Iconoclastic Political Pop painting has long been the symbol of Chinese contemporary art, but in recent years this stereotype has been broken as innovative new genres from young artists are stealing the limelight in the international art world.
Beginning in spring a series of exhibitions held both at home and abroad featured many young artists and provided an excellent platform for their entry into a mature art market.
This weekend Hey! We’re 80s will showcase work from an up and coming group of artists all born in the 1980s.
These young artists, while gradually earning recognition from domestic gallery owners and collectors, are becoming the focus of attention on the international scene, changing the stereotype that the best Chinese contemporary art is related to politics or social problems.
Chi Peng, born in 1981 in the city of Yantai in Shandong Province, is an emerging young artist. He has successfully held many solo shows in foreign cities including several of the world’s top galleries, such as Centre Pompidou in Paris and Chambers Fine Art in New York.
In his solo exhibition Living in Seclusion held in Beijing in May, his series Hug Me attracted a large audience. The series included a group of young people dressed in white shirts who walked around the exhibiting hall with pillows attached to their torsos, enticing attendees to hug them.
Chi said that through this work he wanted to express the very common feeling that people of his age are so lonely that they long for a hug and understanding. He added that this feeling of isolation was not only a problem in China, but also all around the world.
The prevalence of such loneliness is why Chi believes his work is so widely accepted. He is one of the few young photographers achieving great success in the art world, with most pieces commanding around $4,000 each, relatively high in today’s photography market.
“The young artists are changing the way Western collectors and curators view Chinese contemporary art,” said Chinese curator and artistic director at Beijing-based Star Gallery, Fang Fang. “Definitely they are becoming the new emerging forces of the Chinese art world.”
Differentiating themselves from established artists internationally known for their reflections on the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) or the irony of China’s fast-developing economy, 1980’s artists pay little attention to politics and socio-economics, instead they are much more interested in reflecting the mindsets of their generation.
Like most Chinese people born in the 1980’s, the artists are usually only children. Typically this generation has been spoiled by their parents and relatives and has never had to experience economic hardship or political change. The generation is often labeled as “self-centered” but most of the artists said it was simply self-confidence.
Despite being considered as the lucky generation, the absence of siblings, huge family pressure and bombardment by a commercialized outside world, has exacerbated the feeling of isolation and loneliness for many 80s young adults once they left their “ivory towers,” according to the artists.
Hey! We’re 80s is a broad collection including a work with fish swimming in the sky and girls huddling in an aquarium, as well as toys and dolls from the 80s, blurred by the lapse of time.
Young artist Li Donghan, born in 1987 in the city of Yingkou in Liaoning Province, is among the young artists who focus on people’s inward world.
His series Play with My Ego is a personal interpretation of his generation. A building and two images of the artist himself are featured in one piece with one persona much larger than the other. The bigger image on the roof of the building is more melancholy that the smaller image which is being manipulated by the larger image like a puppet on a string.
“We are so lonely and sometimes we have to play with ourselves,” Li said. “So in my work, the expression on the bigger image’s face always looks sad.”
The fact that many artists born in the 1980s grew up as the center of attention and without brothers and sisters is one of the reasons why much of their work focuses on their inner minds, according to Feng Boyi, a well-known Chinese art critic. He believes that the young artists turn to their inward world because deep in their hearts they need to express themselves and are eager to be understood by their peers.
“One of the most salient features of the young artists’ work is that they are very sensitive to every change around them, at the same time they are kind of self-loved,” Feng said.
Such a perspective is close to the true nature of art, he added.