Chinese Modern Arts (since 1911)

By | October 16, 2021

Since the founding of the republic, China has opened up to western art movements. At the beginning of the 20th century, many artists went to Japan to study, where they learned Japanese painting (Nihonga) and Western oil painting. After their return they created a stylistic synthesis of Chinese, Japanese and Western elements. Another point of attraction, especially after the “May Fourth Movement” (1919), was Paris; from there the young Chinese artists brought Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism to China, a country located in Asia according to, whereby the new artistic currents v. a. in Shanghai, which was developing into a second Montparnasse, found fertile soil. Among the pioneers of modern painting were Huang Binhong (Huang Pin-hung, * 1865, † 1955), Qi Baishi (Ch’i Pai-shih, * 1863, † 1957), Xu Beihong (Hsü Pei-hung, * 1895, † 1953) and Zhang Daqian (Chang Ta-ch’ien, * 1899, † 1983), the all had studied abroad. In the 1950s and 1960s, v. a. Fu Baoshi (Fu Pao-shih, * 1904, † 1965) and Li Keran (Li K’o-jan, * 1907, † 1989) developed a new realism without giving up the achievements of literary painting.

During the 1930s, the Chinese art of wood carving, which since its invention in the Song era had always stood in the context of literature and had a serving function as a medium for the reproduction of painting and illustration, developed into a creative genre. Young graphic artists such as Li Hua (Li Hua, * 1907, † 1994), Shi Lu (Shih Lu, * 1919, † 1982) and Huang Yongyu (Huang Yung-yü, * 1924) set themselves the goal of making their socially critical works politically to act. Their expressionistic formal language is borrowed from the works of F. Masereel and Käthe Kollwitz.

In his famous Yan’an speech in 1942, Mao Zedong formulated two main areas of responsibility for art, according to which it should serve politics and be understandable for the masses of workers and peasants. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China (1949), art was completely politicized, and from then on, Russian-style socialist realism dominated painting and woodcut art. The artists experienced rigorous restrictions during the Cultural Revolution (1965 / 66–76), during which numerous cultural assets were destroyed, works of art were burned and all artistic activities were prohibited.

According to Mao Zedongs With death and the smashing of the »Gang of Four« (1976), the Chinese art scene gradually recovered. At the beginning of the new period, in the course of an attempt to cope with the cultural revolution, the »scar art« was created. The artists processed the humiliations and injuries suffered during the Cultural Revolution in abstract compositions. With the economic opening at the end of the 1970s, there was an unprecedented pluralism of styles. In addition to the official art academies, an art scene developed that worked relatively free from the art doctrine of the communist party. In 1979/80 the artists of the »Sterngruppe« (Xingxing huahui) organized exhibitions of experimental art in Beijing, thereby manifesting their avant-garde outsider position. The most important artists in this group are counted Ma Desheng (Ma Tesheng, * 1952), who renewed figural ink painting, and Wang Keping (Wang K’e-p’ing, * 1949), who caused a sensation with his satirical Mao portraits.

As a result of the repressive campaign to combat “intellectual pollution” from 1982-84, many avant-garde artists emigrated to the West, including Wang Keping and the action artist Huang Yongping (Huang Yung-p’ing, * 1954), one of the most prominent members of the “Xiamen-Dada” group, which sought to combine Zen Buddhism and Dadaimus. Her position has now been filled by a younger generation of artists known as the “New Art Movement 85” (85 Meishu yundong). Their oppositional stance towards the official art scene was even more radical than that of the »Sterngruppe« and sometimes even tended towards iconoclasm. Artists like Wang Guangyi (Wang Kuang-i, * 1956) and Wu Shanzhuan (Wu Shan-chuan, * 1960) Relentlessly demystified established political icons in their works. Gu Wenda (Ku Wen-ta, * 1955) and Xu Bing (Hsü Ping, * 1955) dismantled the Chinese script in installations. However, due to repeated restrictions imposed by politics, these two artists also left China at the end of the 1980s in order to develop artistically more freely in the West. This group also includes the installation artist Cai Guoqiang (Tsai Kuo-ch’iang, * 1957), who first went to Japan and then emigrated to the USA.

The bloody suppression of the student democracy movement on Tiananmen Square in Beijing (1989) put an end to the idealism and enthusiasm that shaped the art of the 1980s. The iconoclastic tendencies typical of the “New Art Movement 85” were transformed into a sarcasm that merged into two new art movements: “Cynical Realism” and “Political Pop Art”. By means of a subtle, realistic representation, the representatives of these trends express their deeply felt boredom in relation to life with its senselessness and absurdity. Internationally known are Fang Lijun (Fang Li-chün, * 1964), whose trademarks are the unspeakably bored, yawning bald heads, and Liu Wei (Liu Wei, * 1963) who appears in public with satirical portraits of relatives and soldiers of the People’s Army with ugly adhesions and stupid faces. Inspired by American pop art, v. a. by A. Warhol, the Chinese pop art artists combine symbols of communist ideology with objects of consumer society such as company and advertising logos (including Wang Guangyi), textile patterns (including Yu Youhan [Yü You-han], * 1943), folklore figures and legends (including Liu Dahong [Liu Ta-hong], * 1962).

In the early 1990s, Chinese artists’ interest in photography and video as a means of expression grew rapidly in a short space of time. Zhu Jia (Chu Chia, * 1963), Zhang Peili (Chang P’ei-li, * 1957), Wang Jianwei (Wang Chien-wei, * 1958), Feng Mengbo (Fong Mong-bo, * 1966), Zhang Huan (Chang Huan, * 1965) et al. distance themselves from ideological and political trends and watch the massive transformation of Chinese society in their installations and performances, often with critical expressiveness.

Chinese Modern Arts