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Guggenheim Presents Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World Opening October 6, 2017

by Alexandra_Munroe on March 31, 2017

By Sarah Eaton
Originally Published on

Largest Exhibition of Contemporary Art from China Spanning 1989 to 2008 Ever Mounted in North America

Exhibition: Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World
Venue: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York
Location: Rotunda Levels 1–6, Tower Levels 5 and 7
Dates: October 6, 2017 to January 7, 2018

(NEW YORK, NY—March 21, 2017)—The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum announces Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, a major exhibition of contemporary art from China spanning 1989 to 2008, arguably the most transformative period of modern Chinese and recent world history. A fresh interpretative survey of Chinese experimental art framed by the geopolitical dynamics resulting from the end of the Cold War, the spread of globalization, and the rise of China, Art and China after 1989 is on view from October 6, 2017, to January 7, 2018. The exhibition, the largest of its kind ever in North America, looks at a bold contemporary art movement that anticipated, chronicled, and agitated for the sweeping social transformation that has brought China to the center of the global conversation. With a concentration on the conceptualist art practice of two generations of artists, this exhibition examines how Chinese artists have been both agents and skeptics of China’s emergence as a global presence and places their experiments firmly in a global art-historical context.   

“Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World revolves around key artists, groups, and movements active across China and internationally, whose provocations aim to forge reality free from ideology, to establish the individual apart from the collective polity, and to define contemporary Chinese experience in universal terms,” remarks lead curator Alexandra Munroe. “This focused examination invites us to consider our own contemporary history through the lens of some of the most thoughtful contemporary artists from China.”

Occupying the Guggenheim’s full Frank Lloyd Wright–designed rotunda and two Tower Galleries, Art and China after 1989 highlights the conceptual and artistic achievements of 75 artists and collectives and features 150 iconic and lesser-known works on loan from private and public collections across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. Divided into six chronological and thematic sections, the exhibition showcases works in experimental mediums including film and video, ink, installation, and Land art, as well as painting, sculpture, photography, performance, and socially engaged participatory art and activism. Archival materials documenting and contextualizing key moments and movements in this contested history are also interwoven throughout the exhibition.

The exhibition title derives from an installation by Huang Yong Ping that will occupy the High Gallery in the introductory section of the Guggenheim show. Theater of the World(1993) is a large, octagonal, cage-like structure that houses thousands of live scorpions, beetles, and lesser insects that devour each other over the course of the show. This real-life spectacle brings viewers into an immediate encounter with the violent yet matter-of-fact play of powerful forces over the weak.

A select roster includes Ai Weiwei, Big Tail Elephant Group, Cai Guo-Qiang, Cao Fei, Chen Zhen, Chen Chieh-jen, Datong Dazhang, Ding Yi, Geng Jianyi, Huang Yong Ping, Wenda Gu, Kan Xuan, Rem Koolhaas/OMA, Libreria Borges, Liu Dan, Liu Wei, Liu Xiaodong, New Measurement Group, Ou Ning, Ellen Pau, Qiu Zhijie, Shen Yuan, Song Dong, Wang Guangyi, Wang Jianwei, Yan Lei, Yang Jiechang, Yin Xiuzhen, Yu Hong, Xijing Men, Xu Bing, Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Peili, Zhang Hongtu, Zhang Xiaogang, Zhao Bandi, Zhao Gang, and Zhou Tiehai.

Running parallel to the exhibition, the Guggenheim will present a 10-week documentary film series cocurated by Ai Weiwei and Wang Fen. Turn It On: China on Film features 20 documentary films by more than a dozen filmmakers, including Ai Weiwei, Huang Wenhai, Tang Danhong, and others, whose work investigates the political, social, economic, and cultural conditions of contemporary China. Produced between 2001 and 2016, many of the films will be screened in the United States for the first time.

Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World is organized by Alexandra Munroe, Samsung Senior Curator, Asian Art, and Senior Advisor, Global Arts, at the Guggenheim. She is working with guest cocurator Philip Tinari, Director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, and with consulting curator Hou Hanru, Director, MAXXI National Museum of the 21st Century Arts, Rome. Researcher Xiaorui Zhu-Nowell, Curatorial Assistant, Asian Art, and Kyung An, Assistant Curator, Asian Art, Guggenheim Museum, have provided organizational support. Archival research has been developed in collaboration with Asia Art Archives, Hong Kong. The curators are working with an international advisory committee that has met under the auspices of the China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, and the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing. Art and China after 1989 is the 11th show developed by the museum’s Asian Art Initiative, which was founded in 2006 under Dr. Munroe’s leadership to expand the Guggenheim’s curatorial purview to encompass artistic achievements and critical discourses active beyond, but also intersecting with, the West.


Press release: Guggenheim Presents Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World Opening October 6, 2017


Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World will be accompanied by a 300-page scholarly catalogue and a range of integrated digital resources. In addition to essays from the exhibition’s three curators, the catalogue features extended annotations on more than 75 of the objects on view, including interpretive analysis by scholars such as Katherine Grube, Lu Mingjun, Stephanie H. Tung, and Xiaorui Zhu-Nowell. It also includes an exhibition history of the period under consideration, prepared by Anthony Yung and Jane DeBevoise of the Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong.


After its New York debut, Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World will tour to Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.


The Leadership Committee for Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World is gratefully acknowledged for its generous support, with special thanks to Co-Chairs Thomas and Lynn Ou and Liam Wee Tay and Cindy Chua-Tay, Trustee, as well as Karen Lo, Sophia Ma, Jane Yong, The Hayden Family Foundation, The Nancy Foss Heath and Richard B. Heath Educational, Cultural and Environmental Foundation, and those who wish to remain anonymous.

Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World is made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Major support is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation.

Funding is also provided by the W.L.S. Spencer Foundation and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.


Founded in 1937, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is dedicated to promoting the understanding and appreciation of art, primarily of the modern and contemporary periods, through exhibitions, education programs, research initiatives, and publications. The Guggenheim network that began in the 1970s when the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, was joined by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, has since expanded to include the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (opened 1997) and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (currently in development). The Guggenheim Foundation continues to forge international collaborations that celebrate contemporary art, architecture, and design within and beyond the walls of the museum, including the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative and The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative. More information about the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation can be found at


Admission: Adults $25, students/seniors (65+) $18, members and children under 12 free. The Guggenheim’s free app, available with admission or by download to personal devices, offers an enhanced visitor experience. The app features content on special exhibitions as well as access to more than 1,600 works in the Guggenheim’s permanent collection. Additionally, information about the museum’s landmark building is available in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Verbal Description guides for select exhibitions are also included for visitors who are blind or have low vision. The Guggenheim app is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Museum Hours: Sun–Wed, 10 am–5:45 pm; Fri, 10 am–5:45 pm; Sat, 10 am–7:45 pm; closed Thurs. On Saturdays, beginning at 5:45 pm, the museum hosts Pay What You Wish. For general information, call 212 423 3500 or visit the museum online at: or


For publicity images, visit
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March 21, 2017


Sarah Eaton
Director, Media and Public Relations

Kris Parker
Senior Publicist, Media and Public Relations

(212) 423-3840

Alexandra_MunroeGuggenheim Presents Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World Opening October 6, 2017

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