Last week of ‘What About the Art? Contemporary Art from China’
July 07 2016 10:50 PM
Xu Bing, Background Story Shangfang Temple, 2016. Photo by Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio.

By Anand Holla

Arguably the biggest highlight of the Qatar China 2016 Year of Culture and a very ambitious exhibition by Qatar Museums (QM), ‘What About the Art? Contemporary Art from China’ has moved and enthralled thousands who have visited it thus far.
With the exhibition coming to a close in about a week’s time, this will be your last chance to catch this spectacular melting pot of contemporary Chinese artists and collectives born in Mainland China.
Featuring the works of 15 contemporary Chinese artists curated by the internationally acclaimed New York-based Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, the exhibition, at the Al Riwaq gallery near the Museum of Islamic Art, showcases the compelling works of 15 contemporary Chinese artists, traversing the media of painting, sculpture, installation, video, performance and interactive video game design.
After reviewing the works of more than 200 artists, Cai Guo-Qiang narrowed down to about 25 artists, visited their studios and eventually got it down to these 15, whose works we see here. In an earlier interview with Community, Cai Guo-Qiang had said, “Chinese art is in itself quite a popular theme. There have been over 200 to 300 exhibitions on this theme, which is in fact, impressive, because very rarely, can a country in this world can imagine the art of [itself]. In this exhibition, what I have tried to do is cast off the Chinese veil of these artists and return to their individual art. So, as the title of the exhibition reveals, it’s contemporary art from China, it’s not contemporary Chinese art. So here is the subtle difference: It’s not about China, it’s about art.”
Since the focus is on art and what ticks these artists’ creative genius, here’s what two of the artists feel, as detailed in a companion book along with the exhibition, about their own work and what goes into it.
Jenova Chen says this about Journey, one of the three immersive video games — Flow, Flower, and Journey — he has put forth in the exhibition: There are two sides to humanity, one side is good and generous and the other side is callous and cruel. I hope that I can synchronise emotionally with gamers, because they are a sample of the entire population. I have purposely made every character very realistic, so that players will feel that everyone is on the same side.
We instinctively know how to play, it’s human nature, and according to the level of the player, it can take from one hour to two and a half hours. We already have more than a thousand thank-you letters from players, including one from a soldier returned from Iraq: he lived in suffering but regained hope for life after playing this game. When you play, you are already dead, but your spirit can travel to the very top of the holy mountain. This is a means of reflecting on our lives.
Xu Bing, whose light paintings possess a deeply mesmerising power, says: This is Chinese rice paper, or Xuan paper, not canvas. It can be kneaded before you apply ink and it creates completely different effects. In fact, what we see is a shadow, not a physical painting. The light is adjusted from the back, and this glass only records the scene. But the qualities of the light are indeed very rich, richer than any substance. The material is very rich and sensitive. It can be used to achieve many textures and a depth of effect, like a Song-dynasty painting. The shadows and light developed in Song-dynasty paintings look exactly like a photograph. The light here penetrates in the same way and has a very richly layered effect.
Right now many exhibitions are working from interesting angles, but when the exhibitions are actually realised, they no longer seem interesting. I even think the creativity of global contemporary art in general is quite limited, interesting things are limited! Contemporary Chinese art has been “kidnapped” by commercialisation, and because it dominates the market, it dominates our cultural reality, and thus the culture of this period has been replaced. Westerners’ understanding of Chinese art has been actually confused by the market. Interesting artworks do exist, but no one pays attention to them.

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