88MoCCA currently shows a selection of artworks from the Sigg collection, curated by Beijing-based Gu Zhenqing.
Read the following summary or download the curator’s complete essay about the special exhibition in English or Chinese.
101 artworks – A stroll through the Sigg collection provides a chronology of the complex and dramatic evolution of art in China from the 1970s until to today.
The exhibit begins with the first stirrings of Chinese contemporary art (1966-76) during the Cultural Revolution, when eager artists began rejecting their Soviet art education to experiment with populism and Eastern and Western traditions.
This red, political public art movement became mainstream, but by the late seventies, there were signs that state-sponsored art would not survive the “aberrant” artworks being produced by young amateur artists. In September 1979, these bold artists initiated the exhibition Star Art on the fence of the National Art Museum, sending shock waves through official art circles. The works featured in the exhibit intentionally appropriated and copied modern representations from the west, in an effort to express a liberal and individual aesthetic. Officials closed down the exhibition two days later but this rupture in the art world not only marked the beginning of China’s avant-garde art scene, it became an inspiring symbol of resistance and independence.
The explorations of the avant-garde artists had a profound impact on the officially endorsed rigid ideology, producing “aberrant” thoughts and art. The movement for ideological emancipation reached a climax in 1985 with ’85 New Wave Art Movement. This stormy movement of cultural criticism and reform challenged the monotony of artistic utilitarianism and paved the way for a rich diversity of artistic expression. Some artists experimented with abstract principles and Dadaism while others explored individual experience, such as Geng Jianyi and Zhang Peili (Hangzhou). The ferocious masks from Geng Jianyi’s oil painting The Second Situation look estranged from the smiling, bald faces floating against the black background. The pale, blank smiles contrast the optimistic smiles of the masses, reflecting the great void in social consciousness of the masses. The international art scene was eager to understand such works. In 1989, Chinese artists were, for the first time, invited to participate in an international exhibition at the Centre de Pompidou and Cité de Science de la Vilette.
The early 1990s were a period of social transition in China. The Chinese art world was now beginning to share and exchange information with the international art scene. More independent artists emerged, driven to express self-value and re-invention. Some artists pushed boundaries even further, going so far as to use their nakedness as an artistic medium to express a yearning for artistic freedom. Meanwhile other artists wantonly copied, appropriated and deconstructed artistic modes of the “cultural revolution”, and in doing so, created a political pop style to satirize the despotic era.
At the forefront of political pop was Wang Guangyi, who appropiated the popular Cultural Revolution motifs of workers, farmers and soldiers and proportionally enlarged them on canvas as high-resolution oil painting images. He later changed his focus and chose motifs from brands such as Coca-Cola and Chanel. His creative daring not only kick-started the political pop style. Moreover, his persistence firmly established the use of classic image motifs in contemporary Chinese art.
The beginning of the new millennium was a period when new artists, new creativity and new exhibitions flourished. Contemporary art events in China became social and public affairs and could no longer be concealed or contained. The rapid development of the contemporary art system with curatorial and biennale systems created tremendous momentum and capacity for artists to produce and exhibit art.
From official art, to avant-garde art, to commercial art, Chinese contemporary art has now entered an era of prosperity in which artists are shaping a mature and long-term artistic freedom and phenomenon.
88 Mocca is pleased to exhibit these masterpieces from the
Uli Sigg collection that provide a fascinating framework to understand the complex and continuing evolution of contemporary Chinese art.
Summary by Leslie Boctor