Issue No. 91(2014)
Theme: ” Return in the Future “- Study on the Possibilities of Contemporary Chinese Art
Academic Host: Wang Chunchen
A.T: Xu Bing, Su Xinping, Wang Huangsheng, Ji Zi, Liu Lining, Zhou Qinshan, Pei Li, Li Junhu, Dong Jun, Wang Yang, Tian Bo
A.N: Hong Yao, Zhu Jianzhong, Mei Yi, Zhou Taiyu, Jin Guoming
中国的当代艺术实践能否成为一种学术研究，不仅仅看有多少展览在做，更重要的是它在学术建制上有无成立、学术研究出版有无规划、学术机构有无人员开展研究。从这个角度看，以国际为例，以往是单个展览多，但多在画廊、文化中心等非美术馆空间展出为主，这些都是现象的呈现，还不是历史与学术的研究。只有当事物发展到足够的程度，也充分显现了它的内涵与丰富性之后，才会迎来全面的学术性研究。最近几年在国际上的情况是：2011年英国考陶德艺术学院（Courtauld）成立中国当代艺术研究生项目（2013年改称亚洲当代艺术）；2012年英国泰特美术馆成立亚太艺术研究中心，将亚洲作为一个新的艺术发展区域来研究，其中的中国也是重点之一；2013年美国古根海姆美术馆设立中国艺术策展人；2013年纽约大都会博物馆举办了“水墨的艺术”展，2014年11月古根海姆美术馆将举办中国艺术家个展，多个国际的美术馆举办了或计划举办中国的当代艺术研究展，如德国在筹办2015年中国当代艺术在七个美术馆的联展，2015年比利时也在筹办中国当代艺术展。在出版上，2014年英国诺丁汉大学出版《中国当代艺术》学刊（Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art），这是世界上第一份以当代中国的艺术为学术研究的学刊，德国最大的学术出版社Springer也将出版“中国当代艺术系列丛书”，世界上多个大学美术史专业的学生以写作中国当代艺术为题的论文也越来越多等等。这些局面的形成与关注是与全球的整体艺术发展有关的，不独独是中国一国的现象，但对于中国的关注也还是有了些特殊的意味，毕竟中国是一个不一样的国家。国际上这种关注从20世纪的最后20年就开始了，各种语言的出版物不断出版，特别是研究性著作逐渐多了起来，但是这个领域依然是一个新的领域，需要耕耘的地方非常多。
从上述的全球美术史趋势、美术史模式到一种价值观，我们是不是应该这样来思考：今天的中国美术史无论从哪个角度讲，都是与全球美术史发展开始同步的一种美术史，有着相同的美术课题和针对性；如果过去的中国美术史有自己的特殊性轨迹和艺术语言，那么今天的中国艺术家要解决的艺术问题以及艺术与生活的关系是与西方或世界具有共同性的，甚至西方的艺术史问题也已经是中国艺术家要回应的问题，如果这样来观察和接受，那么，我们才能识别并且发现中国的新一代艺术家已经把自己的艺术观念和手法融进全球的艺术语言和艺术观念里了，这已经是事实，而且是越来越明确的事实。只是我们一直不予接受，一直以过度的意识形态化认识来拒斥这种事实。历史的中国美术史肯定是纯粹的中国美术史，而今天的中国美术史则是既包容了原有形态与语言的美术史，也是接纳了世界艺术语言与历史的全面美术史（total art history）。就像历史上，佛教是外来的文化，但中国经过长达千年的学习、融合，最终完全将之融为中国自己的文化传统，同样，今天的西方艺术和非西方的其他艺术在中国的艺术学习与融合的历史洪流中，也终将是中国自己的艺术传统，所以，以完全的同步的文化视野来看待这一个多世纪来的中国学习外来艺术与改造自身传统艺术，是在再造中国的新的艺术历史。如现代主义艺术所回应的问题，中国的艺术家以前是视为外在的东西，而现在已经自然地成为艺术家运用的手段和面对的课题。如当代的很多艺术议题，已经不外在于中国艺术家的理解和运用，而且善加创造使用，诸多非艺术、非中国的指责并没有意识到它们的发展意义。
Whether contemporary Chinese artistic practice can become an academic research not only depends on how many exhibitions are being curated, but also on whether they can establish an academic system, whether they have any plan for publishing academic papers, and whether they have professionals focusing on researches in academic institutions. Internationally speaking, the larger number of individual exhibitions were usually held in spaces other than art museums previously, such as galleries and culture centers, so they only demonstrated some kind of phenomena, instead of historical or academic studies. Only when a subject matter develops to a certain degree, sufficient to demonstrate its richness and profoundness, the comprehensive academic researches on it will be initiated. In recent years, the British Courtauld Institute of Art carried out a Contemporary Chinese Art Graduate Program in 2011 (renamed as Contemporary Asian Art in 2013); the Tate Britain Art Museum established the Asia-Pacific Art Research Center in 2012, focusing Asia as a new art development area, including China–one of the focal points; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in America organized Chinese art curators in 2013; The Metropolitan Museum of Art held the “Ink and Wash Art Exhibition” in 2013; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum will hold solo exhibitions for Chinese artists in November 2014; and many international art museums have already or are planning to hold research exhibitions of contemporary Chinese art, including the group exhibitions of contemporary Chinese art to be held in Germany in 2015 and the contemporary Chinese art exhibition under preparation to be launched in Belgium in 2015. As for publications, the University of Nottingham published the Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art in 2014, which is the first professional journal specializing in academic research on contemporary Chinese