In 1993, Achille Bonito Oliva showcased contemporary Chinese painting with “Passage to Orient” at the 45th Venice Biennale. Two decades later, in 2013, critic Lu Peng and curator Paolo De Grandis inaugurated “Passage to History” to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of China’s participation in the Biennale. Now, the unfolding of the third chapter in this significant narrative on the history of Chinese art takes place with “Global Painting: The New Chinese Painting”. Until April 14, 2024 Mart Museum in Rovereto will be the first venue for this ambitious international project. A decade later, Lu Peng and Paolo De Grandis, an exceptional curatorial duo, unveil to the public a new generation of Chinese artists through an exhibition that engages artworks in a dialogue of resonances and contrasts. The works by 24 painters, born between 1980 and 1995, mirror the artistic trends of contemporary China, viewed through the lens of globalization and interpreted within the critical and conceptual framework of “New Chinese Painting”. This exhibition maps the complexity and plurality of contemporary Chinese painting production, providing insight into the diverse artistic landscape for the audience.
Giorgia Cestaro: Thirty years after “Passage to Orient” (1993) and a decade after “Passage to History” (2013), how would you now answer to the questions raised by the first art exhibition in 1993? What is the contemporary significance of the “Orient,” which sparked so much discussion in the 1993 exhibition as a paradigm to be contrasted with the West, in artistic terms?
Lu Peng: To address this question, it is crucial to consider the historical context. In 1993, China was still grappling with the tragic events of the 1989 Tiananmen Square. There was a sense of despair and disorientation, questioning whether China would open up to the world. The shift began to take shape in 1992 when Deng Xiaoping, during his trip to the South of China, affirmed the national intention to steer China toward a market economy, drawing global attention to the nation. At that time, the so-called “Eastern” issue represented a Chinese concern, while the concept of “globalization” was not yet widespread or understood in China. “Passage to Orient”, with the term “Orient” explicitly stated in the title, intentionally brought China and Chinese issues back to the world stage for the first time since the ’80s. What seemed important at that time was not so much the dichotomy between East and West, but rather that socialist Eastern art began to emerge in major Western exhibitions, opening up to a globalized dialogue.
In what ways and where does the New Chinese Painting stand in relation to the positions of the 1985″New Wave Movement”, considering the national cultural strategy in China?
Lu Peng: I coined the term “New Painting” to identify Chinese pictorial art that emerged in the early 1990s, characterized by the use of diverse figurative languages and rooted in values associated with openness and freedom. I see it as a progression from the “New Wave Movement” from 1985, which marked the transition from modernism to contemporary art. Despite the national cultural strategy, which in China remained essentially unchanged, the “New Painting” can be regarded as a consequence of the openings toward a market economy. In this sense, it represents a response embedded in the global art history, rather than being a result of official cultural strategies.
What role does Chinese art, especially the New Painting, play in today’s global contemporary art scene? Do you think that the paradigms used in the 1993 exhibition, portraying an East looking towards the West, can, after 30 years, be placed in a reverse or different relationship?
Lu Peng: Thirty years ago, Chinese symbols in painting were highly evident, a result of a transformation in values and identity. The contemporary artists from that time presented themselves to the world as a new generation recognizing a new language, intentionally created to position their creative expression outside the official cultural standards of the country. The “Chinese symbol” thus became a proof of identity and image at that historical moment. Today, the situation is radically different: Chinese artists are no longer required to assert their identity as they are already immersed in the global art scene. With a profound understanding of Western art history, they desire to freely participate in global artistic dynamics, making autonomous choices regarding materials and languages, positioning themselves as individuals within the contemporary art context.
Paolo de Grandis: Certainly, what emerges from the New Chinese Painting is a technical expertise that is hard to find such a robust counterpart in the West. On the other hand, in almost all the showcased artists, there are references to Western art history, and in some cases, the quotation is reversed favorizing a more profound vision of the artwork that goes beyond the mere stylistic contemplation. These are unique works that convey an immediate familiarity derived from the West but always reflecting a deeply rooted Chinese essence.
In comparison to the 2013 exhibition, what outcomes does “Global Painting: The New Chinese Painting” bring to the reflection on a renewed expressive individualism among Chinese artists?
Paolo de Grandis: With the exhibition “Passage to History,” we celebrated the twentieth anniversary of Chinese artists’ participation in the Venice Biennale where artists were defining a new Chinese artistic identity through cultural exchange with the West. Today, with “Global Painting,” we narrate a significant generational shift that represents the vitality of the new painting in China. I believe that “Passage to History” was certainly a milestone exhibition with a historical curatorial approach, incorporating important archival contributions to delineate the outcomes of contemporary Chinese art. In contrast, “Global Painting” opens a new path that doesn’t feel the need to qualify or frame the expressive outcomes characterizing this new generation of painters. While trying to define the artistic position of Chinese contemporary art is inevitable, unlike “Passage to Orient” and “Passage to History,” this exhibition leaves the question open, rather than framing it out in categories. It is precisely this interpretive openness that leads us to a new, entirely global “passage” today.
AA.VV., Global painting. La Nuova Pittura Cinese
07/12/2023 – 14/04/2023
Corso Bettini 43, 38068 Rovereto, Italy
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