CAI GUO-QIANG, LIU XIAODONG, ZHANG XIAOGANG AND OTHER CHINESE MODERN ARTISTS

CHINESE MODERN ARTISTS

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Work by Zhang Hongtus
Many of China’s premier contemporary artists are in their 40s and 50s. They suffered through the Cultural Revolution flowered in the 70s and 80s withdrew or went abroad after Tiananmen Square and have returned as the art scene in China has opened up.

The Italian art curator wrote in the New York Times: “I haven’t quite figured out how a Chinese artist thinks, creates and produces works of art...In China, you don’t find a painter, and a sculptor, and a video artists but rather find one artist who is working in paintings, sculpture, photography, video and (why not?) performance art all at the same time...European artists often develop different bodies of work. Many Chinese artists seem to develop different bodies of each work. A great chaos under the sky was supposedly an excellent sign for Chairman Mao Zedong, and the same may be true for today’s Chinese artists.”

There is a lot of work for artists and sculptors in China. There are many buildings and projects that are going up that want showcase pieces of art and sculpture, Even small towns want monuments or work of art to show off. In the old days it was not unusual for a prominent artist to have done 150 public monuments, many of them busts of Mao Zedong.

The Long Live Chairman Mao Series 29, by the New York-based painter Zhang Hongtu, took a well-known American cereal box, and turned the famous Quaker Oats man into an image resembling Mao. As art critic Jed Perl observed in The New Republic, it was an American supermarket-meets Cultural-Revolution moment, suggesting that all marketing is equal.

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work by Zhang Xiaogang
Chinese Modern Artists Cai Guo Qiang.com caiguoqiang.com ; Projects caiguoqiang.com/projects ; Guggenheim Show guggenheim.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Wolf Project absinthechamber.com ; PBS biography pbs.org/art21/artists ; Zhang Xiaogang Saatchi Gallery saatchi-gallery.co.uk Wikipedia article ; Wikipedia ; Biography mbergerart.com ; Various works artnet.de ; Yue Minjun Yue Minjun.com yueminjun.com ; Works artnet.com ; Copy Artists and Collectors: Copy Art article asiasentinel.com ; Chinese art collectors article chinaluxculturebiz.wordpress.com . China’s leading auction house, Beijing International Auction, won some recognition with its repatriation of the looted bronze animal heads.

Good Websites and Sources: Art Scene China Art Scene China ; Artron en.artron.net ; Saatchi Gallery saatchi-gallery.co.uk ; Graphic Arts washington.edu ; Chinese Contemporary chinesecontemporary.com ; Yishu Journal yishujournal.com ; Asia Society asiasociety.org ; Communist China Posters Landsberger Posters ; More Posters chinaposters.org ; More Posters still University of Westminster ; Yet more posters Ann Tompkins and Lincoln Cushing Collection

Art in Shanghai: Shanghai’s art district is located around 50 Moganshan Lu (M50) near the train station and embraces several neighborhoods and is expanding. It houses lots of artist studios used by modern artists. Shanghai Oriental Arts Center, 425 Dingxiang Road, Pudong, Web Site: official site Art in Beijing Factory 798 in Beijing Factory 798 Space ; Official Factory 798 site Official Factory 798 site ; Wikipedia Wikipedia Links in this Website: EARLY CHINESE ART Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE ART FROM THE GREAT DYNASTIES Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE PAINTING Factsanddetails.com/China ;CHINESE CALLIGRAPHY Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE CRAFTS Factsanddetails.com/China ; MODERN ART IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; MODERN CHINESE ARTISTS Factsanddetails.com/China ; COLLECTING, LOOTING AND COPYING ART IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China

Chinese Modern Artists Get Rich

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Work by Wang Guangyi
Works by Chen Yifei, Zhao Wuji and Wu Guanzhong have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Works by Cai Guo-Qiang, Zhang Xiaogang, Liu Xiaodong and Yue Minjun have sold for millions. See Cai Guo-Qiang, Zhang Xiaogang, Liu Xiaodong and Yue Minjun

Artists are often the ones in the flashy Ferragamo suits driving around in Range Rovers. Some have their own trendy restaurants. Wang Guangyi drives a Jaguar, dresses in Gucci suits and lives in 10,000-square foot luxury villa outside of Beijing. Yue Minjun lives in walled compound with a massive studio in suburban Beijing. Fang Lijun owns a chain of restaurants in Beijing and a hotel in Yunnan Province.

