Last weekend I went to Gulsay Cemetery at the south end of Ürümchi, back behind the power plants right next to the lowest foothill of the eastern section of Heavenly Mountains. Many Uyghur, Kazakh, and Hui heroes are buried in this cemetery; people often just refer to it as “the Muslim cemetery.” Looking at the markings around you, it feels as though you are in a completely Muslim world. In the Uyghur section of the cemetery all of the signs are only in the Arabic script of modern Uyghur. There is little sign in this community of the dead that we're in the largest Chinese city in Central Asia.
The first Uyghur contemporary art exhibition was launched at Xinjiang Contemporary Art Museum on May 16, attended by several hundred people from across the province, including most of the represented artists. Since the majority of the painters were teachers or professors, many leading administrators from local universities were also present. Aside from them and a few Han painters from local art schools that the museum’s leading curator, Zeng Chunkai, had invited for the opening, nearly everyone was Uyghur. Even a famous Uyghur public intellectual, Yalkun Rozi, came and praised the artists – although he clearly didn’t understand contemporary art.
Life is a complex, blending the normal and the absurd in often disorienting combinations. That mystery and confusion inspires Liu Yichao, a 25-year old artist whose paintings meld weird creatures and narratives to invite the viewer into an illogical but familiar place.
It’s hard to imagine that the Tibetan inspired art of Wang Yiguang is the work of a man who grew up on the North China Plain. But Tibet’s vigorous yaks, winding railways and cheerful girls have been the subject of Wang’s creations since he first set foot on the magical plateau in 2002.
On February 5, 1989, at the opening of the China Avant-Garde Exhibition at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, a young performance artist by the name of Xiao Lu fired two gunshots at her work, two telephone booths with figures engaged in conversation inside. Her act -- part of the performance piece titled "Dialogue" -- became synonymous with the exhibition, caused the entire show to be temporarily shut down, and contributed to her and her boyfriend's arrest.
Few things can poison an artist’s development quite like early fame. And when fame comes knocking, it takes a lot to cast it away and reboot one’s art career in an unfamiliar world. Illustrator Lisk Feng made that tough decision three years ago when she left her hometown behind to build her skills and begin a new career in the US.
Carousels, Ferris wheels and bumper cars are the characters of artist Huang Saifeng’s amusement-themed paintings. His style blends fairytale settings with the dreamy feel of fading memory to evoke powerful nostalgia.
While most painters create their art using pen or brush, the avant-garde artist He Ling (@何玲Heling) uses medical syringes to bring his wild imaginings to life.
At his recent exhibition in Songzhuang Art District, the young artist displayed a series of mutant birds and beasts he created by injecting acrylic paints and dyes made from Chinese herbs into his canvas. The process resembles traditional embroidery in its delicacy.
It’s hard to find anyone without an opinion about this city, be it a fear of pollution, heavy traffic or some other widely reported negative attribute.
But Beijing isn’t all bad.
Tasty snacks, magnificent architecture and a comparatively cosmopolitan environment are among the city’s selling points, which is what artist Tian Li attempts to capture in his work.
Most people might not give Chinese posters a second thought, but Wang Yuqing has dedicated himself to collecting and studying them as historical records.
Often dismissed as propaganda, the posters reveal much about the social culture, economy and politics of modern Chinese history.
Artists and writers seeking the pinnacle of Chinese civilization often turn to the Tang Dynasty, an era of openness and innovation credited with fostering some of the finest art and poetry in the history of Han civilization.
It’s no surprise that such an amazing era would provide similar inspiration to Xu Songbo, a professor at the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts, who attempts to capture the Tang spirit in his breathtaking oil compositions. They are collected in Tang Feng, his exhibition open until this Thursday at New Millennium Gallery in 798 Art District.
A rifle and sword tied with a red flag over a meter of Gobi sand welcomes visitors to the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Museum in the city of Shihezi, 136 kilometers northwest of Ürümchi. This museum, filled with patched and dented artifacts and hundreds of large-scale historical photos, is the premier monument to the Han experience of the recent past in Xinjiang. It shows us the narrative of experience necessary to understand the history of the people who self-identify as “constructors” (jianshezhe) of Xinjiang.
Last September, when Literary Death Match swung through Beijing, I performed a poem called Things That Taste Like Purple about the devilry of baijiu, a.k.a. sorghum liquor (dust of the attic, wine of the gutter... with a long finish into the fetor of fragrance). Unbeknownst to me, one of my friends in the audience, the artistic and talented Amy Sands, would go on to create a series of watercolors to accompany my words. The video, which she shot, I post here with deepest gratitude and humility.
In 2012 Liu Xiaodong was named the “most socially aware figure of the year” by Art Gallery magazine. He had just completed his Hotan Project in the deep south of Xinjiang. Utilizing his famously “plein air” method, Liu set up his giant life-sized canvases in the middle of a Hotan river floodplain and lived with Uyghur jade pickers. He spent the summer with them in the dust and the heat; in shelters made of stones and earth. In Art Gallery’s assessment of his project, he attempted to capture “the rhythms of people’s lives and the status of their survival.”
If China’s contemporary art market has one fatal fault, it is an obsession with cultivating and trading stars.
Artists born in the 1960s have become darlings of the market, producing some of the most expensive works traded at auction houses anywhere in the world.
But the next generation, born in the 1970s, has very different goals for creation and social recognition. Most use their skills to express an attitude or convey their artistic perspective to the public in plain language.
For his first solo exhibition on the Chinese mainland, Taiwanese artist Lee Mingwei is transforming his childhood memories into a personal performance at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art.
Sonic Blossom, the New York-based artist’s new participatory installation, brings together a team of classically trained opera singers to serenade unsuspecting visitors with Franz Schubert’s Lieder.
It takes a bit of commitment to get to Three Shadows Photography Centre, which, outside Fifth Ring Road, counts as "far outside the city." And once you arrive, you very well could get lost on the train tracks before finally coming to the main building. But there's a simple answer to the question of whether it's worth journeying out there to check out the current exhibition: yes.