CULTURE: All Roads Lead to China; VISUAL ARTS Terry Grimley Struggles with Work from China and California from the Frank Cohen Collection
Byline: Terry Grimley
All roads seem to lead to China at the moment. In the course of two days recently I was hearing about it at three contrasting exhibition openings on a Wolverhampton industrial estate, at Compton Verney and on Birmingham's Ladypool Road.
The idea has been around for a while that China is an awakening giant in world art, as in so many other walks of life. In the last couple of years Sothebys and Christies have sold more than pounds 100 million pounds worth of contemporary Asian - mainly Chinese - art and some of the most hyped artists are becoming extremely rich celebrities. The best known of them, Zhang Xiaogang, has eight paintings in the Saatchi collection.
Frank Cohen, the Manchester-based collector who has opened a showcase for his collection at Four Ashes, near Wolverhampton, has also been buying Chinese art in a big way.
Time Difference, the second selection from Cohen's collection made by curator David Thorp - himself a leading expert on new Chinese art - juxtaposes Chinese painting with recent sculpture from Los Angeles. The exhibition's title reflects the fact that these very different art centres are separated by the Pacific.
My first glimpse of contemporary Chinese painting came in a show at MAC a few years ago, and while I don't recall if any of the same artists were in that show the combination of figurative painting and heroic scale seems broadly familiar.
Until recently it would have been assumed that contemporary artists in China would naturally be in conflict, or at least tension, with their government.
Now it seems there are plans for a state-funded network of new museums across the country to show off their work.
All the painters here show the self-confidence to work on a monumental scale, albeit sometimes with a calculated banality of subject matter, as in Liu Ye's huge International Blue or Feng Zhengjie's China 2005 No 73, a huge stylised portrait of a beautiful and evidently fashionconscious young woman.
Zeng Fanzhi is represented by three large full-length portraits, including a self-portrait in which he shows himself, wearing a long leather coat and gazing out from a hilltop, shown from the kind of low angle used to bestow gravitas on generals or political leaders.
Xiao Bo's Moscow gives a broad painterly treatment to black-and-white newsreel footage of Chairman Mao meeting Krushchev, while in his Beauty's Gone Li Qing takes a scene from the television coverage of Princess Diana's funeral, painting it twice with minor differences. …