The Decentralization Of Contemporary Art And The Global Canon: China In International Art Circuits

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The decentralization of contemporary art and the global canon: China in international art circuits


Understanding contemporary art from national conceptions is especially difficult in the context of globalization. The case of contemporary Chinese art is especially interesting, since – in traditionally. In the construction of the stories of contemporary art in China, Manonelles details from the theory and subjective visions of its interviewees the problem of Chinese art as not-western. The reflections that reflects the commercialization of this non-Whatst art in international art circuits and its consequences on the development of a typically Chinese art will be the starting point for this essay.

Thus, this dissertation will deal with the role of contemporary Chinese art in international art circuits in order to clarify concepts such as the decentralization of contemporary art and answer the question of what the global canon is. In the first place, the evolution of economic policies on art in China will be discussed broadly -since they regulate commercial relations with abroad -then the current situation of Chinese art in international art circuits will be exposed to finally conclude withThe proposal of the decentralization of art and, consequently, the formation of a new global canon.


Economic art policies: towards internationalization

After the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, artists and intellectuals moved to Japan – which successfully incorporated Western aesthetic influences within Japanese language, although the influence that this tended in China ceased with the Simple Japanese war of the 30s of the 30s-, the United States and Europe to study (LI 1989) and, in addition, expose in foreign art rooms (Joy and Sherry 2004). The latter will influence the distinction that was established in the Republic between the museum – proposal to exhibit national treasures – and a private gallery of contemporary works (Belk 1995). In 1929, the new government would organize the first official contemporary art exhibition in the city and, a year later, artistic associations such as the Storm Society or the Art Wind Society organized periodic exhibitions of art of western influence (idem), mostly inShanghai -to be an economic engine and have a large colonial population became the cultural epicenter-. In 1940 the art and sales exhibitions were devised through the establishment of the Municipal Art Gallery of Shanghai, but the plan was frustrated due to the political uncertainties of the time and would not culminate until 1952, under the auspices of the Cultural Bureau of the Cultural Bureauof Shanghai (idem).

After the end of the dynasties in China, the emerging artistic infrastructure "was Completely Domentled" (idem). The Mao regime caused private galleries to be absorbed by publishers, which had already become state companies (Andrews 1994). With this, the works exhibited in private galleries were only those of artists recognized by the State, who represented the ideology of the regime. On the other hand, Jiang Fen reorganized in 1953 the Association of Chinese artists, who sought exchanges with the USSR and other Eastern European countries that shared the Marxist ideology (Croizier 1999). The socialist realism of the USSR was taken as a model, which was promulgated at the Central Academy of Fine Arts of Beijing -and later all other academies followed-. In 1965 the Propaganda Department created the National Gallery of Art of China to carry out international exhibitions that exhibit socialist art.

The cultural revolution was a 10 -year hiatus in artistic creation. The propaganda department, as well as other government organizations responsible for the promotion of art, were totally abandoned. The Red Guard took control over the Ministry of Culture and served the National Art Gallery to promote the values of the party, serve the state and educate the masses (Joy and Sherry 2004). It was not until 1970, with the reconstruction of the Government, that plans for exhibitions were made in the National Gallery, many of which would be inaugurated between 1972 and 1976 “In Praise of Chairman Mao” (Andrews 2004). Under Maoist logic, the art market was not considered. That is, the price of a work was not discussed, its value depended on its political impact. Paradoxically, the art produced during the Maoist period reaches large sums in the market due to the historical value of the works: Waterfall of Fu Baoshi was sold for 89700-115400 US dollars in Christie’s in 1966 in Hong Kong.

In 1977 Xiaoping ends the Cultural Revolution, and hesitates among the establishment of policies that allow artistic freedom and censorship policies. The year 1989 – well after the massacre of Tiananmen’s square – the first great exhibition of dissident art in Beijing was held, which meant “The First significant Foray by Contemporary Chinese Artists into the prestigious international circuit” (Joy and Sherry 2004). The Chinese avant -garde began to be recognized by the general public (Hanru 1996). As Joy and Sherry point out when pointing to the tense situation of China in the late 80Artists in Beijing and Shanghai. Under the western gaze, an art with ideological channel was sought, so political pop and cynical realism popularized. However, it was not until 1991 that there were galleries and private merchants, so the formal mechanisms to exhibit, set prices, and sell works was non -existent (idem). After Tiananmen, specific exhibitions were held until 1992 with the first Canton Art Fair. The Chinese cultural authorities sponsored between galleries and foreign museums art fairs, and offered incentives for the purchase of Chinese art, in short, they created favorable conditions for China’s position in the art market. However, all those artists who did not coincide with the government’s ideals were excluded from official benefits networks.

China in international art circuits: globalization

As previously stated, the current situation of the Chinese art market has been built throughout its last century of history to the outside. As the artistic scene attracted more foreign investment, Chinese artists began to have greater recognition in international circuits. Thus, the orientation of economic policy and artists focuses on the market. In Framing Considerations in the PRC, five market niches are distinguished: Chinese brush and ink paints in contemporary format;oil painting and realistic or academic sculpture of mid -1990;oil painting of current members of the Academy;contemporary avant -garde art;and art that reflects current transformations in the country. These last two types resemble as long as the two are aesthetic forms of unofficial art, and as they represent the connection between China and the international market for contemporary art. To analyze the international art market, the 45th and 46th Biennial of Venice will be taken as an example as a paradigm of the Chinese art exhibition in a Eurocentric context, and the 3rd Shanghai Biennial as the first edition of the Chinese Biennial in which artists were includedand international commissioners.

