Looking forward to the Establishment of New Critical discourse

——Also discuss the issue of how to establish the measure of value in criticizing Chinese contemporary art from 2000 to 2009

He Guiyan

In the conception of “Reshaping History — Chinart from 2000 to 2009” exhibition, two critics, Lv Peng and Zhu Zhu wish to make a comprehensive review, sorting and summarization of Chinese contemporary art since 2000, in an attempt to display some typical phenomena and works of art through exhibition, thereby to construct a basic theoretical framework and a narrative context of art history, and provide some necessary texts and visual materials for arts researchers. We can say that this work is full of challenge and has a constructive significance. But, whether or not can we use “Chinart (New art of China)” to refer to the typical works of this period is still debatable. For “Chinart” as a brand-new concept, we not only need to define the border of its form clearly, but also to provide a set of discourse about its own connotation and denotation from perspectives of art and culture, especially the narrative of art history. That is to say, we need to sort out how critical discourse and theoretical system of “Chinart” were established? In my opinion, if we want to use the concept of “Chinart”, we need at least to make necessary definitions from perspectives of time dimension and culture connotation. For example, could art post 2000 be defined as “new art”? If it is not bordered by time, then does “new art” have requirements in artistic form? Does it have clear cultural demands? And how could it keep a contextual relation with the previous contemporary art history? Obviously, if we do not define “Chinart”, then this concept will eventually become meaningless for being vague and general.

However, discussions about “new art” can not avoid a core issue: what is the measure of value for Chinese contemporary art? In other words, as for artistic creations from 2000 to 2009, we can by all means use other concepts to replace “Chinart”, but, no matter what concepts we use and choose, we will need to show the basic appearance or trend of the creation in the recent 10 years through an exhibition. Meanwhile, we must answer a basic question that what on earth is the value of contemporary art creation in this period. The reason why we agree with contemporary art is actually an agreement of value. Even though this value can emphasis on different connotations due to different contexts, such as on culture, politics, the history of arts, spirits and the history of thought, but this does not stop us from finding a value orientation with universal meaning or dominant role. Therefore, if we would discuss creations of Chinese contemporary art in the recent 10 years, we must discuss whether they have represented the problem of new value and if we discuss this problem, we would also need to go back to context of the development of Chinese contemporary art.

Briefly, in 1980s, value demands of Chinese contemporary art are mainly reflected in two aspects: one is to emphasize the critical standpoint of avant-garde art. In the whole historical context of art in 1980s, contemporary art and mainstream system kept an encouraging and struggling relation. No matter “Stars Art Society”, “Anonymous Painting Society (wuming huahui)”, or folk art groups emerged during ’85 thought trend period, most artists adopt ways of “Civil vs. Official, Avant-garde vs. Conservation, Marginal vs. Mainstream, Elites vs. The public” to instruct their own creations. Another is to realize the contemporary reformation in artistic language. This can be seen in the popular saying that “we used less than ten years to go through the 100-year artistic style of the West”. Of course, no matter pursuing the rebellious characteristics of avant-garde art or realizing the construction of modern language, Chinese contemporary art in 1980s still set foot on localized cultural context and was seeking for a transformation in cultural modernization, namely to achieve ideological liberation, to comply with the creative freedom of individual and to defend the independence of art.

In 1990s, Chinese contemporary art developed in an almost brand-new context of society and culture. Compared with 1980s, other than emphasizing its own rebellious characteristics, Chinese contemporary art is also confronted with an erosion of post-colonial trend of thought due to globalization, and multiple shocks of popular culture and culture of consumption. At present, issues such as arts and market, cultural identity against the background of globalization, survival strategies of avant-garde art, system of international exhibition, are directly or indirectly affecting the evolution and development of Chinese contemporary art itself. Therefore, value demands of Chinese contemporary art in this period are mainly about emerging issues such as localization vs. globalization, eastern vs. western, cultural conservatism vs. post-colonialism. By the end of 1990s, inner value measurement of Chinese contemporary art has basically formed, which was its anti-official status, and avant-garde nature, experimental nature, elitism and critical characteristics reflected in both artistic language and cultural demand – they together bestowed “contemporary” with rich humanistic meanings of history, reality and art.

