Sign in / Join

Post-1989 China’s Brutal Art at the Guggenheim in New York

Ⓒ AFP – Jewel SAMAD – | Chinese art brutally exhibited at the Guggenheim in New York as part of the exhibition “Theater of the World”, October 5, 2017

Tiananmen, openness to globalization and the liberalization of the economy: these shocks shook post-1989 China and profoundly influenced a generation of artists, at the heart of a new exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York , not spared by the polemic.

For Alexandra Munroe, the exhibition “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World”, which opened on Friday, should “help understand the human impact of these changes” propose an “inventory of contemporary Chinese art”.

The deadly repression of the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, as well as the acceleration of economic reforms instituted by Deng Xiaoping, caused “the greatest transformations” that “in such a short time” population of more than one billion people “in the known history of humanity,” she said.

Such a marked change, over so long a period of time, could only be brutal.

From then on, what the 71 artists or collectives exposed to the Guggenheim until January 7 “show this company and ours is not always pretty,” explained the director of the museum Richard Armstrong, presenting an exhibition to the ” often harsh and sometimes heartbreaking realities “.

Several works exhibited, carried out between 1989 and 2008, have an eminently political dimension, even if the approach is always by means of diverted routes, facing an authoritarian regime.

There are the striking cliches of Liu Zheng, dedicated to those Chinese who are on the fringes of this crazy race for economic development, or “Today No Water”, the assembly of Wu Shanzhuan, which plays with the bureaucratic language of official communications.

Ⓒ AFP – Jewel SAMAD – | A work from the exhibition “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” at the Guggenheim in New York, October 5, 2017

Chen Zhen, a giant casing suspended in the middle of the museum atrium, in which bike carcasses enter, symbolizes the passage of a “nation of bicycles to a country of cars, “explains Alexandra Munroe.

“It would be a mistake to see this exhibition only with a political lens,” warns the commissioner. “It is the prism of life, chaos, globalization, neoliberalism …”

– Works withdrawn under pressure –

Some abstract works, notably the Ding Yi crosses or the “Abstract” by Yu Youhan, can not be linked to any particular event. And among the themes discussed, there is also the Western view of Chinese art and China, the influence of man on his environment or the specter of the atomic threat.

Ⓒ AFP – Jewel SAMAD – | Presentation of the exhibition “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” at the Guggenheim Museum of New York, 5 October 2017

Many of the works presented were made by artists who lived and worked outside China, with a different perspective: it is the explosion of Chinese contemporary art revealed by the exhibition on the avant-garde of February 1989 in Beijing, played by Ai Weiwei, perhaps the most famous Chinese artist in the West, but also Huang Yong Ping, sometimes considered the godfather of this bubbling generation.

The main installation of Huang Yong Ping planned for the Guggenheim, “Theater of the World”, which gave its title to the exhibition, however could not be set up as originally planned.

After a campaign via social networks, animal advocates have obtained that it is not filled with reptiles and insects, whose interactions must symbolize the relationships between dominant and dominated in our society.

Ⓒ AFP – Jewel SAMAD – | A work of the exhibition “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” at the Guggenheim in New York, October 5, 2017

The work is nevertheless exposed, but deprived of its essential strength.

Director Richard Armstrong mentioned threats, leading to the withdrawal of two other works: a video featuring two dogs, and a picture of two pigs mating.

“The decision taken by the institution regarding these three works was perhaps the most painful in the history of the Guggenheim,” said Alexandra Munroe, bluntly.

“We hope that this polemic, which is fascinating and very current, will help the art world and the general public, including this community of fierce netizens, to get closer”, and will “reduce a fracture that needs, “pleaded Alexandra Munroe.

Terms of service