Contemporary China

Wandesford Quay Gallery, Cork
Zhang Yunyao: Our Art Will Last Forever (detail), Acrylic on Linen, 2010. Courtesy of the artist.
Zhang Yunyao: Our Art Will Last Forever (detail), Acrylic on Linen, 2010. Courtesy of the artist.

This collaboration between the Crawford College and Shanghai’s Don Gallery aligns with broader moves in both CIT and UCC to develop stronger links with East Asia, and with China in particular. The title of the Wandesford Quay Gallery’s exhibition might well prompt the question of how representative this selection is of contemporary Chinese art, although it’s obviously unrealistic to expect such a modest show to do that work for us in any sustained way. It is, however, interesting to ask what idea of the cultural situation in today’s China is delivered by this exhibition, which features the work of nine young Shanghai artists. The range of formal means employed here is very broad: four artists show paintings on canvas, there is a five-hour digital video, prints made on rice paper, miniature models set inside an evacuated television monitor, a project involving the rolling of thousands of newspaper pages, and an installation of cloth banners and wall plaques. The painters move from Huang Ling’s ethereal dreamscape, to Han Feng’s delicate and spare abstract vocabulary, to Xiao Jiang’s deadened rendering of a dismal interior, and Lu Tianyang’s rather histrionic screaming figure (complete with blood-red paint spatters at its bottom). The other objects and installations also vary dramatically in atmosphere: from Zhang Xiangxi’s ludic and interactive miniature studio, to Liu Ren’s arduous writing performance (five hours inscribing English words –permanent, permanently, perpetual, perpetually, perpetuate, perpetuity, perseverance – into a resistant surface), to Zhang Yunyao’s Beuysian address to revolutionary politics and metaphysics. From this assortment it was hard to discern a coherent agenda or sensibility, but neither was this, I think, the aim. While Ni Youyu and XueWu Zheng made the most direct reference to traditional Chinese cultural forms, if the rest of the artists had not been announced as Chinese, I am not sure that many would have guessed it.
Of course a small gallery show like this cannot compete with the spectacular pyrotechnics of Cai Guo-Qiang or the sprawling installations of Ai Weiwei, two of China’s most visible contemporary artists. There is a strong commercial dimension to much of the work on show at the Wandesford Quay, about which the artists are not shy, which tends to render it rather safe. Nevertheless, both Liu Ren’s film and Zhang Yunyao’s rousing installation offer compelling experiences, and the expansion of horizons indicated by such collaborations is an exciting development for Cork.
Contemporary China was on view at Wandesford Quay Gallery, 19 January – 6 February 2011. A concurrent exhibition of work by Irish artists who have exhibited in China was on view at the CIT Cork School of Music, titled “From Here to There” and curated by Fion Gunn.