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Avant-Garde China: Twenty Years of Chinese Contemporary Art on View at National Art Center

TOKYO.- China has been much in the news recently for its rapid economic growth and also for hosting the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. It is also becoming the subject of worldwide attention for its contemporary art.

Artistic expression that departed from socialist realism emerged in the late 1970s, after the country implemented its reform and opening-door policy. In 1979 artists known as the “Star Group” held an exhibition, blazing the trial for much freer forms of expression that put the artists’ individuality front and center.

Starting in the mid-1980s, various avant-garde groups were formed simultaneously throughout the country in the huge groundswell known as the “’85 New Wave Movement.” As the volume of information flowing in from the West increased, these new artists expressed social themes gripping China through not only painting and sculpture but also new forms, such as video performance and installation art. This period also saw the rise of artists like Cai Guoqiang and Huang Yong Ping, who relocated their activities overseas.

In the early 1990s a number of artists began to work in styles like “Political Pop” and “Cynical Realism,” and China’s contemporary art began gaining recognition abroad. Subsequently, more radical works of performance and video art started to emerge. Buoyed by waves of globalization since 2000, an active global art market, and expanding popularity of international exhibitions, contemporary Chinese art has become recognized as a cultural symbol of China’s reforms.

“AVANT-GARDE CHINA: Twenty Years of Chinese Contemporary Art” takes a look at the progression of Chinese art over the past 20 years, starting from the 1980s. The exhibition focuses on representative works from artists deserving of particular attention and includes established artists as well as promising new talent.

This exhibition introduces many eye-opening examples of China’s modern art world, a world that has developed through such new forms of expression as performance art and videos in addition to conventional mediums like painting and sculpture.

Exhibition Highlights
1. Japan’s first all-encompassing, historically comprehensive introduction to Chinese contemporary art
In the mid-1990s, China’s “Cynical Realism” and performance art were introduced in Japan, and works by young artists were shown at Yokohama Triennales and various exhibitions of Chinese art in the following decade. However, this will be the first exhibition in Japan to comprehensively present works from artists who symbolize the roughly two decades of Chinese contemporary art.

2. Works originating in China
Some Chinese contemporary artists moved their activities to the United States, Europe, or Japan and have received critical praise. This exhibition, however, focuses on artists who have created and unveiled their works of art in China in order to present them as a mirror of Chinese society and culture. It is through such works that the period of upheaval, ushered in by the reform and open-door policy in the 1980s, can be revealed as realistically as possible.

3. Presentation of important reference materials
This exhibition also displays related publications and video documentaries. In particular, videos of the legendary 1989 “CHINA AVANT-GARDE” exhibition at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing (the first exhibition to bring works from contemporary artists together under one roof) and its symposium present fresh insights into this exciting period in Chinese modern art history.

On display will be works by 14 artists (counting a 2-person collaboration singly) and 2 artistic groups.

Huang Yong Ping (b. 1954), Wang Guangyi (b. 1957), Zhang Peili (b. 1957), Ding Yi (b. 1962), Zhang Xiaogang (b. 1958), Fang Lijun (b. 1963), Tactile Art, Xinkedu Group, Gu Dexin (b. 1962), Ma Liuming (b. 1969), Zhang Huan (b. 1965), Sun Yuan and Peng Yu (b. 1972/1973), Yang Zhenzhong (b. 1968), Yang Fudong (b. 1971), Cao Fei (b. 1978), Xu Zhen (b. 1977)

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