A new studio designed by Zeng Fanzhi---whose works are popular in Europe---is a vivid testament to the riches reaped by China’s hottest contemporary artists,” wrote David Barboza, in the New York Times, “The high-ceilinged 2,200-square-foot space is adorned with European and Chinese antiques, museum-quality floors, a small gym and a traditional landscape garden that Zeng said contains authentic Ming and Qing dynasty relics. Hanging on the walls are his massive canvases, which not so long ago could easily fetch $1 million apiece. [Source: David Barboza, New York Times, March 10, 2009]

“Globally, the recent rise in Chinese artists’ fortunes was unparalleled. Only one Chinese artist---Zao Wouki, a traditional painter who lives in France---ranked among the Top 10 best-selling living artists in 2004, according to Artprice.com, which tracks auction sales. (He ranked ninth.) But by 2007, 5 of the 10 best-selling living artists at auction were Chinese-born, led by Zhang Xiaogang, who trailed only Gerhard Richter and Damien Hirst. That year, Zhang’s auction sales totaled $56 million, according to Artprice.com.” [Ibid]

In 1994, bad-boy artist Zhuang Huan covered himself in honey and fish oil in a public toilet and remained motionless for an hour while insects covered his body. Today, Zhuang is a very popular artist who has taken over an entire industrial complex in southern Shanghai. He employs more than 100 craftsmen who live in and adjoining dormitory. They produce billboard-size prints and house-size sculpture. Many of the works are sprinkled with incense ash collected Buddhist temples by the Zhuang himself in his own truck.

Well-Known Chinese Modern Artists

Modern Chinese artists with an international reputation include Wang Guangyi, Fang Lijun, Ai Wei Wei, Yue Minjun, Zeng Fanzhi, and Zhang Xiaogang. Wang is known for his Cultural Revolution-style painting emblazoned with brand names like Gucci, Coke and Swatch. Typical of his work in an image of Mao overlaid by a red grid that make him look like he is behind bars. Fang Lijun is a cynical realist painter who aims at capturing the alienation in modern China.

Yang Zhenzhing produced a piece called "Future" displayed in London that consisted of an image of himself balancing an upside Shanghai on his fingertip. Hong Hao has had his works displayed ta the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Guan Yi has thus far been denied permission to display his sculpture made from a section of a U.S. spy plane shot down in 2001.

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Work by Chen Yifei

Chen Yifei is an internationally recognized artist whose realistic portraits have sold for more than $200,000. He opened up a successful chain of clothing shops, Layefe, in 1998 and had 162 outlets n 35 cities in early 2001. He has ambitions of becoming an internationally-recognized name like Tommy Hilfiger.

Chen Zen (1955-2000), a Chinese artist based for many years in New York and Paris, created a work called "Fifty Strokes Each" that is comprised of animals skins stretched against chair- and bed-like frames and hung from a large room-size frame. Observers are invited the beat the animal skin “drums.”

Xu Bing, a painter and calligrapher, whose work in the 1980s was regarded as subversive, is now vice president of Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts.

“Qui Jie's Portrait of Mao depicts him as a cat. “Mao” means “cat” in Chinese and is traditionally a blessing in Chinese art, but Jie's drawing is toxic. The cat has a coy look in his eye.” [Source: Lucy Farmer, More Intelligent Life, November 12, 2008]

Well-Known Chinese Modern Sculptors

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work by Fang Lijun
The sculptor Li Zhanyang made a tableaux with a life-size fiberglass Mao figure surrounded by art dealers, artists and critics modeled after famous socialist realist pieces with Mao surrounded by peasants and landlords.

