First the good news. “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” now appearing at the Guggenheim Museum in New York through January 7, samples China’s most fertile and challenging post-Mao period of art production in ways that are stimulating for specialists and general viewers alike. Organized by three experts intimately involved in the history they present—Alexandra Munroe, the Guggenheim’s senior curator of Asian art; Philip Tinari, director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing; and Hou Hanru, artistic director of MAXXI, the National Museum of 21st Century Art, in Rome—the exhibition eschews a strict chronological format. Instead, it strives, through savvy and sometimes unexpected selections, creatively mixed, to convey the ferment of a time in China when liberation was in the air, anything seemed possible, and avant-garde artists, at first little appreciated (and sometimes persecuted) at home, sought to take their place in the global art system. The realization that those times have sadly changed is due in equal measure to a cultural revanchism in the People’s Republic of China and a resurgence of moral provincialism in the United States.
Originally published in The Economist | NEW YORK
A new exhibition focuses on art that was made in or inspired by China between 1989 and 2008
HANGING from the ceiling of the magnificent rotunda that Frank Lloyd Wright created for the Guggenheim Museum in 1959 is an undulating black dragon. Twenty-six metres (85 feet) long, it is made almost entirely of the inner tubes of bicycles. Its head is a sculptural confection of broken cycles, its rear a writhing excrescence of black rubber loops. The visual etymology is obviously and satisfyingly Chinese. Then you notice hundreds of tiny black cars crawling all over its underbelly, like head lice on a schoolchild—symbolic of the moment when the country, in the headlong pursuit of economic growth, swerved from pedal power to petroleum.