An exhibition of work by pioneering artists in China from the 1970s and 1980s, on view at China Institute Gallery from September 15 through December 11, 2011, provides important clues to the development of contemporary Chinese art as we know it today. Blooming in the Shadows: Unofficial Chinese Art, 1974-1985 offers a unique opportunity in the U.S. to witness the artwork created in China during the pivotal decade leading up to the Communist Party’s 1985 decision to allow modern artistic practices. A full-color catalogue accompanies the exhibition, which is organized by China Institute Gallery. The exhibition focuses on paintings and sculpture from three unofficial groups of artists, the No Names, the Stars, and the Grass Society, which pushed beyond Maoism in the early post-Cultural Revolution era. Each group pursued creatively diverse paths to artistic freedoms under the harsh political strictures and against the accepted aesthetic norms of the time. Based in Beijing, the No Names, known for their landscapes, still-lifes, and non-political figure paintings, painted small-sized watercolors, oils and gouaches in secret on inexpensive paper and cardboard, sometimes even on cut up shoe boxes. The Stars – with work that ranges in medium from sculpture, oil painting, watercolor, prints, and drawings – were more cosmopolitan and political, and were later joined later by Ai Weiwei. The Grass Society, based in Shanghai, outside the political center of the day, brought abstract concepts and watercolor techniques into their work on Chinese paper. The work these groups produced opened the door for the avant-garde movement to emerge in China and paved the way for Chinese artists working today. Blooming in the Shadows tells a story that has been almost forgotten in the course of China’s rapid rise to international economic power. Blooming in the Shadows: Unofficial Chinese Art, 1974-1985 asks the question of why—following 35 years of Socialist Realism—this internationally oriented artwork suddenly appeared and how it captured the attention of the global art world. Included in the exhibition are paintings, works on paper, and sculpture, some of which are politically charged and all of which represent a substantial sense of bravery on the part of the artists. “These young men and women developed outside the mainstream of China’s official art world during a time when all human activity in China was tightly controlled,” wrote the exhibition co-curators: Kuiyi Shen, Director of the Chinese Studies Program and Professor of Asian Art History, Theory, and Criticism, at the University of California San Diego, and Julia Andrews, Professor of Art History at Ohio State University and a specialist in Chinese painting and modern Chinese art. “Despite rather different approaches to art, they shared a deeply-rooted opposition to the entrenched institutions of propaganda, an idealistic vision, and a passionate desire to express themselves freely.” Artists included in the exhibition are Ai Weiwei, Chen Jialing, Chen Juyuan, Du Xia, Huang Rui, Jiang Depu, Li Shan, Li Shuang, Liu Shi, Ma Desheng, Ma Kelu, Qiu Deshu, Shi Zhenyu, Tian Shuying, Wang Aihe, Wang Keping, Wei Hai, Yan Li, Zhang Wei, Zheng Zigang, and Zheng Ziyan. Among the highlights in Blooming in the Shadows are works by artists who have gone on to develop important careers including Ai Weiwei and Wang Keping from the Star group. Work by Ai Weiwei (b. 1957) in the exhibition includes Profile of Marcel Duchamp in a Coat Hanger, 1980s, and Drips Going Down – Ai to E, 1997, in which he desecrates Neolithic pottery, one of China’s most ancient art forms, by smashing or painting over the vessels. A wood sculpture by Wang Keping (b. 1949) entitled Silent, 1979, is a shocking work in which the natural configuration of knots in the wood comprise a blinded eye and a plugged up mouth. Another wood sculpture, also from that year, Idol, shows the head of a figure that resembles Mao Zedong, and stands in powerful critique of the worship of Mao. As Stars artist Qu Leilei inscribed on a drawing in 1983, “I grew up in a time when morality ruled, but without principles; right and wrong prevailed, but without standards; and behavior had no rules.” The exhibition is directed by Willow Hai Chang, Director of China Institute Gallery, and co-curated by Shen and Andrews, who were the curators of the modern section of the landmark China 5000 Years exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. For more information, the public can call 212-744-8181 x121, email email@example.com or visit www.chinainstitute.org/gallery.
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