Gu Dexin: Diplomatic Residence Compound

By Jia, Li | Artforum International, April 2017 | Go to article overview

Gu Dexin: Diplomatic Residence Compound


Jia, Li, Artforum International


Gu Dexin

DIPLOMATIC RESIDENCE COMPOUND

The exhibition "Gu Dexin 1994-02-04" at Beijing's Diplomatic Residence Compound excavated and assembled a more than twenty-yearold artwork by Gu Dexin, a radical, self-taught artist and founding member of Beijing's New Measurement Group in 1988. An installation made of metal pipes, models of human body parts, and light fixtures, the work actually had never before been realized. When assembled, the apparatus condenses steam: Droplets of liquid drip from the pipes into a model of an open mouth placed on the floor. After thoroughly searching Gu's archive for more information about this piece, the curators could find only a single sketch, published in the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper on February 4, 1994.

In China in the mid-'90s, it was general knowledge that if a work of contemporary art was not displayed in a public exhibition, in a sense it never existed; a piece that was not viewed officially could not be written into art history. This method of historiography is reaffirmed and reinforced by Wu Hung's recent publication, An Exhibition about Exhibitions: Displaying Experimental Art in the 1990s (2016), which accompanied a show of the same name. In fact, by the late '90s, contemporary Chinese art practice revolved around the right to organize and present exhibitions in public spaces, as well as the negotiations, conflicts, and challenges that attended these events. In turn, these exhibitions generated a kind of collective memory via their accompanying systems of published criticism and information dissemination.

However, this exhibition suggested an alternative, or even opposite, interpretation--one that offered a chance to reread contemporary Chinese art history. First, the site has a unique history. The Diplomatic Residence Compound at Jianguomen was one of the most important locations for gongyu yisbu, or "apartment art," a term forged by Gao Minglu to refer to certain self-organized art events practiced and viewed within an exclusive circle from the mid-'80s through the late '90s. Due to the lack of exhibition spaces and the fact that the legitimacy of contemporary art was still called into question at that time, the public showcasing of contemporary artworks was highly selective and usually subject to government censorship. Therefore, many private locations, such as homes and offices, were appropriated by artists and critics as alternative venues for viewing contemporary art. More importantly, as the country began to experience a burgeoning economy and rapidly increasing importance in the global art market, Chinese art was suddenly immersed in the illusive ecstasy of its own public "visibility." The promise of appearing on a broader, international stage and the accompanying market fever enticed the once avant-garde to descend into self-replication, branding, and the mass production of Political Pop and Gaudy Art (which enjoyed the most commercial success). …

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