What’s the buzz in the art market these days? Contemporary work coming out of China, that’s what. The trend, though, has been in the works for years, as artists in China have been stretching their wings for several decades in an effort to re-work a long history of artistic and symbolic representation.
From 1949 to the 1970s, Chinese art resembled Soviet style Socialist-Realism, producing a void in creativity and worldy influence. As art schools reopened in the 1970s and Western thought and art trends flooded the Chinese cultural landscape, artists rediscovered their creative voices and established an avant-garde style that brought with it experimentation in the forms of mixed media and performance art. With the 1989 exhibition “China/Avant-Garde” at the China National Gallery in Beijing, the stage was set for the international art market to take notice, as the show gathered much press for the repeated closure of the space by authorities.
As the 1990s raged on with outcries and protests by artists, the tone of Chinese art turned towards the contemptuous and scornful, mirroring the political landscape of the time. While the nation moved towards a market economy, artists mellowed, becoming more open to experimentation in all mediums.
International shows at the Asia Society in 1998 and 2004, as well as the Venice Biennale of 1999 showcased work coming out of China that mimiced and went beyond Western trends, displaying true mastery and talent by an entire group of never before seen artists.
Chinese contemporary art can most closely fit into three distinct categories. The first is the Political Pop style that is characterized by bold colors and sharp lines, collage effects and commentary on a variety of international political concerns. Second, the Cynical Realist style often shows the human figure in pain or shock. The third style, Gaudy Art, resembles Western patterns of kitsch, a response to the growing international (and particularly Western) consumer culture and its mirrored effects on the Chinese culture.
While the art is heavily influenced by Western movements, the Chinese work has its own distinct and unique character that is dynamic and fresh, exciting and intriguing. While some of the work may seem to merely mimic Western style, some artists truly understand the combination of technique and flair required to make it in the international market, inspiring curators and collectors alike to take part in the international craze.
“Protein Series #7″ Li Jian Ping, 2006.