April 29, 2014, by Tony Hong

Western Goggles and Contemporary Chinese Art

By Abigail Aikins-Hawkson,

MSci Business and Economy of Contemporary China.

The Contemporary Chinese art scene has become a subject of fascination for Art Critics around the world because once again, China is providing the rest of the world a situation where everybody else seems to be at standstill. Everybody else except China.

As China continues to make its presence felt in the world, there seems to be a sudden wanting to have China fit in somewhere, or be labelled as something, or be put into a category and explained. Of course, China stands for advancement, and it stands for unity and it stands for be the best you can be, and that best is to be Chinese, but there is something interesting about this unexpected urgency of individualism, wrapped up loosely in political constraint which has been presented to the rest of the world as Contemporary Chinese Art.

Like all things China, the excitement surrounding Contemporary Chinese Art has been turning heads. Heads which must be made of gold and laced with diamonds, as the prices which have been paid for some works of art are astounding. Auction tracking service ArtPrice, reported in 2008, that since 2001, the overall price for Contemporary Chinese Art has increased by 780% and its 2013 annual report revealed that China’s share of the Contemporary Art market was 33.7%. I am unsure whether the fascination surrounding contemporary Chinese art is outside of the fascination regarding the developing economy but whether that matters, I think it comes down to how well China is able to hold on to this very comfortable position they currently hold in the Art world. Openness of the economy has definitely helped Chinese artists gain exposure but unlike trade and internationalisation may not be as beneficial for the Art industry in terms of production. If internationalisation for China means absorbing Western influence, what does this mean for Contemporary Chinese Art and most importantly, it’s authenticity?

The rawness and authenticity from contemporary Chinese artists is definitely overshadowed by what I can only describe as Western ignorance and the need to label, whilst looking through Western goggles. Just before coming to China in September, I had on my Western goggles when I went to see an exhibition in London’s Mall Galleries by emerging Contemporary Chinese artists called, “Blue & Yellow: Swift Transitions of Self”. From what I knew, China was red, and that red stood for bold nationalism and the lack of individualism which I assumed to be embedded within it. I thought China’s nationalism would interfere with the individualism and personalisation that needs to be felt and seen in Art, but the diversity and the range of concepts in this exhibition made me remember that the willingness to still be intimately personal with your work is as important in the East as it is in the West.

After 8 months of living in China and having a chance to see Contemporary Chinese Art in its home, I feel that the sense of belonging which Chinese art demands, can be appreciated and adopted only away from the loudness of the developing Chinese economy. I am coming to know China as being rich enough in culture and modern enough in artistic ability to leave a long lasting imprint in the world art scene.

In terms of the art of calligraphy however, my Western goggles are yet to come off.

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