From 2000 onwards, Chinese contemporary art entered into a brand-new developing period and faced with a situation of artistic history which is different from that of 1980s and 1990s.In this situation, new realistic circumstance and artistic ecology will definitely change our way of expression when we discuss the value demands of Chinese contemporary art. If we observe it roughly, there is some changes claim attention. 1. Both connotation and denotation of “contemporary art” have changed a lot. In 1980s and 1990s, the connotation and cultural orientation of contemporary art are its avant-garde nature and rebellious characteristic. However, since the end of 1990s, avant-garde and rebellious characteristics of contemporary art started to be spalled and swallowed by various opportunism, cynicism and utilitarianism. 2. Exhibition system and external living condition changed fundamentally. This is mainly reflected in three aspects: (1) In recent years, China has established its more mature biennale mode; (2) International exhibition platforms are gradually increasing in number; (3) Solo-exhibition or joint exhibition held by galleries, art museums and art Expos have realized diversification in exhibition modes. We can easily find that, different from early Chinese contemporary art seeking for an entry to public space [1], craving for shifting from “underground” to “stage”, today’s contemporary art already has a certain degree of legitimacy, with a large number of opportunities of international communication. However, the formation of all kinds of exhibition systems not only changed the external living environment of Chinese contemporary art, but also imperceptibly affected artists’ adjustment in creative strategies. 3. Chinese contemporary art entered a comprehensive marketized phase. Marketization played an active role in promoting contemporary arts while also brought about great negative effects. For example, since 2004, one of the results brought by the integration of art capital and market is the overflow of iconized and symbolized creation of contemporary art, as well as the prevalence of kitsch-oriented and anti-intellectual aesthetic appreciation. Of course, another result is that, relevant art institutions formed a series of comprehensive operational plans from packaging, promotion, and auction to collection and others by controlling a variety of funds; they took contemporary art works as an important tool to operate art market. This transformation would naturally draw people’s attention to re-trial the function and value of contemporary art. 4. Since 2007, some art institutions of the government accelerated the incorporating and accepting process of contemporary art, and tried to integrate contemporary art with the development strategy of national culture to promote. It is for sure that this transformation does not only neutralize the rebellious and independent spirits of early contemporary art, but also, would have lasting and profound influences on the future development of contemporary art.

Under these new contexts of history and reality, how to rebuild the measure of value criterion for contemporary arts becomes a hot potato. Especially when facing creations of contemporary art since 2000, we can’t help wondering, what are their value demands? What kind of relation should they keep with the surrounding culture and reality? Through ten years of creation, perhaps, we can reach the following consensus. 1. Contemporary art should inherit their avant-garde and rebellious spirits. Here the avant-garde and rebellious spirits are mainly reflected in two aspects: one is to take against that rigid, archaic mainstream culture, as well as the popular, kitsch mass culture; another one is that contemporary art is in need of self-denial as well, which is to overturn pre-fixed avant-garde spirits with an avant-garde spirit. The Significance of the former one is to keep the independent, self-disciplinary elitism stance of contemporary art and that of the latter lies in maintaining vitality and promoting continuous developments of contemporary arts. 2. Contemporary art shall comply with the development logic of local culture. Meanwhile, artists should keep sensitivity to social reality, and defend the criticalness of contemporary art. Even though the value of contemporary art is also reflected in the renewal and experiments of artistic language, but its core value still lies in its critical function on society as well as the irreplaceable “Chinese experience” inside the works. It is necessary to point out that, “Chinese experience” does not originate from cultural conservatism and cultural strategy of “post-colonial” which is to please western countries here, but aims to really set the foot of “contemporary” in the stance of China, with new meanings derived from categories like sociology and culturology and others. 3. Contemporary art should comply with existing tradition of art history, and artists should be able to propose new possibilities on methodology of artistic creation while maintaining an independent creation state. Whereat, individual independence is not taken into account from aesthetic category of modernism, on contrary, it focuses more on the political meaning reflected in the creative activity itself, namely to put creative freedom of individuals into the category of democratic politics for measuring, and enabling creations of contemporary art to become an important part of  the democratization process of China. 4. Contemporary art should insist on pluralistic development, meanwhile, artists adhere to an open cultural standpoint and possess the insight and capability to participate in international dialogue. We should say that, from 2000 onwards, no matter taken into account in perspectives of time or creative conception, one of the characteristics of Chinese contemporary art is that it can keep pace with Western contemporary art and its development. Although above points can not cover all aspects of contemporary art, but they can at least give us a basic idea to understand and comment on contemporary art.

In a word, due to the great changes taken place in the history of art since 2000, development of Chinese contemporary art and the criterion to measure its value would definitely be affected and changed. Of course, it is not important whether the representative works emerged during this period are called “Chinart (New Art of China)” or not, because, the real key point is that whether we could find a critical discourse to state, descript and summarize these works according to them, and then to combine them with the narrative of art history and construct a brand-new system of theory. Only under such a condition could tradition and cultural spirits of contemporary art be inherited and continued, so that a dominant, universal measure of value for contemporary art could be finally established.




Nov. 11, 2009

At Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts


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