Contemporary Art

Today and Tomorrow: China's New Generation of Artists

By Lisa Movius

As Beijing's Today Art Museum opens the exhibition of its third Wang Shikuo Award, now is a good moment to consider contemporary art in China. The show at Today will feature the work of 12 artists, all of whom are in the running for the Wang Shikuo Award and a 100,000 RMB (US $14,540) prize. Prominent artists shortlisted include installation artist Wang Weisi, video artist Jiang Kaiqun and painter Cai Yaling.

Mainland China now has many such showcases for young and mid-career artists from the internet-savvy generations born in the 1980s and 1990s. Private institutions like Today Art Museum and the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing, the Times Museum in Guangzhou, and the Yuz Museum, Rockbund Art Museum and Long Museum in Shanghai all include shows for emerging artists, usually Chinese, in their regular programming. The same goes for the multi-city museum networks of K11 and OCAT, two non-profit organisations devoted to the promotion of Chinese contemporary art. K11’s sites include "art malls" in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Wuhan, Guangzhou and Shenyang, which merge art, retail and nature in one space. OCAT, meanwhile, takes a satellite approach, with museums in Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan and Shenzhen.

Installation view of Self Portrait, Xiao Hanqiu, 2016. Image courtesy of artist and Tabula Rasa Gallery.

Young Chinese talent is well nourished at the gallery level as well, with over a dozen spaces each in Beijing and Shanghai dedicated to or including emerging artists. Prominent galleries include Tabula Rasa, Magician Space and Gallery Yang in Beijing, and Vanguard Gallery, Don Gallery, MadeIn Gallery, Capsule and Bank Gallery in Shanghai.

"The development of Chinese artists in this era is driven by a more mature market," says artist Xiao Hanqiu, born 1986 in Beijing. Some say that the plethora of opportunities has led to mainland artists today making work that is less radical than that of their predecessors, but recent surges in Chinese contemporary art sales suggests that it is still art that is popular among buyers.

Xiao Hanqiu, Hand, acrylic on canvas, 2018. Image courtesy of the artist and Tabula Rasa Gallery.

Another exhibition, also opening this summer, provides an opportunity to contrast work made by young mainland Chinese artists with their counterparts in "greater China." New Directions Musquiqui Chihying at UCCA is a solo exhibition of Taipei and Berlin-based Taiwanese multimedia artist Chihying. Born in 1985, Chihying delves into heady questions around postcolonialism, migration, and Chinese involvement in Africa – topics not commonly explored by his contemporaries.

Two stills from Musquiqui Chihying's The Sculpture, video, 2018. Image courtesy of the artist and UCCA.

Needless to say, these artists now have access to much of the same information and training as artists all around the world, and this effect of globalisation has resulted in the increasing internationalism of art practice at home. "Young Chinese artists grew up during the popularisation of the internet," says Ma Haijiao, an artist born in 1990 in Hebei, a northern province of China. "Most of us received a comprehensive contemporary art education in college, so are very international and theoretical."

Installation view of Happy Valley, Ma Haijiao, 2018. Image courtesy of the artist and Tabula Rasa Gallery.

2018 Wang Shikuo Award-TAM Exhibition of Nominated Chinese Contemporary Young Artists, Today Art Museum, Beijing, 25 August – 10 October

New Directions: Musquiqui Chihying, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, 25 August – 28 October

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