art; Springer, the biggest academic publishing house in Germany will also publish the “Contemporary Chinese Art Series”; together with more and more art history majors from different universities all over the world focused on contemporary Chinese art in their dissertations. The situation and concern were arisen from the global art development, so they are not particular in China. However, the worldwide concern to China is somewhat special, since China is a country quite different from others. The worldwide concern was initiated from the last 20 years in the previous century, as publications in different languages came out one after another, especially research works. But still, this is a new field, which needs long term ploughing and weeding.
As a matter of fact, for the serious scholars focusing on Chinese history and contemporary society both at home and abroad, more attention were paid to look at current Chinese art from outside of the bubblized and mediumized art market, with the expectation to learn and understand the art history of a totally different country in the globalized contemporary context and cultural interactions. After all, the social changes today in China is an important historical event in the turn from the 20th century to the 21st century. Art in this period consequently became the subject matter of observation and research, with why it was born in this way and what cultural and social meanings it has certainly remain as the focus of research. This is a historical and cultural process under movement, so nothing can be concluded and finalized. Everything is rapidly developing and changing, of course is being discussed and questioned at the same moment.
As for art, it is not only a scene or phenomenon. The Chinese art history from 1980s is called as “contemporary art” in today’ s academic terms. But what is the similarity or difference between the “contemporary art” here and that in international context? How to systemize Chinese art if it is not named as “contemporary art?” And whether it can truly establish research on art history and whether it can leave something for future history are all what we need to face and discuss. The biggest issues behind it include: 1. Whether the narrative framework of western art history can be used as the reference for discussion on the development of modern and contemporary Chinese art? 2. What is Chinese way of narration? Or whether traditional Chinese culture can be used as the narrative framework? For the second question, more and more people called for or believed in a Chinese way as Chinese economy develops and the postcolonialism exerts influence. These two issues are communicating with and conflicting with each other. Actually, no matter which way is used, only the one basing on Chinese history and reality is the realistic method.
But in China, the method became unclarified due to the above-mentioned two issues, leading to contemporary Chinese art’ s stumbling for the correct direction in the endless mist and inevitable re-identification of its value and path through discussions over the two issues and methods. In recent years, there are many criticisms against contemporary Chinese art. Besides the over-commercialization, the criticisms focused on its independent artistic language or form, which is the foundation of art history and starting point of academic research. This is what we are concerning about. Today along with the “globalization” (The contradictory cultural position arisen from the reality recurred), the topic and discussion of “global art history” were initiated, which further complicated the research and narration of contemporary Chinese art history, and almost blurred its already-identified direction.
