The Long March: Marking 40 Years of Reform and Development in China – 长征:中国改革开放40年

The year 2018 marked 40 years of reform and development in China. However, a gloomy reality has overshadowed the democratic aspirations that many within and outside of the country had associated with the implementation of a market economy. Initially reform and opening up served as an engine to transform China from an impoverished state to a formidable economic power. Yet the process of de-politicization following the student movement in 1989 set the ball rolling on a singular economic track. In 2018, mirroring the rise of right-wing strongmen across the world, everyday life and intellectual discussion have been increasingly subject to tightened surveillance and controls as President Xi consolidates his own powerbase.

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The Long March: Marking 40 Years of Reform and Development in China - 长征:中国改革开放40年

Louise Bourgeois, Maman (Mother), 1999, steel and marble, 9.3 x 8.9 x 10.2 m. Courtesy: Tate, © The Easton Foundation/VAGA (ARS), NY; photograph: Jiaxi and Zhe

Paradoxically, the continuous growth in the number of art museums, both private and state-funded, art fairs and museum visitors in major Chinese cities gives an impression of a flourishing and robust art system. Most private museums, established riding the wave of urban property development in China in the last decade, have opted mainly to mount blockbuster exhibitions by international artist celebrities, Josef Beuys, Christian Boltanski, Louise Bourgeois, Maurizo Cattelan, Olafur Eliasson, Thomas Hirshorn, Cindy Sherman: the list goes on. The quantity of such foreign imports into China within the space of one year felt unprecedented.

In November, Shanghai was laureled by two concurrent art fairs, with increasingly international exhibitor lists, its flagship biennale and a star-studded roster of solo exhibitions in museums all over town. For some Chinese art professionals, this was a reality check. China has been cultivating the international art scene for years: in November, it felt like it had truly arrived. Yet within this picture, Chinese collectors and museum practitioners continue to play the part of admirers and, at the best, eager consumers of Western-formed art, artists and art dealers. Chinese galleries had hoped that the presence of foreign galleries in China would bring exposure to Chinese artists and introduce more foreign collectors to the Chinese art market. The reality, however, has been somewhat distinct – typified by one Western dealer’s comment that the only kind of cultural exchange he was interested in was leaving artworks behind in China and taking home cash.

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The Long March: Marking 40 Years of Reform and Development in China - 长征:中国改革开放40年

Lu Yang, Material World Knight, 2018, installation view, Shanghai Biennale. Courtesy: the artist and Shanghai Biennale

For some, it was both impossible to identify with the state’s aggressive nationalist agenda and frustrating to encounter such outright expressions of one-way conversation. No doubt there emerged more places for the display and celebration of a certain type of art, yet space for critical practices and serious discussion around them was quickly deteriorating. Tiptoeing around sensitive subjects, individual artists and art professionals were simultaneously exasperated by the jarring reality of a thriving art scene that only star artists on market terms could take central stage.

During 2018, the brief occurrence and fast fading out of #Metoo in China, including within the art world, confirmed the fact that genuine and challenging discussions could barely take hold within a highly monitored and contained social space. Those who were called out by #Metoo were often young and new-comers to the scene; and, while there were a few cases involving high-profile academics, artworld big-shots and power players were barely bruised, safely guarded by our deep-seated and instinctive collective endorsement of power.

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The Long March: Marking 40 Years of Reform and Development in China - 长征:中国改革开放40年

Louise Bourgeois, Cell (Black Days), 2006, steel, fabric, marble, glass, rubber, thread, and wood, 3 x 4 x 3 m. Courtesy: © The Easton Foundation/VAGA (ARS), NY; photograph: Jiaxi and Zhe

