Sunday, December 9, 2007
Chinese contemporary art is a hot acquisition these days.
But a Belgian couple beat many collectors to the punch over 20 years ago.
Guy and Myriam Ullens have come to China in these two decades, visiting periodically and buying up art from a group of artists now known as the '85 New Wave.
After the death of Chairman Mao and emergence of Deng Xiaoping and his open door policy in 1979, Chinese artists began to get more exposure to the outside world, as Western culture forced its way into the country.
These artists began documenting the societal changes they saw around them in their work.
The Ullens collected lots of pieces and less than a year ago started renovating a deserted space in the Dashanzi art district with the money they made from selling their Turner collection.
And the result is a fantastic gallery cum museum cum meeting point for artists, academics and visitors.
The UCCA was officially opened last month and today was my first visit.
There was a question about why people had to pay 30RMB for admission, but one can quickly see why. The space is done up so well and is practically a museum, showcasing their collection. They also have well-suited security guards, young men who also know a bit about the art on the walls to answer questions from inquisitive visitors.
And appropriately the inaugural exhibition is a retrospective of these New Wave artists.
At the entrance is a series of Chinese scrolls hung from the ceiling and several printed books laid out open to certain pages.
It's called "A Book from the Sky" by Xu Bing. This artist created some 1,000 new Chinese characters that don't exist and published them in these books and scrolls.
Two artists named Wang Luyan and Ge Dexin made a series called "Tactile Art". They think art should communicate and in a graphic art kind of way they have achieved it.
In one, there is a sort of square with a half circle on the left and one on the right, and they merge in the middle. On the left and the right it says "shou" or "hand" and in the middle where they are merged it says "handshake".
Wang Yong Ping is considered controversial. He had a retrospective show at the Vancouver Art Gallery where some reptiles were in glass boxes as part of his work. Animal rights activists thought this was cruel and some of these exhibits were taken off.
And another one of his work was "unexpectedly removed" from UCCA. He had taken scrolls, put them in a washing machine and used the remnants to form traditional Chinese tombs. Some people may have found this offensive.
Despite the brouhaha, it's great to see a fantastic collection of contemporary Chinese art before the madness at the auction block. And to have it back in China.
The artists have thought long and hard about what they want to say and then carefully decided how they are going to execute it artistically to create an effective piece of art.
This collection makes the rest of the art work in 798 pale in comparison; the other galleries are mostly filled with attention-grabbing "art" that is just done for shock value rather than with any thoughtful statement.
One featured a former bar waitress naked, posing with four suited men in various corporate settings. What does that say other than a woman having control in the board room?
Hopefully the works in the UCCA gallery will inspire the young artists of today to work hard at their art instead of thinking about dollar signs.