The nearly 30-year development of Chinese art has produced many research literature and publications, and even increasingly more in the international academic world. But, the corresponding fundamental literature and comprehensive researches are still insufficient, even imbalanced in terms of the research object and field. The key issue is whether we can go beyond the simple observation of works and the limitation of visual determinism, as well as enter into the historical and realistic context and study on those whys and possibilities of contemporary Chinese art in a long period of time with our sensitivity, instead of dogmatically judging and imposing a theoretic title on it on the basis of a pure visual observation. In this regard, several aspects should be paid attention:
Firstly, whether a modern Chinese art history can be produced in the way of classic modern western art history? Without the modern art history, how come the contemporary art history? Such a question inevitably involves in the transformation of language media in modernistic art history, its contemporary continuity and the intervention of new aesthetics. Without the corresponding causes and effects, where can the contemporary art be established? Secondly, what is modern Chinese art history? What is its main thread and unremitting focus? Obviously, its tasks and topics are totally different from those of modern western art history in the same period. In a sense, it is the western classical and traditional art reappeared in China, being followed by Chinese people. In vision and artistic idea, it seems as if “being left behind” by western modern art. How to look at it and how to seek for independent modern Chinese art in terms of art language? In modern and contemporary China, it is not without such kind of exploration and pursuit after modern art, but it is not historically true if we say it has formed a complete chain and idea; Can the individual case which does not meet the historical idea be considered as the main structure of modern art history? Without identifying the Chinese artistic value in the 20th century, we cannot come back to the narration of art history, since we will ignore or forget many artistic actions and practices which truly happened there.
A single Chinese art history from modern to contemporary times does not constitute a complete art history. For the period from the 20th to the 21st century, we need to solve the problem of authenticity in writing, in order to record the history of Chinese artists’ struggling to prove their self-worth, instead of the history of formalistic development and aesthetic pursuit. Otherwise, it will be an one-sided history without authenticity and artists. When the Avant-Garde art staged on the western theater in the disguise of aesthetics, we can fully understand its political nature; when the formalism became isomorphic with the political nature, aesthetic politics can become an outline of modern history; and when modern Chinese democracy became the value proposition, there should be the isomorphism of art. It is true that currently there is not a self-made modern art history. Although there are some writings on different medium, the authenticity of art and human nature are not sufficient. Even if different versions of modern art history have been or are being published, more than a few are influenced and intervened by many different ideologies. An art history which can demonstrate modern Chinese spirit can make a true modern Chinese art history. This is just our expectation.
Today China is composing the art history to prove her own existence and meaning. The pattern may be the hybrid of its special society and complicated history. It is to outline the true path of Chinese art in the recent 100 years, and to pave the way for future art history and demonstrate the true modern spirit. With the new spiritual strength in the new era, it proves the value and meaning of art. Not recording and analyzing Chinese art stories and endings from this perspective cannot grasp the true meaning of the stories, then with others’ criticism, modern and contemporary Chinese art can be easily concluded, and the truly backboned and humanistic art filled with ideas and experiments can be misinterpreted with the narrow-minded opinions. This is a time to restore and recreate human nature. Without comprehending, exploring and reflecting on the lost humanistic context, how can we deeply feel the historical sufferings in modern China? Without truly understanding the heavy history of modern Chinese society, how can the writings last to the future?
I would say that Chinese artists in those periods have been learning and developing always. They were not having nothing at all: The shortage of material perfectly inspired their passion and desire for creation; The tense social politics pushed them to introspect themselves, again and again triggered those vigorous artists’ feeling towards life and art. Their desires to learn and use different medium became stronger than anytime in the past. This was the openness achieved after profound contemplation on tradition, so they did not refuse any media and method which can be used to express their thinking and feeling. The contents they wanted to express covered almost all the real and cultural topics. No matter being senior artists or junior artists, everybody had their own life experience towards real and historical culture. Although being different in strength and expression, the experience was internally cast into Chinese artists’ life experience gained in art field. They externalized into exploration into philosophy, introspection on culture, record of reality, imagination of future, discussion over possibility and expectation to the grand historical scene. Certainly, the sense of frustration always tortured them.
