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Yue Minjun, Noah's Ark (detail), 2005

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The Year of Chinese Art
December 26, 2007 - January 8, 2008

With major museum shows and record-breaking auction sales, Chinese artists enthralled the international art world this year. We look back at the year's best Chinese art exhibitions, in venues from Oslo to Istanbul, and interview Yue Minjun, whose smiling self-portraits are currently on view at New York's Queens Museum of Art. Suling Wang's abstract-expressionist take on traditional Chinese painting catches our fancy, and we recommend the new comprehensive compilation Artists in China. Exploring other regions of the world, we check out Russian collective AES+F's new animations in New York and Ken Lum's revamped Rorschach tests in Frankfurt.

Hirst Gives Tate Gifts
(Times, December 14)
How would you like to find a dissected cow under your Christmas tree this year? In the spirit of the season, Damien Hirst has given four of his works — collectively worth over £10 million — to the Tate. The donations include a replica of 1993's Mother and Child Divided, a bisected cow and calf preserved in glass tanks, which represents part of the series that won Hirst the 1995 Turner Prize. The other works include sea-shell sculpture Life without You (1991); The Acquired Inability to Escape (1991), a vitrine filled with smoking paraphernalia; and the dead-fly painting Who Is Afraid of the Dark? (2002). In a related story, Hirst is joining U2's Bono to host a charity art auction for African HIV/AIDS relief. The event will offer pieces for sale by Georg Baselitz, Antony Gormley, Subodh Gupta, Anish Kapoor, and Jeff Koons.

Historic Graf Mural Found in SoHo Loft
(International Herald Tribune, December 12)
A large collaborative mural — dubbed "graffiti's holy grail" — created some 30 years ago by street-art luminaries was recently rediscovered in a SoHo building being converted into luxury condominiums. The silver, gold, red, and pink tags include designs by graf pioneers Fab 5 Freddy, Futura 2000, and possibly Jean-Michel Basquiat. The mural was found in the former loft of art critic Edit deAk, an early supporter of graffiti art who occupied the space in the '70s and early '80s, and is now on public display through February 15 as part of Gallery 151's The Wild Style Exhibit.

Art Basel and Design Miami Partner
(Financial Times, December 8)
Art Basel is teaming up with Design Miami to further expand its global reach. MCH Messe Schweiz, the Swiss company that runs Art Basel, has taken a 50% stake in Design Miami Basel and a 10% stake in the original Design Miami. In an interview, Design Miami cofounder Craig Robins said that the resulting partnership would allow the groups to bring large-scale art and design events to Russia and China. Robins said, "I decided it was time to connect what we do here in Miami with other cities. The idea is to build a global platform that will make us stronger; in turn, this will bring resources back to Miami."

Abramovic on Preserving Performance
(, December 13)
Having helped familiarize the art world with performance, Yugoslavian visionary Marina Abramovic recently announced the establishment of her Foundation for Preservation of Performance Art. Abramovic sold her house of 30 years in Amsterdam in order to purchase a 20,000-square-foot building in Hudson, New York, which was originally built in the '30s. In addition to documenting performance art's past, the institution will embrace the here-and-now of the form and include artist workshops, public classes, a library, and a grants program. Says Abramovic, "Different people will meet, ideas can be exchanged and something creative can take place. My dream about this is like the Andy Warhol Factory without drugs."

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Note: Some online publications require registration to access the articles. If you encounter a registration screen, try a shared username and password from BugMeNot.

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[ China Takes the Stage ]


Cao Fei / Yan Pei-Ming / Sui Jianguo / Yang Fudong

This year has been a turning point for Chinese contemporary art — no longer an emerging phenomenon, Chinese art now sets the world's agenda. Foreshadowing events to come, the Tate Liverpool opened The Real Thing: Contemporary Art from China in March, in which the collaborative Yangjiang Group staged a mock fireworks battle over Liverpool. Ai Weiwei further enlivened the UK's oldest Chinese community by installing a gigantic, glittering chandelier in the Albert Dock, modeled after Vladimir Tatlin's Monument to the Third International.

