Political pop art critiques consumerism
Retrospective from China avoids controversial pieces
Posted: September 11, 2013
Courtesy Photo: © Martin Polak
Statues, prints and paintings from China are on display at Prague Castle until the end of the month.
By Vit Bohal For the Post
Works by more than 40 contemporary Chinese artists comprise the Beijing-Prague (Peking-Praha) exhibition. Prague is, after Sophia and Bucharest, the third stop on the traveling exhibition's journey across Central and Eastern Europe. "Most people only know about the economic happenings in China. This way they can also learn about other aspects of the country and its people," curator Xin Dong Cheng said at the opening.
Some of the most celebrated contemporary artists of the People's Republic of China, among them Yue Minjun, and Zhang Xiaogang, are on the roster of contributing talent. The continuous post-Cold War boom of western investors into the Chinese art market has changed the rules of the game, and the Peking-Prague exhibition reflects that, as it tries to display pieces that resonate with the wider Western public.
Many of the art works tend toward political pop art, a style which has been a staple of the Chinese commercial art environment for years. Its aesthetic is certainly the most eye-catching for the European art-lover. The small sculpture called Welcome!Welcome by the Luo brothers. It shows a small, rose-cheeked infant lying on a pedestal of Coca-Cola cans-and is perhaps the most iconic piece of political pop art that the exhibition has to offer. And it truly is a tasty visual morsel for the Western audience - the combination of a standard icon of western consumerism, the Coke can, with the happy smile of a chubby Chinese infant creates a work of art that is at the same time a positive commentary on, and critique of, contemporary Chinese culture, a phenomenon most western spectators can indeed identify with.
When: To Sept. 29, daily 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Where: Imperial Stables, Prague Castle
Budding consumerism is a major theme of the exhibition. The Chinese economy has soared since the end of the Cold War, and the art reflects this trend. Most of the displayed political pop art exhibits this same ambivalent approach to consumerism - on the one hand critiquing its whitewashing effect on the traditional Chinese culture, exemplified by Chang Xugong's 2004 piece Dollars, but on the other hand praising its economic benefits.
Other works to keep an eye out for would be the cynical realism of Yue Minjun, whose oil paintings can be harrowing, as they often deal with trauma, execution, and the superficiality of interpersonal relationships in an image-conscious society. Yet, the exhibition shows only the simple, unobtrusive 1999 triptych The Red Flag.
This fact is unfortunately symptomatic of the general feel of the exhibition as a whole. The pieces seem as if picked out to give a general idea of what the commercial Chinese art scene is about, but they do not give a valid representation of either the more traditional, or the partisan and visceral aspects of contemporary Chinese art. You will find no scathing attacks on traditional Chinese values, such as can be seen in the art of Ai Weiwei, or in Minjun's more expressive pieces. The Chinese abstract painters, such as Gao Xingjian, who also won a Nobel Prize for literature, or Liu Guofu are also absent. Their minimalist style, reminiscent of the traditional Literati masters, would have provided a welcome counterpoint to the often exuberant and vivid art pieces that will be lining the walls of the Imperial Stables gallery for the rest of this month.
The curator Cheng said that he picked out the pieces from a personal and professional standpoint. "Had the exhibition been organized by someone else, it would've looked different," he added. The lively environment of the contemporary Chinese art scene is simply too voluminous to fit into a single exhibition. It is great that we can at least get a small, choice glimpse.
Vit Bohal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tags: China, pop art, consumerism.
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