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, a sculpting duo, are known for their satirical work. Old People's Home depicts a group of decrepit men, modeled to look like aged political figureheads, sit slumped in wheelchairs. The chairs slowly creep around the floor, occasionally nudging each other in an eerie game of slow-motion dodgems. Again the human likeness is uncanny, and the resemblances to men such as Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro is both provocative and wickedly funny. As visitors stroll around the floor, noticing the lines of drool and stained uniforms, there are nervous giggles, evil sniggers and outbursts of hilarity. [Source: Lucy Farmer, More Intelligent Life, November 12, 2008]

“Cang Xin's Communication is a life-size replica of the artist licking the floor, a still image of something he has performed around the world since 1996. As a shaman, Cang believes that both animate and inanimate objects have a spirit; his three-dimensional self-portrait is so realistic that I could agree.” [Ibid]

“Q Confucius No.2" by Chinese artist Zhang Huan is a massive, life-like statue of Confucius. Crafted from steel, silicone, carbon fiber, and acrylic, the statue is animatronic--its chest rises and falls to simulate breathing. The statue is part of Zhang Huan’s “Q Confucius”.

A Chinese sculptor named Lei Yixin, who lives in Changsa in Hunan Province, was selected to do the 10-meter-high granite statue of Martin Luther King for the $100 million Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington D.C. Some African-Americans are upset that a Chinese artist was selected to do the piece not an Afro-American or at least an American. Some have said that Lei was selected in return for a $25 million donation from the Chinese government to finish the memorial The sculpture is being made in a studio in an industrial area of Changsa and was scheduled to be unveiled in 2009. A report on the Marin Luther King statue issued in May 2008 concluded that the models of the statue that existed were too much in like the socialist realist art of Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China.

Yue Minjun

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Work by Yue Minjun
Yue Minjun produces disconcerting, colorful, smiling, life-size human figures. In October 2007, a painting by Yue called Execution was sold for $5.9 million at a Sotheby’s auction. Another work, The Pope (1997), sold for $4.28 million at a Sotheby’s contemporary art auction in London in June 2007. A piece that depicts an open head with a pool of water inside and Mao Zedong taking a swim sold for $1.37 million. Yue's works are popular with copy artists. One copy art dealer told Reuters, “Many foreigners who come here know a lot about this guy, but Chinese people don't know him. They just see all the teeth and the smile and think it’s funny.”

Gweong Gweong, a macabre take on the Tiananmen crackdown by Yue Minjun, was sold for $6.9 million in May 2008. The artist received $14,000 for the work in 1994.

Ai Wei Wei

See Separate Article

Zhang Xiaogang

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Work by Zhang Xiaogang

Zhang Xiaogang is well known for his cartoonish figures with expressionless faces. Among those who have bough Zhang paintings are Oliver Stone and the Guggenheim Museum. His Bloodline Series: Coarse No. 120 sold for just under $1 million at a New York auction in 2006 to a Singaporean of Chinese origin. A few weeks later gallery owner and advertising executive Charles Saatchi bought Zhang’s A Big Family for $1.5 million at a Christie’s auction in London and his Tiananmen Square was sold for $2.3 million at a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong. In September 2007, Chapter of a New Century: Birth of the People’s Republic went for more than $3 million at a Sotheby’s auction in New York.

Zhang Xiaogang has short hair and trademark round glasses and often has a cigarette hanging from his lips. He turned 49 in 2008. During the Cultural Revolution his parents were forced to give up their government jobs and were sent to re-education camps while Zhang was brought up by an aunt. When he became a teenager Zhang was sent to a camp. After Mao’s death in 1976 Zhang attended the prestigious Sichuan Academy but didn’t really develop his style until the 1990s.