The year's other major museum show, China Power Station: Part II at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo, gave relative unknowns a chance to shine. Shanghai photo collective Birdhead exhibited alongside Guangzhou conceptual artist Chu Yun. Elsewhere, shows such as China — Facing Reality at Vienna's Museum Moderner Kunst, China Welcomes You... at Kunsthaus Graz, and Made in China at the Israel Museum kept the PRC theme in heavy international rotation.

Chinese artists also starred in the year's major fairs and biennials. Ai Weiwei wowed crowds at documenta by bringing his own contingent of 1,001 Chinese citizens who responded to an invitation posted on his blog. Yang Fudong's five-part film cycle, Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest, paced the Venice Biennale's centerpiece exhibition at the Arsenale, with individual viewing booths for each part of the work. At the Biennale's Chinese Pavilion, San Francisco-based curator Hou Hanru installed site-specific works by four female artists, including Shen Yuan's giant baby bottles and pacifiers. Hou resurfaced to direct the Istanbul Biennial with another Venice participant, Cao Fei, who also brought the Chinese art explosion into the virtual realm of Second Life with her China Tracy and RMB City projects.

This year also witnessed a plethora of solo exhibitions by Chinese artists, including historically important shows such as Kunsthalle Wien's retrospective of late installation artist Chen Zhen, kestnergesellschaft's survey of cheeky sculptor Wang Du, the Asia Society's retrospective of avant-gardist Zhang Huan, and the Queens Museum of Art's show for Yue Minjun. Huang Yong Ping's memorable House of Oracles exhibition, organized by Walker Art Center curator Philippe Vergne, toured to the Vancouver Art Gallery, where animal-rights activists demanded the removal of Theater of the World, a gigantic case of live predatory arachnids, insects, and reptiles.

In the commercial sphere, Korean powerhouse gallery Arario opened its New York branch in late November with Absolute Images II, a large group show that includes iconic works by dinosaur sculptor Sui Jianguo and a giant toilet-paper roll from Zeng Hao. Beijing art rocker Yan Lei drew praise for his Sparkling series of pop paintings at New York's Robert Miller Gallery, and a series of Cai Guo-Qiang's gunpowder drawings sold for a cool $9.5 million at Christie's in Hong Kong.

But the most significant developments in Chinese art took place in China itself. The inaugural ShContemporary art fair brought 100 top galleries from around the world to Shanghai, and the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art opened in Beijing. Although UCCA's premiere show went retro with the theme '85 New Wave, there's no looking back as the country steamrolls ahead to the 2008 Olympics and an ever-brighter global spotlight. (AM)

Absolute Images II continues at Arario New York through January 5; Yue Minjun and the Symbolic Smile is on view at the Queens Museum of Art in New York through January 6; Yan Lei's exhibition Sparkling is at New York's Robert Miller Gallery until January 19; Zhang Huan: Altered States continues at the Asia Society in New York until January 20; China — Facing Reality is on view at the Museum Moderner Kunst in Vienna through February 2; Made in China is at the Israel Museum through March 1; and House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective travels to the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing on March 21.

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Clayton Brothers: Patient

F2 Gallery
Now through January 14

  In their first exhibition in China, the Clayton Brothers explore the topics of mortality and metamorphosis in new collaborative mixed-media paintings. Animated by a saturated mash-up of visual styles, figures, text, and objects, the Claytons' Patient series depicts the cycle of fleshly decay and spiritual transcendence at the heart of the human experience. In the engrossing and richly colored Working in Harmony, a cross-sectioned human head exhibits dynamic formal counterpoint between sinewy lines, dense pockets of fine detail, and the emotionally expressive countenances that have become the artists' signature. The postmodern cavalcade of idiomatic citations, assorted bodily organs, and gruesome hospital scenarios cohere into cosmological parables, both sublime and psychotic. (SND)

