Time has a thoughtful and engaging story on New York’s Asia Society show on China’s propaganda art:
Though they were produced in murderous times, the works at the Asia Society are almost uniformly cheery, following the dictum of Jiang Qing, Mao’s fourth wife and ultimate cultural arbiter, that art be “red, bright and shining.” In other words: propaganda. Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu and co-curator Zheng Shengtian argue in the show’s excellent catalog, however, that, didactic or not, socialist art represented a “significant cultural movement in China” — one that produced some “truly great art,” especially paintings, and that such works “continue to influence Chinese visual culture.” The contemporary installation artist Xu Bing, whose Cultural Revolution – era drawings are on display, supports the idea that the production of propaganda led to legitimate artistic achievement. “If you want to probe deeply into the underpinnings of contemporary Chinese art,” he says in the catalog, “you have to consider the influence of the Cultural Revolution on my generation because it was an entirely unique experience.” [ . . . ]
Some of those artists went on to great success later like Chen Yifei.
Unlike their contemporary counterparts, revolutionary artists painted without cynicism and with plenty of socialist ardor. That doesn’t mean that their work was immune from interference or mishandling. When Shen Jiawei’s Standing Guard for Our Great Motherland — a heroic masterpiece of three guards in a watchtower high above a snowy landscape — was first exhibited in Beijing in 1974, the faces of the soldiers had been made fuller, fiercer and pinker on Jiang Qing’s orders. In the present exhibition, the painting has been restored to the image intended by the artist, now a highly acclaimed portraitist in Australia.
Seeing Red (Time)