The Future History of Contemporary Chinese Art

2020
Author:

Peggy Wang

A revelatory reclaiming of five iconic Chinese artists and their place in art history

During the 1980s and 1990s, a group of Chinese artists (Zhang Xiaogang, Wang Guangyi, Sui Jianguo, Zhang Peili, and Lin Tianmiao) ascended to new heights of international renown. Peggy Wang offers a corrective to previous appraisals, demonstrating how their works address fundamental questions about the forms, meanings, and possibilities of art.

Deftly slicing through both cliché and convention, Peggy Wang refreshes our sense of the ‘world’ by showing how Chinese art since the 1980s has as much to say about the very nature of art history as it does about art's role in the creation and critique of a new Chinese ‘century.’

Joan Kee, University of Michigan

During the 1980s and 1990s, a group of Chinese artists (Zhang Xiaogang, Wang Guangyi, Sui Jianguo, Zhang Peili, and Lin Tianmiao) ascended to new heights of international renown. Even as their fame increased, they came to be circumscribed by simplistic Western interpretations of their artworks as social and political critiques, a perspective that privileged stories of dissidence over deep engagement with the art itself. Through in-depth case studies of these five artists, Peggy Wang offers a corrective to previous appraisals, demonstrating how their works address fundamental questions about the forms, meanings, and possibilities of art.

By the end of the 1980s, Chinese artists were scrutinizing earlier waves of Western influence and turning instead to their own heritage and culture to forge their own future histories. As the national trauma of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre converged with the mounting expansion of the global art world, these artists turned to art as a profoundly generative site for grappling with their place in the world. Wang demonstrates how they consciously and energetically sought to make their own ideas about art and art history visible in contemporary art. Wang’s argument is informed by extensive primary research, including close examination of the artworks, analysis of Chinese language documents and archives, and deeply personal interviews with the artists. Their words uncover layers of meaning previously obscured by the popular and often recycled assessments that many of these works have received until now.

Beyond Wang’s reinterpretation of these individual artists, she contributes to an urgent conversation on the future direction of art history: how do we map engagements between art from different parts of the world that are embedded within different art histories? What does it mean for histories of contemporary art—and art history more generally—to be inclusive? The new understandings offered in this book can and should be engaged when considering current hierarchies in histories of Chinese art, the global art world, and the intersections between them.

Peggy Wang is associate professor of art history and Asian studies at Bowdoin College.

Deftly slicing through both cliché and convention, Peggy Wang refreshes our sense of the ‘world’ by showing how Chinese art since the 1980s has as much to say about the very nature of art history as it does about art's role in the creation and critique of a new Chinese ‘century.’

Joan Kee, University of Michigan

With a synthetic and focused point of view, Peggy Wang ardently advocates for listening to artists and looking at their artwork on its own terms, rather than through general preconceptions about China. She sensitively explores the most deeply personal struggles with the meaning of art-making that lie behind the distinctive individual resolutions these men and women achieve. The Future History of Contemporary Chinese Art is a significant and much needed contribution to the history of Chinese and global contemporary art.

Kuiyi Shen, University of California, San Diego

Contents

Note on Translations and Names

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Actors in the World

1. Spaces of Self-Recognition

2. Zhang Xiaogang: Bloodline and Belonging

3. Wang Guangyi: Pop and the People

4. Sui Jianguo: The Matter of Endurance

5. Zhang Peili: Dangers of Definition

6. Lin Tianmiao: Threads of Resistance

Conclusion: Art in the World

Notes

Bibliography

Index