Summer in San Francisco: 28 Chinese at The Asian Art Museum - Art Collector

Spread B-051, 2010, by Xu Zhen (Chinese, b.1977). Embroidery on canvas. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami. © Xu Zhen.

By Emily Cones-Browne

The result of over 10 years of collecting by Don and Mera Rubell, 28 Chinese presents a private collection of 48 artworks from 28 contemporary Chinese artists at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

The Rubell collection, a culmination of visits to over 100 artists’ studios in Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Xi'an, features artworks from a myriad of mediums, from painting and installation through to photography and new media. The exhibition presents a solid group of significant contemporary Chinese artists practicing today, including Liu Wei, He Xiangyu, Huang Yong Ping and Xu Zhen, as well as the internationally acclaimed Zhang Huan and Ai Weiwei. Surprisingly, many of these artists’ are exhibiting on the West Coast for the first time.

Selected for having made a significant impact on the art world (and the changing definitions of contemporary art in China), the exhibiting artists focus on exploring perspectives and attitudes towards tradition, informing a fascinating dialogue on what it means to be Chinese today.

The first artwork found at the North Court-
Boat, 2012 by Zhu Jinshi- is a 12 metre-long installation made from 8,000 sheets of paper used in Chinese calligraphy. Stacked paper suspends from the ceiling with cotton thread, conveying both the burden and importance of tradition in a modern context. “Whereas time only moves forward, Boat can be sailed in any direction. Boat’s cultural resonance is constructed with of time itself, flowing through our imagination,” says the artist.

Installation view of Zhang Huan’s 12 Square Metres at 28 Chinese, 2015 at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

Many of internationally acclaimed artist Zhang Huan’s confronting works are found in this collection. The artist began his career in the avant-garde community of emerging artists on the outskirts of Beijing, with his early career renowned for performance art incorporating his body in extreme situations. Many view his works as transgressing oppressive government restrictions, which the iconic 12 Square Metres, 1994 exemplifies. The photograph documents Huan’s performance whereby he covered his body in honey and fish juice and sat in a Beijing public toilet in 100 degree heat. Considered iconic for its provocative commentary on social conditions, the work explores Huan’s core belief that body is language, with the expressive power of his performance confirming this intense visual communication.

Living and working in Shanghai, artist Xu Zhen explores politics, cultural assumptions and art world conventions. Many of his works have an underlying satirical tone, and in 2009 he founded and named himself CEO of a “contemporary art creation company” called Madeln, launching the artist as a product and brand. His series
Spread, in particular the work B-051, 2010 uses “pictoral scenes combining international political cartoons, caricatures, medieval images, exotic bestiaries and other imagery in the form of cloth collages, installations and paintings”, explains the artist.

Boat, 2012, by Zhu Jinshi (Chinese, b. 1954). Xuan paper, bamboo, and cotton thread. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami. © Zhu Jinshi, © ARS, New York

Untitled (Nude Woman by the River), 2003 challenges concepts of authenticity and ownership: the work is signed by artist Wang Xingwei, but only as a ghost artist- it was not painted by him, but rather an old painter who owns an art shop in Shanghai. The artist commissioned the unnamed artist to “paint whatever he liked” with the contract stating that the works would be signed and exhibited as Xingwei’s. The (ghost) artist also altered the original painter’s composition, removing a second nude and replacing her with a diving goose.

Curated by Allison Harding,
28 Chinese offers an in-depth view of the contemporary art scene in China and the themes driving some of the most notable Chinese artists working today.

See the exhibition at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco until August 16 2015.

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