Zhang has continued to work in China for nearly all of his career. He lives in and keeps a studio in the Liquor Factory area of Beijing and works around the clock to keep up with the demand for his paintings.

“The soulless eyes that gaze out from a series of portraits by Zhang Xiaogang invite a critical look at the culture of family in China. The country's one-child policy, widespread preference for sons and the depressing aura of a Communist upbringing are all conveyed with sinister subtlety.” [Source: Lucy Farmer, More Intelligent Life, November 12, 2008]

Cai Guo-Qiang

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Cai Guo Qiang
New York-based Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang is famous for using gunpowder in his paintings and fireworks in major projects. A native of southeastern China, he is currently the most expensive Chinese contemporary artist. In December 2007, an unnamed Asian paid $9.5 million for Set of 14 Drawings for Asia-Pacific Cooperation---14 abstract paintings made using gunpowder---at a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong. Two months earlier one of his works was sold for $2.6 million at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong.

Cai told Newsweek that igniting explosives is like making love: the act is simple but there are always surprises. He told The New Yorker that as a child he had a recurrent dream of a fireworks display in Tiananmen square in which no one was present except for him.

Cai turned 51 in 2008. He was born and raised in the port town of Quanzhou on the Taiwan Strait. His father was a Communist Party member who worked at a bookstore. He provided officials and his son with banned books such as Waiting for Godot and Death of a Salesman and was a skilled painter who introduced his son to landscape painting and calligraphy.

Cai escaped the ravages of the Cultural Revolution because his father was a Communist Party member and Quanzhou was an out of the way place. Folk holidays and traditions that were banned elsewhere were not banned in Quanzhou and Cai enjoyed his share of fireworks as boy. After studying stage design in university he managed secure a student visa to Japan and lived in Tokyo from 1986 to 1995. He has lived in New York since 1995 and keeps a studio there. He was in Italy during the September 11th terrorist attack but his daughter’ school, which was near ground zero, was evacuated.

Cai has been described as an elegant and pleasant man. He still often uses an interpreter when he is interviewed in English. Cai is in charge of visual and special effects for the opening and closing ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He won the International Award the Venice Biennial in 1999 with a socialist-realist sculptural tableau .

See Modern Art, for pictures of his art-making process

Works by Cai Guo-Qiang

Petr Schjeldahl, the art critic for The New Yorker, described Cai’s art as ‘strenuously theatrical and weirdly political (with ambiguous stands on Mao Zedong and terrorism), calculated in content (East-West tropes are a specialty).”

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Cai’s early gunpowder drawings were made by dumping powder on a canvas and lighting it. During his stay in Japan he refined the technique controlled the explosions with panels of fibrous paper, which created textures of burn and “burn shadows.”

In 2008, Cai became the first Chinese artist to be given a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Among the works on display were Borrowing Your Enemy’s Arrow (1998), a fishing boat flying the Chinese flag, pierced by over 3,000 arrows; Inopportune: Stage One, a work made up of nine Chevrolet Metros, six of them suspended in the air, with flashing electric light rods running through them.

“Of all the astonishing works at Cai’s exhibition...the one I can’t get out of my head is Head On,” Cathleen McGuigan wrote in Newsweek, “The piece consists of 99 full-size synthetic wolves stampeding up the museum’s spiral ramp with such force that the front of the pack lifts up into an arc of flight, like Santa’s reindeer---only t crash headlong into a wall of glass...Those wolves are as cuddly as any furry toy, but also as scary as snarling animals.”

Inopportune: Stage Two features a tiger struck with bamboo arrows. New York’s Rent Collection Courtyard is a socialist-realist sculptural tableau. Head On has a stream of 99 wolves that start on the ground and fly through the air and crash into a glass wall. An Arbitrary History: River (2001) is comprised of a serpentine bamboo trough, in which one viewer at a time can drive a rawhide boat.