As the commercial sector in art gained momentum, the state-funded art structure skewed ever more towards those with market potential or official connections. With the Chinese government growing increasingly influential both inside the country and abroad, state funding presented itself as a centralized source of resources and opportunities for exhibitions and networking. Those unwilling or unable to engage with the system faced other challenges: studio spaces were bulldozed and artists were pushed further outside the city. Independent curators find it harder to get work. It is no wonder that more and more contemporary artists and art critics have chosen to secure positions within the state-funded art structure, including at art institutions and academies, or have clung more tightly to these affiliations. While there are restrictions that come with such positions – for instance, having international travel limited by school authorities and being unable to express dissident opinions – the enticing perks and promising prospects these jobs can bring make individual freedom inconsequential. None of these fundamental changes could be openly addressed in art or in writing. This moment of ideological hardening and closing-up comes 40 years after intellectual liberation (sixiang jiefang) was made a slogan and principle by the communist government to correct the ideological extremism of the Cultural Revolution of the preceding decade.

It’s hard to predict where all of this will eventually lead us; but one thing is for sure, China’s art world in 2018 suffered an astounding dearth of passion, spontaneity, anticipation or any sense of mission. The culture industries expanded while becoming increasingly smooth, entertaining and docile – ready to comply with any form of operation and calculation. The reform and opening up set in motion 40 years ago and accelerated during the 1990s promised a marketplace for forms of art not approved by official doctrine. This gave rise to what has become the canon of contemporary Chinese art, which distinguished itself by its independence from and defiance towards an authoritarian framework. The promise of the international art arena conjured up another horizon of openness, tolerance, freedom and development for many in China. However, as recent developments indicate, art is trapped inside many forms of institution, both metaphorical and actual. Instead of the urgency, 20 years ago, of constructing an art system, perhaps, today, the rescue will lie in its dismantling.

Main image: Lu Yang, Material World Knight, 2018, installation view, Shanghai Biennale. Courtesy: the artist and Shanghai Biennale

Carol Yinghua Lu

Carol Yinghua Lu is a contributing editor of frieze, a PhD candidate in art history at Melbourne University and director of Beijing’s Inside-out Art Museum.

Opinion /

Carol Yinghua Lu
Lu Yang
Louise Bourgeois
Shanghai Biennale
Looking Back 2018
Looking Back