Although the Chinese artists did not exhibit China in the Biennale until 2003-in which the Ministry of Culture approved the plan to build the first national pavilion of China-in 1980 and 1982 the government sent traditional embroidery and paper-cuts toThe exibition. However, it was the 45th and 46th editions of the years 1993 and 1995 that allowed contemporary artists to expose their works. Of the 50 artists who exhibited in China’s New Art, Post-1989 at the Hong Kong Arts Center, there were 13 guests to participate in the 45th Biennial of Venice. The works and media chosen for the Biennial were contemporary, so that the Chinese cultural authorities demonstrated on the one hand their interest in following “The Custom of This Renowned International Art Institution [Biennale di Venezia], but also countered their past image as suppressor ofContemporary Art ”(Wang 2009). In the Chinese pavilion, not only would art of the cutting of the USSR – socialist realism -. Having a pavilion managed by Chinese authorities and not subject to the expectations and political bias of international commissioners – whose knowledge of Chinese art was superficial in the best case – allowed China to promote its local artists based on local standards (idem).

The year 2000 was a milestone in the evolution of contemporary Chinese art, specifically in the art-institution relationship at the local level and international. A few years later of China’s first incursions in Venice, the 4th edition of the Shanghai Biennial opened its doors for the first time to foreign artists and commissioners. Under the name of "Shanghai Haishang", the Biennial was formed from the exhibition "Urban Creation" and the exhibition "Shanghai Hundred Historic Buildings" (De Nigris 2016). In total 68 artists gathered, who presented a sum of 300 works, some created exprofeso for the biennial. Many of the guests were born in China and subsequently emigrated, which intended to combine Chinese and Western cultures. This last point – that of the bridge between China and the West – also had weight in the choice of the host city. Shanghai had historically been a link, since since the end of the 19th century it was a foreign concession in which to be able to trade abroad. 

It is especially revealing for this essay that, with Shanghai 2000, was granted to the Chinese government the privilege and responsibility of organizing an international biennial, which “proves China’s desire to play an active role in contemporary cultural and artistic life, both in China and Internationally”(Idem). As Wu Hung states, who qualifies the Shanghai Biennial as historical, with the entrance of the new millennium a new global and reforming era with respect to Chinese art was launched with respect to Chinese art. The meaning of the biennial success would transcend the exhibition itself for its focus on issues as current and significant as globalization, postcolonialism or regionalism (Fang 2000). Contemporary art, until then ignored and considered non-official by the Government, had become one of China’s change currencies in international trade, thus setting its place within the globalized world. Biennials such as Shanghai also allow the Government to put their cities in the spotlight -what they receive local or central economic support (from Nigris 2016) -, and thus demonstrate the renewal and modernization of the country.

Decentralization of contemporary art: the proposal of a new global canon

It is this last point that establishes the discussion that concerns this essay: what role does contemporary Chinese art have within the Ntralnational Circuits? The discourse of contemporary art would perceive Euro-America as the center of modernity, proposing New York the capital of the international artistic scene. Under this optics it is understandable that non -western artists will not be integrated into international circuits until relatively recently. However, despite the increase in the number of periodic fairs and exhibitions in non-social spaces, as well as the growing number of non-western countries that participate in them, there is still a hierarchy within the globalized world of art of art. You could even distinguish a center-United States-, a semiperiferia -europ. The biennials and other periodic exhibitions with the most echo remain those organized by and in the West: the Biennale de Venice;Document in Kassel;Whitney’s Biennale in New York. As well as art fairs such as Frieze in London, Los Angeles and New York;Tefaf in Maastricht and New York;Armory Show in New York;FIAC in Paris;and Art Basel in Basel. This last fair would deserve a separate chapter since in addition to Basel has parallel fairs in Miami and Hong Kong.

However, and as this dissertation intends to demonstrate, examples such as the first attempts of the Biennale in introducing Chinese artists into the exhibited, or the opening of the Shanghai Biennial and consequent entry to international art circuits, show how they are being constitutedA Chinese art that interests globally, whose international reputation is so powerful that it has caused changes in the internal policy of the country when it comes to trade abroad. With these examples, it is intended to illustrate how both artists and responsible organisms dared to propose that a large art incubator could exist outside Paris or New York.

To conclude, it should be noted that it is our obligation to now redirect the course of the study of art history, change the paradigm and decentralize art, to go hand in hand with the changes that are happening to us.


  • Andrews, Julia. PAINTERS AND POLITics in The People’s Republic of China, 1949-1979. University of California Press, 1994.
  • Belk, Russ. Collecting in A Consumer Society. Routledge, 1995.
  • Croizier, Ralph. “The Avant-Garde and The Democracy Movement: Reflections on Late Communism in the Ussr and China.”Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 51, no. 3, 1999, pp. 483–501.
  • From Nigris, Ornella. “The Infrastructural Shift in Contemporary Chinese Art: Biennials and Contemporary Museums.”Yishu Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Vol. 15, no. 1, 2016, pp. 56–72.
  • Fang, Zengxian. "Preface.”2000 Shanghai Biennale, Shanghai Art Museum, 2000. Hanru, Hou. “Towards an‘ un-de-official art.’” Third Text, Vol. 10, no. 34, 1996, pp. 37-52.
  • Joy, Annamma, and John F. Sherry. “Framing considerations in the PRC: Creating Value in the Contemporary Chinese Art Market.”Consumption Markets & Culture, Vol. 7, no. 4, 2004, pp. 307–48.
  • Li, chu-tense. Artists and Patrons. Kress Foundation, Dept. Of Art History, University of Kansas Press, 1989.
  • Immin, Alain. “International Contemporary Art Fires in A‘ Globalized Art Market.’” European Societies, Vol. 15, no. 2, 2013, pp. 162–77.
  • Wang, Meiqin. “Officializing the unoficial: presenting new chinese art to the world.”Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Vol. 21, no. 1, 2009, pp. 102–40.

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