What is the hot debate on Chinese contemporary art?

by CRTV

Zhuang Yan

Today, we have interviewed Chinese art critic Su Wei after his lecture in Leiden University. As a curator himself, Su Wei has his own insights and belief into Chinese art.

On Feb. 3rd 1942, the Lu Xun Fine Arts Academy in Yan’an sent a delegation consisting of nine artists to the frontline of Anti-Japanese war. After their return to Yan’an, artist Zhuang Yan realized an exhibition along with two other members of the delegation. They presented some paintings they had finished during their visit at the frontline, which were then sharply criticized as ‘too much like Matisse’ and ‘alienated from the people’. Given the fact that the exhibition was held during the ‘Yan’an Forum on Literature and art’, one of the most significant events in China’s modern history of art, the ‘debate of Matisse’ inevitably turned into a political discussion. Mao Zedong’s talk at ‘Yan’an Forum on Literature and art’ stipulates that art should reflect the life of the ‘working class’ and serve politics, therefore, the ‘debate of Matisse’ doesn’t revolve around a certain formalist aesthetics, rather, it is a postponed discussion of modernism: ‘Matisse’ and its modern ideology never arrived.

The talk elaborated on the influence of the ‘debate of Matisse’, focusing on several historical cases of art practice in the 30s, 80s, 90s and 2000s. By analyzing their context and various forms of struggle with political ideology, the talk brought up several common issues shared by different art practitioners in different eras and an intellectual trace that leads to current state of Chinese contemporary art. On what basis can we discuss China’s art practice? How is the commercialized formalist wave, which is taking place in Beijing and Shanghai’s art scene, related to Chinese modern ideological development, what is missing and hidden on behalf of internationalization and globalisation? To what extend does or doesn’t Chinese artists’ modernist appeal overlap with the modernist blueprint of the state? All these questions need to be re-examined in a new art-historical framework that differentiates itself from the existing art historical narrative, which – since more than three decades – has been governing our understanding of China’s art practice with its dogma of cultural criticism and appropriation of occident methodology.

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