Magazine article Artforum International

"Transparence, Opacite?"

Magazine article Artforum International

"Transparence, Opacite?"

Article excerpt

Caution: An exhibition of fourteen contemporary Chinese artists curated by a French philosopher specializing in Byzantine doctrines on the icon is likely to be about something more than the works presented. Indeed, the key element of the title "Transparence, opacite?" is neither "transparency" nor "opaqueness," but the question mark at the end. And the questions in question, as philosopher-curator Marie-Jose Mondzain explains in the remarkable travelogue that serves as catalogue essay, have to do with what is physically, perceptually lacking in the individual works themselves: a succession of spaces, going from what she calls the traditional "space of readability and visibility" in Chinese culture to the potential space of a civil society in the making, via the contemporary space of the visual arts.

The 126 works on show--paintings, lithographs, silk screens, collages, photographs--were eclectic and uneven, but the often jarring contrasts of these different artistic spaces multiply the question marks within that other space which is the Western viewer's mindset, With the exception of Hong Hao, seen in the 1998 traveling exhibition "Inside Out: New Chinese Art," the rising stars of China's international avant-garde were conspicuously absent. ("They're imitating the most limited of the Western artists--the ones who are in the grip of the market," maintains Mondzain.) Rather, the selection included diverse independents-art teachers, amateurs, "outsiders"--plus one professional photographer and his amateur "disciple," as well as one photojournalist.

The issues of identity, collective and individual, traditional and modern, Eastern and Western, so often evoked in discussions of the new, post-Tiannanmen, postliberalization Chinese art, were easily recognizable in the subjects and styles of the works themselves. But Mondzain's focus is the how rather than the what, the acts of seeing and showing rather than what is seen or shown. …

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