Why Chinese Contemporary Art?

Postcard from Third Drawer Down, featuring Ai Weiwei, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995

Postcard from Third Drawer Down, featuring Ai Weiwei, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995

Author’s note: I wrote this on 27 August, 2013, less than one month before I went to the Courtauld to study Chinese contemporary art. 

In less than three weeks time I will be in London.  In about one month’s time I will be starting my Masters at the Courtauld Institute of Art. I will be studying History of Art with a specialist option on contemporary Chinese art.

Why is Chinese contemporary art so interesting to me? Why am I travelling half the world to study what appears to be a very specialised discipline?

The easy answer to the question is that Chinese contemporary art inspires me. Another easy answer would be that contemporary art interests me. A more difficult answer perhaps is that there is no such thing as a distinctively Chinese contemporary art; that there is no singular cultural identity that can sum up the experience of nearly a billion people in the world.

One of the most interesting facets of contemporary art for me is how it situates itself in an age of globalisation. What does contemporary art mean when there are so many individual stories to tell? My own art history training to date has been through a mostly Western perspective filled with particular “-isms.” In recent decades there has been a greater shift towards including ‘other’ perspectives, and I feel that recent literature and studies in contemporary art have tended towards a bigger world picture, if I may call it that.

I feel that we live in an age where information and ideas are transmitted all around the world with relative ease. I can visit a grad show in Beijing and later come to Sydney to see the same artists work being displayed.  I can visit a shop in Fitzroy in Melbourne and pick up a postcard with a quote and picture of Ai Weiwei (see my picture above).

I am studying Chinese contemporary art not only because the art and artists interest me, but also because I am interested in how ideas and culture translate and transmit around the world. I am interested in Chinese contemporary art because the very idea of Chineseness, or for that matter any –ness fascinates me. My personal philosophy towards art is that it can encompass all manner of things, and it is in the space between these boundaries and definitions that I think interesting things emerge. I hope that by studying Chinese contemporary art I can learn not only about China, but about the world.

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