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Fireworks by Cai Guo-Qiang

Cai has ignited lines of fireworks across the Thames Millennium Bridge, set fire to 100 helium balloon floating in a spiral over Hiroshima. and extending the Great Wall of China six miles into the Gobi desert with a “wall of fire” made of lines of gunpowder fuses. In New York he created a rainbow bridge of fire above the East River; a 1,000-foot-high revolving halo of white titanium fire above Central Park; and an exploding gunpowder-packed pit described by the New York Times as “fiery energy sucked into the earth, a mushroom cloud in reverse.”

Cai likes to use sequences of horizontal explosions, a technique he has used on land and on the sea during the day and at night. His daytime explosions consist of puffs of smoke and clouds. The thrill of fireworks he has said is tied to “connections to the cosmos, nature, society, glory, and heroic sensation.” He has described his fireworks pieces as “contradictions of violence and beauty.”

In 1992 Cai created in piece in Germany in which he sat in a field surrounded by meticulously worked out circles and lines of gunpowder. In an effort to explore the primordial connection between man and earth, Cai employed sensors to measure the shock waves of the explosions and monitor his heartbeat, which showed he remained cool and collected even when everything around him was exploding. In 2006, Cai oversaw the construction of a house in Berlin and then had it blown up.

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Liu Xiaodong

Liu Xiaodong is faculty member and graduate of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, China’s top art school. His paintings have fetched eye-popping sums. Oil paintings by Liu that sold for $20,000 in 2004 went for $200,000 in 2006. Liu is the subject of Jia Zhangke’s documentary Dong . His 2010 work “Getting Out of Beichuan,” according to Harvard’s Eugene Wang “marks a new stage and possibly a new turning point in the contemporary Chinese art scene.”

In November 2006, Newly Displaced Population , a 2004 painting by Liu Xiaodong that offers a critical look at the government’s displacement of people by Three Gorges dam, sold for $2.75 million, the most ever paid for a contemporary Asian work at that time. The It was purchased by Zhang Lan, a female restauranteur, famous for her upscale chain South Beauty. Only a couple of other living artist, among them Damien Hurst and Jee Koons, have had their works sold for more than $2 million. In April 2008, The Breeding Ground No. 3--a 10-x-2.8-meter work from Liu Three Gorges series--sold for a record $8.2 million at a Beijing auction. The painting shows men playing cards in their underwear. Of the painting Liu said, “I painted the Three Gorges three times, Every time was a personal improvement for me.”

Wang told dGenerate Films, Liu Xiaodong ‘spearheaded the new generation of painters that came of ages in the 1990's. The way they make their impact and distinctions is through not buying into national narratives, choosing to stay on the margins and exploring the marginality. They seem to be interested in the mood and gestures that are normally outside the larger narratives. There are certain received ways of characterizing how within the narrative characters work. Liu Xiaodong is, however, concerned about what is going on outside of the framework. He focuses on the migrants, the outcasts, people who don’t belong anywhere. He portrays these characters with nonchalance and indifference. This apathy inadvertently carries an implicit critique of past generations of artists who he and his contemporaries believe are too driven by larger passions. What sets the “90's generation apart from the “80's is that the “90's generation no longer feel bound to a larger national narrative.

Liu Xiaodong has a way of painting a landscape that he kind of distrusts. He believes that to paint landscape, it’s better to paint in the figural spirit. Try to paint the landscape in figures with a figural mood and so forth. It just may well be since he is good in painting portraits, this is just a way of rationalizing his artistic strategy.All of these possibilities are there. This is why this work is so fascinating to me. It is very conceptual. Coming from Liu Xiadong, this is particularly fascinating because he and his generation are known for keeping out all this external verbiage and just deliver to you to this real authentic unmediated texture.

Liu Xiaodong’s Life

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Work by Liu Xiaodong
Liu Xiadong himself grew up as a street kid. He never assumes any elitist detachment from the common people. He could easily relate to them. On the other hand, he also kept a diary. From the diary we know in fact there are ugly things going on around him, as the painting production was dragging on. There was heavy drinking and bloodshed between his crew and another newly-arrived documentary film crew when he was in Sichuan. From the diary you could tell he was not making a fuss about this or romanticizing anything. In this sense, there is a detached observation of things around him.

