Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Lv Peng and His Chinese Art History in Operation, since 1986

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Lv Peng and His Chinese Art History in Operation, since 1986

Article excerpt

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Contemporary Chinese art has gained significant attention both internationally and domestically. Its burgeoning market is supported by not only capital investments but also through academic involvement.

Lv Peng (..., 1956-) - the curator of the first Guangzhou Biennale - started publishing articles on art as early as the 1980s. He enthusiastically wrote many contemporary art history books, such as A History of Chinese Modern Art, 1979-1989 (co-authored with Yi Dan, 1992), Nineties Art China: 1990-1999 (2000), Fragmented Reality: Contemporary Art in 21st-Century China (2010). However, his strategy of brisk documenting, categorising and theorising recent art history casts a shadow of doubt on the seriousness and insightfulness of his accounts: could such a personal and immediate response to the contemporary art world be trusted? One might even go as far as to ask whether personal judgment is quintessential to Chinese art historiography, or if it is merely the reflection of unseen forces, like politics and economics, that operate behind the scenes of visual culture?

To read, understand, evaluate and criticise Lv Peng's scholarship, it is necessary to know the role he has played in operating and promoting Chinese art and its history. In the West, since Vasari, many art historians proposed various ways of interpreting art. Their methods could be classified according to their ground-breaking approaches, be it formal analysis, iconography, semiotics, or biography. However, relatively less attention has been paid to understanding the social conditions in which art historians themselves operated. Biographical analysis could be of vital significance with regards to how art researchers formulate systems of dealing with specific case studies.

This article will examine Lv Peng's art history methods and approaches chronologically, from the 1980s to the present, and will explore three facets of his career. Firstly, it will look at how Lv Peng started his career in the 1980s as an art historian and made efforts to break away from the previously established totalitarian system, especially in writing the history of the '85 New Wave; secondly, in the 1990s, it will touch on how Lv Peng transferred art marketing into academia and formulated a method of curating art as a crucial way of writing its history; thirdly, this paper will also examine the criticisms made against Lv Peng's art historical approach, and discuss the idiosyncrasy of his writing by interpreting it from another angle.

The rupture and recapture of art historiography

China is most proud of its 4,000 year of uninterrupted history. Modern history since the First Opium War (1839-42) in China is commonly accepted as its most tragic, unbearable and unforgettable period. It could be suggested that the Chinese intelligentsia followed the arch of global imperial social progress that had been dominated by the West, and art historiography (as part of this superstructure) had inevitably fallen into the 'East Transition of Western Culture' (...).1

Meanwhile, with globalisation, the conventional (indigenous) Chinese art history encountered challenges and opportunities simultaneously.2 Unfortunately, both traditional and highly westernised art historiographical developments3 were severely interrupted by the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) when art functioned merely as a tool for propaganda, and art history was reduced to sloganeering. Official art journals, magazines and newspapers were suspended, and harsh censorship eventually suppressed any critical ideas.

Chinese who were born between the 1950s and 1960s received extremely poor elementary education, and today, the most influential contemporary Chinese artists (zhong guo dang dai yi shu jia) as well as art historians belong to that 'lost generation'. Under these circumstances, the question of how Chinese art was studied and how it became a significant part of world art history is often mythologised. …

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