How Has Contemporary Chinese Art Been Influenced by the West?

Topics: Modern art, China, Mao Zedong Pages: 21 (5912 words) Published: December 16, 2012

HOW FAR HAS THE WEST INFLUENCED THE CONTEMPORY CHINESE ARTISTS Wang Qingsong, Zeng Fanzhi, Shi Xinning, and Zhang Xiaogang?

“Why do I say China has no contempory Art? Because none of China’s C art comes from China’s history or culture. It just follows the Western conception of what Chinese contempory art should be like” Lu Lib


I am interested in contemporary art in China because I live in Hong Kong, and have witnessed huge changes in China both internally and within the global context, and I want to explore the impact of this on artistic development. On a visual level, I know that artwork I have seen exhibited in galleries has changed dramatically, and I want to find out in what specific ways Chinese artists have been influenced, and by what. For example, contemporary artists have been accused of ignoring their history and culture in their desire to provide art for the western market. I want to know why artists became more commercial and in what way western consumerism affected artists and their art.

In this project I set out to find the answer to a number of questions:

How and why did art begin to change in China from the 80’s to the 90’s? I expect that Tiananman Square was a watershed in creative freedom and political and social change. How has the social and political change over the last two decades affected artists and been expressed in contemporary art? I think possibly the artists, like the wider population, have become obsessed with the West, and therefore their art focuses on Western issues and neglects Chinese culture and social issues. On the other hand, we had many protests relating to jailed activists in Hong Kong after 1990, and I wondered how much freedom there was for artists to explore what was happening and how society viewed it.

What has the role of the west been in terms of appropriation, influence, and visual reference? I anticipate that the West has become the major influence for contemporary artists and has inspired a new artistic direction for each of my chosen artists.

In order to establish the background to Chinese contemporary art, I have provided a time-line of significant social and political events, alongside the changes in the artistic development.

I then examine the work of four artists: Wang Qingsong, Zeng Fanzhi, Shi Xinning, and Zhang Xiaogang. For each artist, I examine if social and political change,have influenced their work, and how the west has influenced it. I suggest Western artwork and trends that I think have affected their work in terms of, appropriation, influence, and visual reference.

Time line showing how art movements reflecting political and social change.

This timeline shows that art was primarily influenced by internal Chinese political and social issues pre -1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. But, since then, with China increasingly opening up to the west in the 1990’s, art has been influenced by combining elements of East and West and subject matter has become deliberately more commercially attractive to western markets.  

1976 President Nixon visits China and Mao Zedong dies: the end of the Cultural Revolution and its persecution of artists, intellectuals and religious leaders. Most western influences, books, music etc had been eradicated.  

1977 No dramatic changes in art. Cultural Revolution Art continued, mainly propoganda posters, but slowly groups of artists began turning from political subject matter and began exhibiting portrait and landscape art on a small scale.  

1978 A year of change.
Politics: Deng Xiaoping’s Economic Reforms
New economic policies mark the start of China opening up and moving to a market economy that flourishes in the 1990’s Art: The first exhibition of foreign art: French 19th-century rustic landscape painting at the National Gallery, Beijing. Also western art publications appear. Critical realism, a new art form emerges.  

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