Consequently, you could feel that he is trying to internalize this scene to the extent that what he sees outwardly is the staging of his own mental theatre. He never said anything about how he should respond to the conflicts going on around him. You almost get a sense he was becoming too philosophical about it. Yet, he doesn’t make his art in a philosophical gesture. He still clings to a deadpan observational mode.

Here and there, he would include little details that are often very suggestive and sometimes even private. For instance, he would paint a little horse in the background. The reason why this was the background was at the time, Liu Xiadong was observing horses mating. He found that very powerful. Nevertheless, the horse appears in the painting as a still life. Again, we see him including the motif of reproduction as a way of overcoming disasters. The most interesting thing about this is he includes this motif very cryptically. Unless you have already read his diaries about the painting, you wouldn’t really know that the horse is significant.

Liu Xiaodong and His Sichuan Earthquake Paintings

Wang told dGenerate Films,”In 2010 Liu Xiadong went to Sichuan to paint an earthquake scene. He set up this huge canvas and began to paint. Actually, he wasn’t painting the earthquake scene per-se. He invited a group of young woman from other towns to pose as models in front of this earthquake-caused pile of rubble. The sheer set up is mind-boggling. When this work was first shown, I was completely blown away by it. It is a huge canvas. The exhibition did a good job using multi-media to present it. You also have the photograph of him working with the models. You also have a video of him working and directing the models. This case intrigued me because I’m always interested in inter-media. How painting and photography interact with each other. [Source: Michael Chenkin, dGenerate Films]

Liu Xiaodong’s Sichuan painting fascinates me because it marks a new stage and possibly a new turning point in the contemporary Chinese art scene. In other words, it marks both the culmination of the “90's generation in terms of their distinct style and sensibility and challenge for them as well. These artists are facing this earthquake aftermath and the situation is potentially stirring and disturbing. Under these circumstances, it is very hard to remain emotionally unattached. How can Liu Xiadong and his contemporaries keep their distance from a national narrative but also remain engaged in a meaningful way.

Technically, it seems to be about the earthquake, but this is really hard to assess what it is really about. Ultimately, the painting is about how human beings deal with the plight and challenge of surviving disasters. What he is trying to do is bring the painting to a level that it transcends the immediacy of this particular earthquake and get to another level. In a way, this is a departure from his earlier practice, which is why this painting fascinates me. His earlier practice carries a notable stance of refusal of any metaphysical overtones in his painting. The emphasis is always on the immediacy of the experience. When he paints laborers he makes sure not to fall into the 1980's allegorical way of making a pictorial scene. He makes sure to let the viewer share in his interest of the texture of the real life with its brutalities, horrors, miseries, joy.

The subjects of this painting, the young women, were hired from Chongqing. They had nothing at all to do with the earthquake. The conceptual design behind this was Liu Xiadong came up with a philosophy or some sort of conviction. In the face of massive disasters, a typical Chinese response is that there should be some type of regeneration. In other words, the conviction rests on the hope of the young to reproduce.

Female Chinese Modern Artists

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work by Xiao hong
Female artists in China receive much less attention than their male counterparts. But according to New York Times art critic Holland Carter they are producing ‘some of the most innovative work around.” Foremost among them is Lin Tianmiao, the wife of conceptual artist Wang Gongxin. Early in her career, when she was poor, she made works comprised of teapots, woks, vegetable choppers and scissors wrapped in layers of white cotton. Later when her career took of she produced elegant soft sculptures made of soft silk.

Other female Chinese artists of note include Yin Xuizhen, who makes works from unraveled sweaters and seals them in suitcases; Lu Qing, the wife of the artist Ai Weiwei, who every year fills a 82-foot-long bolt of fine silk with tight grid patterns; Xiong Wenyun, known for photos of Himalayan truck stops; Xing Danwen, who inserts images of domestic violence into tabletop models of Beijing high-rises; Cui Xiuwin, who uses a hidden camera to video prostitutes applying make-up, calling clients and counting cash.