Contemporary Chinese art experienced numerous ups and downs, blames and criticisms in the more than 30 years of development to today’ s widely accepted artistic attitude and understanding from known only to a small group of people. Now more and more artist groups actively aim at “contemporary art’ in creation, especially among younger generation artists, it has almost become an icon. With the observation on contemporary Chinese art after 2008, the voice damping down the contemporary art will go contrary to the future trend. Then what are the reasons for us to doubt about the historical process? Shouldn’ t we introspect the problems which have been hiding in people’ s subconsciousness? The 1980s was a time for introspection, so the purity of art at that time was visible, the strength and belief to pursue after authenticity were touching; But when the history was flushed to the market in 1990s, where the authentic art should take its root? If not going deep to bigger concept of spirit, the said art can hardly be reduced to a pure showoff of skills. Today, the diversity of art also became higher than anytime in the past, but only the most individualized, modern and creative art can stand out in the vision of research.
From the said trend of global art history, pattern of art history to a kind of value, shall we consider the issue in this way: Today’ s Chinese art history is the kind synchronizing with the development of global art history, no matter from which perspective. They have the same topics and targets; Although Chinese art history in the past has its own special path and art language, the artistic issues to be addressed by today’ s Chinese artists, and the relationship between life and art are just same as those in western world or the whole world. Even, the problems in western art history are already the problems which need to be solved by Chinese artists. If observing and accepting in this way, we can realize and find that the new generation artists in China have already harmonized their artistic concept and skills into the global art language and concept. This is not only the fact, but the gradually confirmed fact. It is us that did not readily accept, and refused to recognize the fact with the over-ideologicalized cognition. The Chinese art history in the past is purely art history of China, but today’ s Chinese art history is a total art history which not only include the original form and language, but also the world’ s art language and history. Just like in history, Buddhism came from foreign culture. But through thousands of years of learning and integration, it eventually became Chinese culture and tradition. Similarly, today’ s western art and non-western arts are being learned and harmonized into Chinese history, and will become a part of Chinese art tradition. Therefore, to study foreign art and update traditional Chinese art in the recent one century are to rewrite Chinese art history, from the perspective of completely synchronized culture. E.g. The questions answered by modernistic art were considered as something external by Chinese artists, but now they are means used and topics faced by Chinese artists; many contemporary artistic topics are no longer excluded from Chinese artists’ comprehension and utilization, but perfectly innovated and used by them. Many non-artistic and non-Chinese criticisms have not realized the significance of their development.
No matter being Chinese or international scholar, nobody should exclude China from understanding and studying on modern and contemporary Chinese art history. Issues can be specific to different situations, but artistic awareness and subject matters should be similar. Even if being different, it is different in space, not in time. For many times in the art field, there is the danger to lose the sensitivity in thinking. The marketization of art almost goes beyond the theory and criticisms. Taking an open vision in the face of future, the “liberal thinking” needs to be re-emphasized, since contemporary art in form has already become the symbol and object of liberal thinking. Today’ s China not only needs material development, but more importantly, the liberation of thinking.
What is the future direction of contemporary Chinese art? It cannot be determined by academic research, but by Chinese artists’ thinking in practice. The artists we mentioned here are from a contemporary Chinese art exhibition curated by Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum. The artists, from one side, represented a few generations of Chinese artists’ persistent struggle and spiritual pursuit, with their natural and philosophical thinking in ink and wash, cultural icons, and contemporary alienation of historical path; It includes the grand scenery in sudden social change, sentiment of reality, diversity and helplessness in front of reality, as well as imagination and vision for future. The cruel reality fully revealed the profound history, tough and desolate life, but they still carefully reproduced the transient thinking in the passing days. If not grieving over the miseries, they were questioning themselves in heart.
Academic research is just to consider and demonstrate the thinking, to record and analyze history. Although criticisms in theoretic research interacts with artistic practice, what truly directs the practice is the social situation in the era, including political impact and relevance, change in cultural concept. Only through reviewing Chinese art developed in those facts, we can see the changed China.