Chairman Wow!

August 31, 2009

Popaganda Copy-Cats

Filed under: china, Uncategorized — Carly J Hallman @ 2:45 am

Me, in 798. Beijing is home to a few artists’ communities, the most well-known of which is the 798 Space/798 Art Zone. Sadly, 798 is being taken over by trendy boutiques and Starbucks-inspired cafes…but is this western-invasion Chinese artists’ own damn fault?

I like China, and I like art, so it’s no surprise that I like Chinese art (god, do I sound like Andy Rooney on uppers or what?). But, I have a confession: I think too much modern Chinese art is, dare I say, BORING.

While there is some noteworthy and edgy stuff coming out of China (just do a Google search), the overwhelming majority of modern Chinese art seems to have caught the more-contagious-than-SARS CheatCheatCheat virus. How many cleverly altered propaganda posters can hang in a single gallery? How many paintings of a can of Coca-Cola? Didn’t Andy Warhol do that years and years ago?

I know, I know. Young Chinese artists are under immense pressure by their parents to succeed. But aren’t artists supposed to say, “fuck you” to their parents?! Seems like Deng Xiaoping’s “to get rich is glorious” applies not just to the vegetable fields anymore, but to the creative fields as well. In China, good is not good enough– profitable is. My ex-pat friends and I would visit galleries and discuss this tiny tragedy at length. Our western minds couldn’t grasp the point of cheating or copying in the art world, even for money– in the west, we call that “selling out.” I later came to find out that this dissatisfaction is shared by many Chinese– of particular interest was a feature article in Map Magazine (Nanjing’s entertainment paper) about an art professor’s efforts to stop artistic plagiarism at Nanjing Art University (wish I still had a copy).

I understand that, parental and monetary concerns aside, there is another major force that prevent Chinese artists from expressing themselves– government censorship. This is a valid concern. But, here’s the thing– a bunch of modern Chinese novelists– I’m thinking particularly of the MeiNu, or Beautiful Girl, writers like Mian Mian, Wei Hui, and Chun Sue– have pushed the envelope in their artistic works. These ladies wrote candidly about sex, money, power, art, traditional values, rock n roll, drugs, alcohol, parties, depression, self-injury, etc. etc. And their books were subsequently banned by the government. But were these authors imprisoned, tortured, or black-listed? No. Were they burned at the stake? No. Were they placed in medical detention centers and harvested for organs? No. So, what happened? Their sales went through the roof in China, and the government bans drew so much international attention that their books were translated into dozens of languages and distributed around the world. Chinese artists should look to these Beautiful Girls, and not each other, or a can of Coke, for future inspiration.



  1. are you attempting to ignite an artistic revolution?
    don’t let China know you wrote this, or they might ban you from coming back!

    Comment by Shawn — August 31, 2009 @ 3:02 am

  2. This is a great post.

    Comment by hoosteen — August 31, 2009 @ 12:32 pm

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