Last year in 2011, China was the talk of the town. Well, in most things from economics to politics it has been the talk of the town for the past five years, but 2011 was particularly good for China and art. For one, the country emerged as the world’s number one market, at least measured in auction sales (people actually paying is another matter for another post). The figures from all the auction houses showed where the global wealth was flowing: Sotheby’s and Christie’s alone accumulated more than $ 1.8bn in Hong Kong alone. In a similar trend, more Western nations are showing exhibitions of Chinese art, be it contemporary or ancient Chinese artworks. The latest case in point is The National Museum of Australia’s A New Horizon: Contemporary Chinese Art described by critics as a powerful and important exhibition of contemporary Chinese art, all of which is on loan from the National Art Museum of China.
The exhibition features more than 70 sculptures, new media installations and paintings which have been created since the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, after the KMT part fled to Taiwan. For Chinese art aficionados, you should be able to recognise some big names, including Qian Songyan, Liu Xiaodong and Shen Jiawei. The works have been divided chronologically, with New China (1949-1977) covering most of the hectic days of propaganda art during the Cultural Revolution, moving on to New Thinking (1978-1999) and the years of opening up, reform and modernisation. Finally, New Century (2000-2009) reflects on the China that most people are familiar with – the big cities, wealth explosion and an increasingly assertive and powerful nation against the background of globalisation.
National Art Museum of China Director Fan Di’an said the past two years of cultural exchange between Australia and China have helped to promote and strengthen the relationship between the two countries, referring to the Australian exhibition of Aboriginal art that toured China in 2011. Mr Fan said he hoped the latest exhibition would help bridge cultural gaps between the two nations. “We decided to create an exhibition featuring Chinese art since 1949, one that located Chinese art in the context of social and cultural change. The representative artists and works have been selected to reflect the history of the time and its cultural landscape, and form a snapshot of Chinese art from the latter half of the 20th century to today,” he said.
One important observation one gleans from the exhibition is that China was not as isolated as one may think. Chinese art in the 20th century had many Western influences, which arguably led to social changes in and of itself. The influence of art and culture continues to be reflected in the changes of norms and values, reflected in the production of art in the two countries. As National Museum of Australia Director Andrew Sayers said, the art of China in the decades from the 1950s to the 1980s was not as well known and further knowledge only increased understanding. “I am pleased to see that, as a result of their efforts, this exhibition has become a valuable contribution to Australia’s understanding of Chinese visual culture,” he said. People planning to visit Canberra, Australia, have until the end of January to see it.