Soundwaves: The Art of Sampling
San Diego

Museum of Contemporary Art
Now through December 30

  Inspired by contemporary music's sampling processes, the MCASD La Jolla's Soundwaves is a group exhibition showcasing 15 contemporary artists whose visual work is driven by aural elements. Following Wassily Kandinsky's lead, some artists, such as Stephen Beck and Tim Bavington, choose to translate sound directly onto canvases or video, creating compositions in which music dictates color and pattern. Other artists prefer a more audible approach: Céleste Boursier-Mougenot's installation of dishware gently swirling in three inflatable pools creates impromptu medleys when the porcelain collides. In The Sound of Music, Dave Muller represents the personal nature of sound by painting stylized, vertical images of spines from specifically selected album jackets. The variety of methods on view makes for a rich remix of visual art. (AT)

Laura Letinsky: To Say It Isn't So

Monique Meloche
Now through January 5

  Chicago-based photographer Laura Letinsky is best known for her idiosyncratic, intimate portraits of couples and painterly still-lifes depicting remnants of meals, overtly referencing Dutch and Flemish baroque genre paintings. In her new body of work, To Say It Isn't So, Letinsky arranges tabletop tableaux of everyday detritus in her studio — a purported departure from previous domestic concerns that drains the images of narrative context. Stark white-on-white meditations depict cloth and paper surfaces with subtle, affecting bursts of color, such as the robin's-egg blue of a Styrofoam container and the spring green of an incongruous vegetable in Untitled #14. Yet Letinsky's signature light-drenched compositions are treated so tenderly that you're compelled to read a fleeting — albeit peculiar — trash-as-treasure symbolism into her chosen objects. (AMM)

AES+F: Last Riot 2
New York

Claire Oliver Gallery
Now through December 29

  Russian team AES+F, who exhibited in the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale this summer, presents Last Riot 2 at multidisciplinary gallery Claire Oliver. Upstairs, in a series of digital prints, AES+F envisions a dystopian, motley crew of topless, attenuated teenagers and children sporting combat boots, swords, AK-47s, and baseball bats. Drawing on the iconography of video games, fashion editorials, and Baroque masters including Caravaggio, AES+F sets the warring adolescents against a landscape of snow-capped mountains and deserts, anachronistically populated by Great War-era tanks, futuristic windmills, and merry-go-rounds. Downstairs, the group adds a heroic soundtrack to an enthralling animated single-channel video, whose loose narrative depicts morphing bodies in hand-to-hand combat. In their phantasmagoria of gratuitous yet sanitized violence, AES+F enacts a panoply of potential manmade catastrophes. (TJL)

Ken Lum: Rorschach Shopkeeper Works

L.A. Galerie Lothar Albrecht
Now through December 31

  In his new Rorschach Shopkeeper Works at Frankfurt's L.A. Galerie, Vancouver conceptualist Ken Lum playfully poses the question as to whether, in our media-driven culture, advertising copy has replaced abstract inkblots as a template for identity projection. Using advertising signs as source material, Lum exhibits nine moderately scaled, brightly colored paintings whose mirrored compositions obfuscate the original commercial meaning. The reflection in Palace suggests that the eponymous text could be read as "Pain," creating an art deco-inspired composition with cowboy boots arranged beneath holy-looking oxen linked by their tails. Lum frequently transforms the scrolling text into pure decoration, notably in the purple-and-white Chemist. Though the works cynically ply the conflation of identity with material accumulation, the paintings also betray nostalgia for the idiosyncrasy and personality of handmade advertising. (AB)

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[ Suling Wang ]