2018年是中国改革开放40年的一年。然而,令人沮丧的现实掩盖了国内外许多人与实行市场经济有关的民主愿望。最初,改革开放是中国从一个贫穷国家转变为一个强大经济力量的引擎。然而,1989年学生运动之后的去政治化进程使经济走上了一条奇特的轨道。2018,反映了右翼强人在世界各地的崛起,日常生活和知识分子的讨论越来越受到严密的监视和控制,因为席总统巩固了自己的权力基础。1.JPG The Long March: Marking 40 Years of Reform and Development in China - 长征:中国改革开放40年路易斯·布尔乔亚,MAMAN(母亲),1999,钢和大理石,9.3×8.9×10.2米。礼貌:Tate,{伊斯顿基金会/ VAGA(ARS),NY;照片:Jiaxi和哲悖论,艺术博物馆数量的持续增长,私人和国家资助的,艺术博览会和缪斯。中国主要城市的游客给人的印象是一个繁荣、健壮的艺术体系。大多数私人博物馆,在过去十年里坐拥中国城市房地产开发的浪潮而建,主要选择举办国际知名艺术家,约瑟夫·博伊斯基,克里斯蒂安·博尔坦斯基,路易斯·资产阶级,毛里佐·卡特兰,奥拉弗·埃利亚松,托马斯·希尔桑,辛迪·谢尔曼的大型展览:名单还在继续。一年之内,这种外国进口到中国的数量是前所未有的。去年11月,上海同时举办了两次艺术博览会,国际参展商名单不断增加,其旗舰双年展和满是明星的单人展览名册遍布全城。对于一些中国艺术专业人士来说,这是一个现实检验。多年来,中国一直在培育国际艺术舞台:在11月,它感觉自己真的到了。然而,在这幅画中,中国收藏家和博物馆从业人员继续扮演着崇拜者的角色,充其量地,他们热衷于西方艺术的消费者、艺术家和艺术经销商。中国画廊曾希望外国画廊在中国的出现能给中国艺术家带来曝光,并把更多的外国收藏家引入中国艺术市场。然而,现实却有些不同——一个西方商人评论说,他唯一感兴趣的文化交流就是把艺术品留在中国,把钱带回家。齐世杰齐鲁阳材料世界骑士鲁阳jpg The Long March: Marking 40 Years of Reform and Development in China - 长征:中国改革开放40年鲁阳,材料世界骑士,2018,安装图,上海双年展。礼貌:艺术家和上海双年展。对于一些人来说,既无法认同国家激进的民族主义议程,也无法接受这种单向对话的坦率表达。毋庸置疑,出现了更多地方来展示和庆祝某种类型的艺术,但是用于批评实践和围绕它们进行认真讨论的空间正在迅速恶化。踮起脚尖绕着敏感的主题,个别艺术家和艺术专业人士同时被一个繁荣的艺术场景的震撼现实激怒,只有明星艺术家才能在市场上占据中心舞台。2018年,在中国,包括艺术界,“Me.”的短暂出现和迅速淡出,证实了这样一个事实,即在高度监控和包容的社会空间内,真实和富有挑战性的讨论几乎不可能进行。那些被Metoo召唤的人常常是年轻人和新来者,虽然有一些涉及知名学者、艺术界大人物和强权人物的案件,但他们几乎没有受伤,受到我们对权力的根深蒂固和本能的集体支持的安全保护。5.JPG WPA60260602IMG路易斯·布尔乔亚,电池(黑色天),2006,钢,织物,大理石,玻璃,橡胶,螺纹,木材,3×4×3米。礼貌:{伊斯顿基金会/ VAGA(ARS),NY;照片:Jiaxi和Zhe作为商业部门在艺术获得势头,国家资助的艺术结构歪曲EV更倾向于那些具有市场潜力或官方联系的人。随着中国政府在国内外影响力的日益增强,国家资金成为展览和网络的集中资源和机会。那些不愿意或不能参与该系统的人面临着其他挑战:工作室被推平,艺术家们被推到城市之外。独立的馆长发现很难找到工作。难怪越来越多的当代艺术家和艺术批评家选择在国家资助的艺术结构中获得职位,包括在艺术机构和学院,或者更紧密地抓住这些联系。虽然这些职位受到限制——例如,学校当局限制了国际旅行,不能表达不同意见——但是这些工作带来的诱人的福利和有希望的前景会使个人自由变得无关紧要。这些根本性的变化都不能用艺术或文字公开地加以解决。在知识分子解放(思乡解放)40年后,中国政府为纠正前十年文化大革命中的思想极端主义,提出了口号和原则,此时此刻,意识形态正在强化和关闭。很难预测这一切最终将引领我们走向何方;但有一点是肯定的,2018年的中国艺术世界遭遇了令人惊讶的激情、自发性、期待和使命感的缺乏。文化产业在逐渐变得顺畅、娱乐、温顺的同时,也在不断扩大,随时准备进行任何形式的操作和计算。40年前开始的、20世纪90年代加速的改革开放,为那些没有被官方理论认可的艺术形式提供了市场。这就产生了中国当代艺术的经典,它以独立于专制框架和蔑视专制框架而著称。国际艺术舞台的承诺为中国许多人开启了开放、宽容、自由和发展的另一个视野。然而,正如最近的发展所表明的,艺术被困在许多形式的制度之中,包括隐喻的和实际的。20年前,或许在今天,重建艺术体系的紧迫性不在于此,而是在于它的拆除。主图:陆洋,《物质世界骑士》,2018,安装图,上海双年展。礼貌:艺术家,上海双年展,卡罗尔·英华路,卡罗尔·英华路,弗里斯特主编,墨尔本大学艺术史博士生,北京内外艺术博物馆馆长。《意见》/《卡罗尔·英华路》、《路易斯·路易斯·杨》、《回首2018年上海双年展》


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