Chinese Video Artists and Photographers

Tsung Leong photographs buildings torn down and replaced with tennis courts and apartment towers. Zhang Dali makes images of large heads in condemned buildings and then photographs them before they are torn down.

Zhao Liang did a series called Social Survey in which he photographed the reactions of people after he pulls out a fake gun on them. Cui Xiuwen placed a hidden camera in the women’s room at a high-class hostess bar and captured women shoving money in their cleavage and talking about money on their cell phones. Liu Wei has taken hundreds of close up of different body parts and recombined then using Photoshop so they look like ancient scrolls.

Wang Gongxin is a video artist who worked many year in Brooklyn, New York, where he was first turned on to video. Among his works are It’s about Dream , featuring 200 colorful mp4 screens with sleeping faces, and Sky of Brooklyn , a television monitor placed on three-meter-deep hole in his backyard in Beijing, showing a video of the Brooklyn sky .

Wang Wusheng is a photographer honored with a United Nations exhibit in New York. He is best known for his images if Mt, Huangshan in eastern Aihui Province. His works evoke comparisons to Chinese landscape ink paintings. Trained as a physicist, he has been photographing the mountains for more than 30 years. Zhan Wang creates dreamy photographic images using the carved surface of a chrome “rock.”

Wang Wei has had his art exhibited in London, Chicago and New York. He is known for his large-format photographs, often with a Coke or McDonald’s’s logo somewhere, that both celebrate and denounce “global” culture. His most famous pieces, China Mansion, feature female models acting out famous scenes from art history with orgies and feasts in the background. One of his video pieces features children endlessly repeating Maoist slogans.

Feng Li pokes fun at the Maoist era with a door-size "Big Red Book" with her picture on the cover. Xing Danwen did a piece called "Born in the Cultural Revolution" which features photographs of a naked, pregnant woman surrounded by Mao memorabilia. A Wang Jianwei exhibit featured a film showing Chinese people in various scenarios including a ping pong room, a court scene, a factory scene and a hospital scene where naked men were being weighed.

Chinese Modern Shock Art

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Zhu Yu eats a baby

Chinese artists are also grabbing headlines by roducing some of the world's most disgusting, shocking and extreme art. Many of the artist are graduates of Central Academy of Fine Art. Critics call the art empty and pointless and shock for shock's sake.

The performance artist Zhu Yu has displayed photographs of himself washing a stillborn baby and then eating dismembered body parts. He has had his own body parts grafted onto a pig. He describes his work an expression of the Christian faith, saying, “Jesus is always related It death, blood, wounds, etc.” On the point of shock art he said, "This is a numb society. So we need to scream. I wanted to experiment with the idea of wickedness. I wanted to show my distaste for all things civilized. I wanted to get to the bottom line."

One artist extracted human oil from a corpse and dumped it down a sink. Another made ink splotches on the Encyclopedia Britannica with his penis.One guy hung himself from a roof beam in a barn with blood dripping from a tube in his neck. Another emerged naked from the carcass of a cow. We can't forget the guy who strung some sparrows to his penis with some strings. The idea was that they were supposed to fly. They didn't. At birthday party for one their own, the artist who create these works get drunk, take off their clothes and drip paint on each other genitals and body parts.

Qiang Gao and Zhen Gao are famous artist brothers who are known best for for using images of Mao Zedong in unsettling sculptures, paintings and performance art, including one of Mao figures pointing fingers at Jesus Christ, and for portraits of hated figures of Hitler, Kim Jong Il, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden when they were children. Gao Qiang told the Los Angeles Times, “I don’t consider myself a dissident at all, I never even think about this question, I just use art to express what I want to express.” The Chinese government may not share that opinion. Security forces have raided the brother’s exhibitions, confiscate their pieces, jailed their friends and shut off the electricity to their studio, They we denied passport and forbidden from leaving China for their first solo show in Los Angeles in September 2010.