Suling Wang

Taiwan-born, London-based artist Suling Wang creates paintings that draw on two divergent artistic traditions: Chinese landscape painting and the all-over abstraction of European and American mid-century modernism. This aesthetic pairing reveals each tradition's non-perspectival foundations and a mutual disregard for rational relationships between objects in space. In works such as Shakadang Loops, Wang modernizes the mountainous topographies of Imperial-era Chinese painting, transforming them into swooping, contorting forms. She submerges these shapes in chaotic swathes of color and freely interrupts them with gestural marks, confounding any conventional spatial logic. Though a generation ago such an approach would have signaled an artist's turn towards subjective interiority, Wang's paintings, while emotive, don't mine the depths of her subconscious. Instead, they represent a virtual disorder that extends well beyond the paintings' borders, born from layers upon layers of detailed information.

A graduate of Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art, Wang has exhibited internationally, most notably in the group exhibition Direct Painting at the Kunsthalle Mannheim, Germany, and in solo exhibitions at London's Victoria Miro Gallery, New York's Lehmann Maupin, and Galería Soledad Lorenzo in Madrid. The titles from her current show at Pékin Fine Arts in Beijing — Origin Drift, Transient Origins, and The River Chases East Mountain — betray her concern with states of inception, the moments before objects appear as coherent and discrete. As cosmological metaphors, Wang's paintings express, in her words, "the idea of a reality, which is continually in a state of flux or dissolution, fragmenting and then becoming whole, before falling apart again." (HGM)

Suling Wang's paintings are on view at Pékin Fine Arts in Beijing through January 15.

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[ Yue Minjun ]


Yue Minjun

One of the leaders of the avant-garde art movement that has swept through China over the past 20 years, Yue Minjun is celebrated for his paintings, drawings, and sculptures, whose laughing characters are based on self-portraits. Using humor to comment on a variety of social issues, Yue has been most closely identified with a group of Chinese artists known as cynical realists. Artkrush editor Paul Laster sat down with the artist to discuss his work prior to the opening of his survey show Yue Minjun and the Symbolic Smile at the Queens Museum of Art in New York.
AK: Your subjects are always represented with the same big smile. Are you a happy guy?

YM: Half and half — I'm happiest when I'm working.

AK: What does that omnipresent smile symbolize?

YM: It's an expression that encompasses both joy and disdain, happiness and anxiety — the full range of human laughter.

AK: What was the biggest influence on your work when you were first starting out?

YM: My surroundings.

AK: Were you trained as a social realist?

YM: Yes, I studied painting for four years at the Hebei Normal University in northeast China.

AK: How does cynical realism relate to social realism?

keep reading the interview »

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  Artists in China
Philip Tinari and Mario Ciampi
Verba Volant, Ltd.

Featuring photographs by Mario Ciampi and essays by Art Basel advisor Philip Tinari, Artists in China is the ultimate guide to the movers and shakers who have brought worldwide attention to Chinese contemporary art. Covering more than 50 artists, curators, and collectors, this dynamic coffee-table tome offers an insider's look into the lives and spaces of practicing artists. Moving from homes to studios to galleries, it walks through Lin Tianmiao and Wang Gongxin's sprawling home in Tongxian and Hong Hao's basement studio in an upscale single-family housing development in northeastern Beijing. Ai Weiwei's architectural skills are visible in his voluminous home and studio, as well as his designs for Rong Rong and Inri's crisp white live/work quarters and Urs Meile's Beijing gallery space. Elsewhere, Chinese businessman Guan Yi flaunts his significant collection in a private museum space, and critic/curator Li Xianting opens his stylish home in the artists' community of Songzhuang, sharing the work of artists that he's supported over the years. (PL)

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Cover Art
Yue Minjun
Noah's Ark, 2005
87 x 118 in./ 221 x 299.7 cm
Oil on canvas
Private Collection
Courtesy Queens Museum of Art, New York
All Rights Reserved

Paul Laster

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Artkrush is a twice-monthly email magazine, featuring current news, people, and events in the international art community. All stories and links are pure editorial, never paid advertisements.

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