A Cultural Revolution

A portfolio of significant works from China's contemporary-art boom
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Slideshow: "Visionaries From the New China"

Art scholar and curator Britta Erickson comments on works by China's most significant contemporary artists.

Contemporary Chinese art is attracting widespread international interest, thanks to the extraordinary prices being paid at auction. Last November, in Hong Kong, Zhang Xiaogang’s Tiananmen Square (1993) sold for $2.3 million, and Liu Xiaodong’s Three Gorges: Newly Displaced Population (2004) sold for more than $2.7 million.

The headline-grabbing sales have been dominated by a handful of Beijing-based painters whose works have a signature look easily recognizable as Chinese. Museums worldwide, though, are beginning to take a much broader interest in the Chinese art scene, exhibiting artists working in a variety of media, from ink painting and sculpture to installations and performance art. Major solo exhibitions—such as those of Huang Yong Ping at Minnesota’s Walker Art Center, Cai Guo-Qiang at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Zhou Tiehai at Tokyo’s Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, and Yang Fudong at the Kunsthalle Vienna—show an increasing appreciation of the breadth of the work being created in China and provide evidence of the rapid integration of Chinese artists into the international art arena.

Photo
MY FUTURE IS NOT A DREAM 02, 2006,
Digital C-print, 47 x 59 in
Cao Fei (born 1978) is one of several innovative young artists to come out of the Pearl River Delta, one of China’s economic and manufacturing powerhouses. Her photographs, videos, installations, and theater productions reflect the region’s manic development and its youth culture, heavily influenced by Japanese manga and “cosplay“ (dressing up as anime and manga characters). For her What Are You Doing Here? (2006), which compares the dreams of migrant workers at a lightbulb factory with the reality of their lives, the artist encouraged performances and installations by the workers in the factory space. She is one of four artists featured in the China pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale.
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Britta Erickson is an independent scholar and curator who focuses on contemporary Chinese art. She has taught at Stanford University and has curated major exhibitions at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, in Washington, D.C., and at Stanford's Cantor Arts Center.

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