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Call for contemporary art collections

Published: 20 Oct 2009 12:02:02 PST

Materialist by Wang Guangyi, displayed in the Standing Chinese exhibition. Zhang's Bloodine: Sibling.

By Wu Ziru 

While the recent inclusion of a selection of contemporary Chinese artworks in exhibitions held at Staterun museums across the country has been considered by many as a sign that Chinese contemporary art has been o. cially embraced by the government, others in the art world are calling for more to be done to recognize the genre.

Work by famous artists Zhang Xiaogang, Liu Xiaodong and Wang Guangyi, have appeared in several largescale exhibitions commemorating the 6oth anniversary of New China. The contemporary pieces on display have avantgarde concepts and are being juxtaposed with mainstream works depicting the achievements of the Chinese Communist Party since the founding of the People's Republic of China.

In the exhibition Standing Chinese, jointly held by Guangdong Provincial Department of Culture and Guangdong Art Museum, Political Pop artist Wang Guangyi's representative installation Materialist is on display, surrounded by pieces praising the country's achievements after the reform and openingup policy.

 

An internationally renowned contemporary artist, Wang is famous for his refl ections on the impacts that the Cultural Revolution (196676) had on Chinese people. His ironic depictions of Chairman Mao Zedong with a gloomy expression have been widely popular with collectors both from home and abroad.

Wang Huangsheng, former director of Guangdong Art Museum and curator of the exhibition, said that the installation looks "in harmony" with the mainstream works.

A piece of Zhang Xiaogang's Bloodline series is also on display as part of the grand exhibition Sixty Year's of Fine Art in the New China, at the National Art Museum of China, seen as the national museum's fi rst embrace of the Political Pop artist.

Despite the recent inclusions, many art critics and museum directors have commented that China needs to go far further than simply exhibit several pieces of work at Staterun museums. Many in the art world are calling for the government to pay serious attention to establishing a collecting system for contemporary art.

Although highly acclaimed in the international art world, contemporary artists such as Wang and Zhang have seldom been recognized or exhibited by mainstream museums in China before and apart from small private museums devoting space to contemporary works, there is almost no serious collection process for the genre, explained Shi Dawei, deputy director of China Artists Association.

According to Shi, one of the main reasons that contemporary art is shunned by galleries is that the offcials hold "unclear" attitudes toward the art due to the works' often ironic refl ections on politics and problems associated with a rapidly developing economy.

"Why would the government spend money on contemporary art if they don't even know its importance in Chinese art history?" Shi commented.

 Another reason for contemporary art's absence in Staterun museums is the organizational structure of such institutions, he said. Most museums are geared toward a set collecting process: antiques and traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy have been the main focuses of almost all large museums, with contemporary art usually marginalized.

However, Shi insisted that Chinese museums should pay more attention to contemporary work and not only focus on traditional Chinese or Western classics.

"It's urgent to establish a serious collecting system for contemporary art, or it will be too late," Shi said. "Public art museums should take contemporary art as one of their main focuses while collecting."

Burgeoning in the late 1970s, almost simultaneously with the reform and openingup policy, Chinese contemporary art has been deeply infl uenced by the Western art world, both in terms of artistic creation and the market, Shi explained. However, the core value of Chinese contemporary art lies in its refl ections on a postCultural Revolution Chinese society as well as the problems brought by fast economic development, he added.

"Without a sound collection of Chinese contemporary art, we will lose a real and fresh documentary on Chinese transformation during the past several decades, which will be a huge loss to the Chinese people," commented Ma Fenghui, director of the newly founded Zhejiang Art Museum.

"Nowadays the Chinese government and individuals are trying all ways to enable cultural relics to 'return home' from overseas, but they are unaware that one day they might need even greater e. orts to gather precious Chinese contemporary artworks spanning from the late 1970s to now," Ma said.  

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