Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Deconstructing GAO Minglu: Critical Reflections on Contemporaneity and Associated Exceptionalist Readings of Contemporary Chinese Art

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Deconstructing GAO Minglu: Critical Reflections on Contemporaneity and Associated Exceptionalist Readings of Contemporary Chinese Art

Article excerpt

Introduction

The term 'contemporary Chinese art' is now used widely in Anglophone contexts to denote various forms of avant-garde, experimental and museum-based visual art produced as part of the liberalization of culture that has taken place within the People's Republic of China (PRC) following the ending of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 and the subsequent confirmation of Deng Xiaoping's programme of economic and social reforms at the XI Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party in December 1978. Since its inception during the late 1970s, contemporary Chinese art has been characterized by an often conspicuous combining of images, attitudes and techniques appropriated from western(ized) modernist and international postmodernist art with aspects of autochthonous Chinese cultural thought and practice. Within the context of an international art world still informed strongly by poststructuralist thinking and practice, contemporary Chinese art is consequently considered to be a localized variant of postmodernism whose hybridizing of differing cultural outlooks/modes of production has the potential to act as a locus for the critical deconstruction of supposedly authoritative meanings-not least, essentialist conceptualizations of national-cultural identity used to underpin colonialist-imperialist relations of dominance. In stark contrast, within mainland China there is a widely held and durable belief in the existence of an essential, spatially bounded, Chinese national-cultural identity as well as in the potential manifestation of that identity through indigenous cultural practices including those associated with contemporary Chinese art.

It is important to note that the dominant, starkly exceptionalist view of culture within mainland China does not extend authoritatively to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Because of, in the case of Hong Kong/Macau, the legacy of European colonialism and, in the case of Taiwan, political independence and strong US political influence, there has been within those spaces since the 1990s sustained support for the pluralistic values of contemporary liberal democracy. Consider, for example, Taiwan's adoption of multi-culturalism as a dominant state discourse following the lifting of martial law and the advent of democracy there in 1987.1 The critique of Chinese exceptionalism advanced here should therefore not be interpreted as one informed by a generalizing/stereotyping view of Chinese cultural attitudes, but instead as one focused on particular discursive conditions prevalent within mainland China.

These diverse qualifications notwithstanding , contemporary Chinese art must be seen as a strongly contested term whose possible significance varies between two mutually resistant points of view: one that upholds a continuing belief in the existence of an essential, spatially bounded, Chinese national cultural identity as well as in the potential manifestation of that identity through indigenous cultural practices; and another that has suspended belief in the existence of essential states of being in light of the pervasively unsettling vision of linguistic signification opened up by the theory and practice of deconstruction. Any searching attempt to interpret contemporary Chinese art therefore raises serious ethical/political questions that, on the face of it, press us to make a choice between what might be termed authoritarian and counter-authoritarian perspectives. From an established poststructuralistpostmodernist point of view, this choice would appear to be, in principle at least, a relatively simple one to make. If we wish to remain consistent with a critical postmodernist/post-colonialist standpoint then we must continue to align ourselves with deconstructivism and its immanent critique of authoritarianism. On closer inspection, however, that choice is not so clear-cut. As Craig Clunas has argued , writing with reference to the work of the Chinese film and video installation artist Yang Fudong, the question of whether we choose to emphasize the 'Chineseness' or the globalized nature of contemporary Chinese art is a 'fundamentally political' one that 'has no easy or definitive answer'. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.