“Zhang Dali's Chinese Offspring is a collection of naked humans hanging upside-down from the ceiling, representing the powerlessness of Chinese immigrant workers. Some look anguished, others desolate; all are helpless.” [Source: Lucy Farmer, More Intelligent Life, November 12, 2008]

Works by Modern Chinese Shock Artists

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Work by Sheng Qi

The artist Pen Yu creates art from live animals. One of her most infamous pieces, Curtain, featured more that 1,000 frogs, grass snakes and lobsters, each pierced with a wire and strung up to die. On the piece Pen told Independent, "Yes, it's cruel. It's dangerous. It hurts. My art attacks the animals. The animals attack the viewer."

Sun Yuan makes installations with body parts and dead babies. One of his most sickening works, Honey, features a still-born fetus placed on top of the head of a dead old man. Another one of his works is made up of bloody spinal columns from dozens of sheep. Sun and Peng live together in an apartment-studio filled with pictures dead people and tortured animals.

Sheng Qi mutilates his body and then paints it. He first emerged in 1986, when he did a number of performance pieces that involved standing naked in the freezing cold at the Great Wall of China. In 1989, distraught over Tiananmen Square, he hacked off one fingers with a meat cleaver and now uses the stub as a paint brush. His performance piece, Universal Happy Brand Chicken, performed in London in the late 1990s, consisted of teh artist fondling and kissing four plucked chickens, slashing the dead birds with a knife and then urinating on them.

Xiao Yu makes ghoulish creatures with actual human heads, fish eyes, chicken wings and goose eyes. He sewed a the head of a human fetus on to the body of a sea gull to “provoke the viewer into reflecting on the absurdity of life.” The work was removed from an exhibit in Switzerland after museum-goers complained. Gu Wenda’s 10,000 Kilometers is a mini-replica of the Great Wall of China made entirely of bricks made of pressed human hair. The artist Gu Dexin displayed containers full of frozen animal brains and hearts.

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu are known for their works with cadavers. A piece shown at the Saatchi gallery in London features replicas of old people---toothless and disheveled and looking a lot like famous world leader---moving slowly around in motorized wheelchairs.

Zhang Huan

Zhang Huan is a former performance artist who some years ago dressed himself in a suit made of slabs of carefully sculptured beef and paraded through the streets of New York City like Mr. America. The art critic Marc Glimcher said has the versatility of Rauschenberg.

Mr. Zhang’s vast studio---a series of converted factories in the Shanghai suburbs---operates with about 100 workers who sand, carve and sculpture. They paint by sprinkling ashes onto a canvas and, following Mr. Zhang’s ideas, they stitch together giant dolls made from animal hides. Among his works are cowhide imprinted with a reverential image of Chairman Mao.

Liu Bolin, China’s Invisible Man

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Liu Bolin is an artist-photographer born in 1973 in Shandong province. He graduated from Shandong Art Institute in 1995. He is well-known for making photographs of himself camouflaged in any environment. Each of his photos requires long hours of preparation, the longest being ten plus hours. He transforms himself into a painting canvas, and with his assistant’s help, he blends in with the background. [Source: Ministry of Tofu, January 29, 2011]

Liu said he tries to convey the message through his works: “Chinese artists are in a very difficult situation. The reason why I came up with this idea is many artists’ workshops were demolished forcibly. I wanted to create a series of photos titled “Hiding in the City” to protest in silence the adverse circumstances artists live in, the terrible attitudes the society takes towards art.” Can you find him in the following pictures? Global Times Chinese: photo.huanqiu.com http://photo.huanqiu.com/creativity/unlimited/2010-11/1254288.html

Image Sources: Saatchi Gallery, Wiki Commons, Christie's, Goedhuis Contemporary Art and the websites of the artists.

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated October 2011

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