As the Olympic Games get set to open, there’s been more than a little coverage of the Chinese Contemporary Art scene. Holland Carter went in search of Mao and his meaning by going to Mao’s mausoleum. The travelogue covers a lot of intellectual and emotional territory but the subtext of the whole piece comes out when Carter sets up a quote from Ai Wei Wei: “the concoctions for the Olympics are only cosmetically different from official design. Both, in different ways, affirm the continuance of one-party rule, he says, and the repression that implies. ‘There is no New China,’ he concludes.”
An interview with the curators of SF MoMA’s new exhibit, “Half-Life of a Dream,” offers this interesting connection between the Chairman and the current artistic practice:
If you were trained to paint Mao from the time you were a student, but you no longer had to paint Mao, who do you paint? My thesis is artists turned to themselves. They turned to their own likenesses. They turned to their own bodies. They had themselves, literally, at hand. When you don’t have a tradition, as the Chinese didn’t, of a vanguard modernism in which artists are expected to be unique and original, then all you have is yourself. The tradition they had was a tradition of propaganda
The Economist follows with it’s own take on the role of Contemporary art in China’s “coming out” to the world:
There may be no official Olympic cultural events in 798—it is still too edgy a scene to be endorsed by the conservative ministry of culture—but local officials understand that visitors will want more than the central government’s staid official arts programme. They have been busy sprucing up the area and putting in a car park, although Kai Heinze, director of the Faurschou gallery in 798, says his plans to hold an exhibition of sports-themed pictures by Andy Warhol have been held up by cultural bureaucrats who reportedly want only Chinese art to be put on display. Dozens of foreign leaders are reportedly planning to visit during the games. An official says visitors will be shuttled round 798’s old factories, free of charge, in electric buggies.
One of the fiercest Chinese critics of the games is one of the country’s most famous artists, Ai Weiwei, who helped design the iconic centrepiece of the whole show, the “bird’s nest” stadium where the opening ceremony will be held. The Chinese authorities, he says, lack the bravery or ability to “break through the restraints of ideology”. Mr Ai says officials dismissed suggestions that Beijing airport’s new terminal, designed by Sir Norman Foster and opened for the games, should be adorned with modern art. “The party,” he says, “is completely distrustful of art.”