Sunday, September 09, 2007

Art Boom in China Has Ripples Over Here, NYTimes

WITH its tainted exports and crackdowns on the press, China has lately been exposing the dark side of the Asian boom. Yet the Chinese contemporary-art industry continues to thrive, as museums and art districts sprout overnight, and Western dealers join the gold rush by adding Chinese artists to their rosters and opening spaces in Beijing.

So far New Yorkers may wonder what all the fuss is about. Apart from a few major big-bang events, like “Inside Out: New Chinese Art” at the Asia Society and P.S. 1 in 1998 and a record-setting Sotheby’s auction in 2006, contemporary Chinese work has only had a spotty showing here. We don’t see a lot of it, and most of what we do see seems polished and clever but slight.

If the only way to gain any real sense of what’s happening is to visit China itself, the coming art season does offer some at-home options. Several artists from that Asia Society-P.S. 1 show are now international stars, and they are being rewarded with midcareer museum surveys.

One, Cai Guo-Qiang, best known in New York for the choreographed fireworks display he launched over Central Park in 2003, will have a solo show at the Guggenheim Museum in early 2008. The Central Park work was sabotaged by bad weather, but Mr. Cai is the real deal as a creative force. Well aware of the nuances embedded in terms like Chinese and Western, he is, at his best, one of the most exciting figures around.

Another “Inside/Out” alumnus, Zhang Huan, opened the fall season at the Asia Society on Thursday with a solo show. Mr. Zhang was a member of Beijing’s art underground in the 1990s, living in the squatter slum there called the East Village. Initially his art took the form of endurance-test performances focused on his own nude body. More recently he has been making monumental sculptures and some beautiful drawings.

The work of two of China’s most ambitious young film and video artists, Cai Fei and Yang Fudong, will appear side by side in “Business as Usual” at the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe, beginning Sept. 15. Both artists, though in very different ways, take their country’s new cultural revolution, the Bourgeois Sublime, as their theme.

Finally, China as seen by the West is the subject of two exhibitions. “Bridging East and West: The Chinese Diaspora and Lin Yutang,” opening Sept. 15 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will feature work by 20th-century artists who were born in China but spent much of their career in the United States. And “Eastern Standard: Western Artists in China,” opening in January at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Mass., will present a view of modernizing China from the viewpoint of Western artists. That perspective can’t help but be complex, with many lights and shadows.


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