Academic journal article China Perspectives

Art Contemporain. Pékin En 11 Parcours (Contemporary Art in Beijing through 11 Trips)

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Art Contemporain. Pékin En 11 Parcours (Contemporary Art in Beijing through 11 Trips)

Article excerpt

Anny Lazarus and Laurent Septier, Art contemporain. Pékin en 11 parcours (Contemporary art in Beijing through 11 trips), Marseille, Images En Manoeuvres Éditions, 2010, 287 pages.

This highly useful work is a concise compendium of Chinese contemporary art. It has two parts: one focusing on the historical and cultural bases of Chinese contemporary art, and the other devoted to Beijing, where it is most active and diversified. This is as yet the only practical guide in French offering an unprecedented selection of places and trips. Despite the book's awkward construction (the format as well as the binding make for uncomfortable reading), its list of the capital's most important galleries is exhaustive. Their names in Chinese characters and access facilities are clearly set out (p. 95). Brief accounts of the founders and their orientations in artistic programming are given. It is striking to note the extraordinary profusion of exhibition venues. Of course there are the galleries (at Dashanzi, the former military equipment factory, and at Caochangdi), but also foundations, research and archival centres at sponsoring bodies, and/or major scientific institutions (and noted people such as Pearl Lam, Guy and Myriam Ullens, Gao Minglu, Ai Weiwei (1)...), private museums, artists' workshops, and residences dedicated to hosting foreign multimedia artists. Not long ago threatened with expulsion, these massive centres of contemporary art in eastern Beijing (near the international airport) now draw the regime's solicitations. President Hu Jintao has included the promotion of these centres in his vision for developing "a harmonious society."

There have been few studies so far on this complex phenomenon of rehabilitating former industrial wastelands into gleaming and sophisticated venues for global exchanges in China. The exceptions are the studies by Hermance de La Bastide (2) (Sciences Po Paris) and Wu Hung (3) (University of Chicago). No doubt it would have been unwieldy to include these references in the book, but the initiative of Anny Lazarus and Laurent Septier is praiseworthy for having compiled an exhaustive list of Internet sites that would help keep tabs on artistic events in the capital's outer zones. An historical account of Chinese contemporary art in the book's first part helps those unfamiliar with it to learn of the multiplicity of visual arts that proliferated following the reforms ushered in by Deng Xiaoping. Previously unpublished translations on the system of fine arts and the regime's censorship notify the readers of an interpretation of China's artistic scene that they might - rightly or wrongly - deem liberal (p. 30). Finally, the mostly new illustrations testify to commendable documentation research.

Some reservations nevertheless: neither the artists' names nor the titles of their works are given in Chinese characters. China's historic and political background is set out in sometimes dismissive argumentation: No, Beijing was not by any yardstick the only city where "the modern destiny of China and of communism played out with the May Fourth Movement of 1919" (p. …

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