Is avant-garde art popular in China

China 8 - superlative art exhibition

Eight cities, nine museums, 120 artists, 500 works - there has never been a similarly comprehensive exhibition project of Chinese contemporary art. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel officially opened it on Wednesday evening (May 13th) in Duisburg. The concept of "China 8", which takes place on the Rhine and Ruhr at the same time, offers the different disciplines such as painting, photography or sculpture an appropriate space, said the Federal Minister of Economics.

The main initiator of this comprehensive inventory is Walter Smerling, director of the Küppersmühle Museum for Modern Art (MKM) and chairman of the Foundation for Art and Culture in Bonn, which acts as the organizer. As spokesman for the board of trustees, he had to put up with the question in advance of the extent to which the official Chinese influence had been exerted on the selection of the invited artists.

Tobia Bezzola, director of the Museum Folkwang, Essen, and one of the China 8 curators

As his partner on the Chinese side, he names Fan Di'an, President of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, himself an exhibition organizer from the very beginning and has been recognized as an authoritative curator for modern Chinese art through many collaborations with international museums. Smerling and his team report on visits to the studios of more than 200 artists, who they select completely independently, and of intensive encounters with photographers, video artists, sculptors and painters, which could be arranged without restrictions.

Ai Weiwei, who has been recognized and popular in Germany since he created a very special fairy tale with 1001 Chinese in Kassel in 2007, was also on the curators' wish list. The artist, who was suppressed and tabooed by the media in China because of his political commitment, refused to participate - at least at the first attempt, the Chinese Ministry of Culture, which approved the list, had no objections.

Works by Fang Lijun and the artist Xiang Jing in the Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg

Nevertheless, the exhibition has plenty of critical potential. Almost all works were created after the turn of the millennium, and they refer to today's society of a China of autocratically regulated turbo-capitalism. Merciless urbanization, the destruction of everyday cultural heritage, environmental pollution, alienation, isolation - the themes that the rapid change in the environment and society are bringing about can be found in the exhibition in various genres and in a wide variety of forms.

For example, Fang Lijun can be seen in the Lehmbruck Museum with a wall of ceramic Mao Bibles threatened to collapse, a work that can be politically interpreted on several levels: It touches on China's cultural revolutionary past, the fascination that Maoism still has today many Chinese people exercise, and the role of the party - in itself a taboo subject. Like five other artists in the exhibition, Fang was already represented at the "China Avantgarde" show in Berlin in 1993, the first major exhibition of modern art outside of China. Until then, he was only known to a few insiders. China was shocked, while the rest of the world were surprised by its bright pink grimaces. A few years after the defeat of the democracy movement in 1989, while the politically relevant poetry and narrative literature in China were still frozen in silence, the visual arts suddenly became socially new. It made the transition from the underground to the recognized form of culture surprisingly quickly - Hong Kong collectors immediately recognized the high market and low risk potential of the works. Nothing has changed since then. In China, too, modern art is an investment and a status symbol. Art enjoys a freedom that enables exhibitions like China 8 - as long as it is not explicitly and extensively documentary as with Ai Weiwei.

Detail of a large-format fiberglass relief by the Beijing artist Yuan Yuan: "Visionary Hope"

In the meantime, Fang and most of the artists of this first generation belong to an elite international art scene, whose works are traded for up to several million euros. An early work, a painting of distorted, laughing faces, by the "cynical realist" Yue Minjun already achieved seven million US dollars at Christie's in 2008. These artists work internationally and, in addition to their studios in Beijing or Shanghai, also have one in New York, Vienna or Paris.

The art exhibition on the Rhine and Ruhr, however, shows, alongside established artists, the works of young, partly still unknown artists, large-format works such as "Visionary Hope" by Yuan Yuan, who was born in 1984 in the Osthaus Museum Hagen, or the video installations in the Sculpture Museum Glaskasten Marl can be seen. The younger ones also include many of the photo artists, including those from the MADAHA art collective, whose theme is consumption and spectacle. Eason Tsang Ka Wai and South Ho Siu Nam are among the thirteen artists from Hong Kong who are artistically outstanding photographers. You find yourself suddenly slammed into the motherland in China 8. The photographic works can be viewed in the Folkwang Museum in Essen.

"Appearance of Crosses 2013 B1" by Ding Yi - on a gigantic area of ​​4 x 12.70 meters

The exhibition, insurance, transport of works of art, artists and employees was completely financed by foundations and sponsors. Interests in the Chinese market and their marketing to tourism openly go hand in hand. Thanks to this financial commitment, China 8 in Germany enables a unique look at contemporary Chinese art in all of its varieties. For those who do not want to visit nine houses in several day trips, the exhibition in the Forum NRW in Düsseldorf offers an overview of the works of their most important representatives in the entire range - from the conceptual art of Ding Yi, who has been painting small crosses in square basic grids for decades so his insistence opposes the gears of the world, from Shen fans light sculptures to large-format photography of adoring bare butts by Wang Qingsong.