This publication is an overview of work from 9 Chinese Artists
We designed the catalogue for the traveling exhibition ‘Facing China - Works of Art from The Fu Ruide Collection’. The collection, first on view in 2008, is currently traveling to museums and venues worldwide. Facing China features works of art by and photographic portraits of a unique generation of artists that flourished in the years following the 1989 revolt. The exhibition includes artist portraits photographed by Christoph Fein and works of art by nine artists from this ‘golden generation’: Liu Ye, Zhang Xiaogang, Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun, Yang Shaobin, Tang Zhigang, Chen Qing Qing, Zhao Nengzhi, Wei Dong.
Facing China, Facing me
About Artists, Art and the Observer
“It is my firm belief that the deepest feelings of human beings originate from childhood experiences. This is borne out by the work of the artists in this exhibition. The images displayed here hark back to emotions and sensations that have their roots in youth and student life. These artists grew up during the Cultural Revolutio (1966-1976), and they were studying when the student revolt was suppressed at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Meanwhile, I was growing up in the peaceful backwater of Holland. I cycled to school, and had a cup of tea with a biscuit when I came home. I was frequently alone in my room, and much of my time was spent collecting stones and fossils, reading and studying. I knew nothing whatsoever about what Chinese children of my own age were going through, 5,000 miles away. They knew nothing about me, and I knew nothing about them. And yet wherever people grow up, and regardless of the conditions that shape their personal lives and their societies, people have a great deal in common, they share similar feelings. That is what connects us all A work of art is far more than a quantity of mixed paint or some other material, color and structure. It provides a window into the artist’s inner world. The contact that arises between the artwork and a viewer – just like music – is largely channelled through feeling, intuition. It has little to do with rational or verbal communication. Perhaps that explains why artists are often reluctant to interpret their work or attach names to it. Looking at an artwork, as a place where the artist’s crystallized thoughts and emotions are collected, evokes fresh thoughts and emotions in the viewer. Everyone will find something in art that is utterly personal, unique to their own experience. In that sense, an artwork is a mirror. In October 2007 I went to China, together with the photographer Christoph Fein, whom I had asked to photograph the artists and their working environments for the catalogue. When we visited Zhang Xiaogang in his studio and showed him the presentation of the works that were to be included in the exhibition, he described them as ‘emotional, poetic and introverted’. Tang Zhigang, on the other hand, saw ‘humor’ as the linchpin of the exhibition. Others described the artworks in terms of solitude, pain and insecurity, feelings with which I am not unfamiliar in my own human experience. In the years following the 1989 revolt, a unique generation of artists grew up and flourished. Although each of the artists featured in this exhibition went his or her own way, they all share a strong link – whether direct or indirect – with the past. Their art expresses this in a variety of ways. Yue Minjun puts on a mask of laughter, but in the words of Tang Zhigang, ‘behind the laugh lies pain. People laugh at things because they relate them to themselves; the things that cause someone to laugh are also the origins of his pain’. Fang Lijun expresses himself through mockery and self-mockery, and with a certain playfulness. Although mockery is an important aspect of Liu Ye’s work too, his overriding preoccupation is with dreams and fantasies of his Arcadia, that imaginary place of childhood innocence and happiness. He and Tang Zhigang both depict the ‘innocent’ world of children’s perceptions, but there are also allusions to the harsh reality of adults who play at war and other grown-up games. Yang Shoabin released his feelings by depicting bloody aggression, Zhao Nengzhi by showing human suffering. Qing Qing knits a coat of wire netting around her childhood photographs, and in her work Reincarnation she draws on the days when Wei Dong’s Red Guard girls were still wearing chaste outfits and seemed to be marching to a utopia. Zhang Xiaogang’s canvases also display lines to the past, quite literally in the form of painted threads, connecting relatives and other people, and society in general. The exhibition title, ‘Facing China’, refers both to the human face and to confrontation with China. It also says something about the inner lives of the artists featured. But the exhibition might just as well have been called ‘Facing You’, since it also deals with thoughts and feelings that anyone might have, whoever he is, wherever he lives.”