu­seum.

The pe­riod book­ended by Tianan­men (1989) and the 2008 Bei­jing Olympics wit­nessed what the mu­seum’s se­nior cu­ra­tor for Asian art Alexandra Mun­roe called “the great­est trans­for­ma­tions in the lives of 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple ever ex­pe­ri­enced in such a short span in all re­ported hu­man his­tory.”

Rad­i­cal so­cioe­co­nomic and geopo­lit­i­cal changes ex­pe­ri­enced in such a short pe­riod of time could only be bru­tal.

Art And China Af­ter 1989: Theatre Of The World, which runs un­til Jan 7, “helps us un­der­stand the hu­man im­pact of those changes,” Mun­roe said, in­sist­ing it was not a com­pre­hen­sive sur­vey of Chi­nese con­tem­po­rary art.

She or­gan­ised the show along with Chi­nese con­tem­po­rary art ex­perts Philip Ti­nari of the Ul­lens Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Art in Bei­jing and Hou Hanru, artis­tic di­rec­tor of Rome’s MAXXI mu­seum.

What the 71 fea­tured artists and col­lec­tives fill­ing most of the mu­seum and its spi­ral struc­ture “show us about their so­ci­ety and about ours is not al­ways pretty,” noted mu­seum di­rec­tor Richard Arm­strong.

Many of the works have ex­press po­lit­i­cal mes­sages in the face of an au­thor­i­tar­ian regime, cre­ated by artists often liv­ing and work­ing out­side of China.

Liu Zheng’s poignant pho­to­graphic prints show Chi­nese peo­ple on the mar­gins of the race to eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, while Wu Shanzhuan’s To­day No Wa­ter se­ries plays with the bu­reau­cratic lan­guage of state com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

The most spec­tac­u­lar work is Chen Zhen’s gi­ant Pre­cip­i­tous Par­tu­ri­tion, a dragon hung above the mu­seum’s ro­tunda whose body is made of bi­cy­cle in­ner tubes with toy cars in­side, re­flect­ing China’s trans­for­ma­tion from a na­tion of bi­cy­cles to a na­tion of cars.

But “it would be a mis­un­der­stand­ing of this ex­hi­bi­tion to see it solely through the lens of pol­i­tics,” Mun­roe stressed.

“It’s the lens of life, chaos, glob­al­i­sa­tion, ne­olib­er­al­ism.”

The show also ex­plores the West’s view of China and its art, the in­flu­ence of man on his en­vi­ron­ment and the pres­ence of a loom­ing nu­clear threat. – AFP

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