Modern Chinese art now part of mainstream

By CECILY LIU | China Daily UK | Updated: 2016-11-16 18:17

Modern Chinese art has recently come to prominence after evolving from a regional phenomenon to become part of the global cultural mainstream previously dominated by Western artists and tastes.

The trend led to jaw-dropping prices at the auctions of Chinese work, with the overseas sales of Chinese art making up a third of total auction sales in 2015.

But, behind the headlines of every record-breaking sale, is an academic debate among scholars and museum curators, and many experts gathered at Oxford University recently to discuss the global surge of interest in Chinese art, and its evolution since the start of the 20th century.

It was a turbulent period that culminated in the emergence of China as a leading global economic power.

Chinese artists working at home and abroad during this time developed traditional themes and materials and incorporated styles and subjects from other countries.

The world's fascination with Chinese art predates the modern period and grew out of centuries of trade in paintings, silks and porcelain. One of the treasures at the British Museum, the Admonitions Scroll, is a 5th to 7th century narrative court painting and one of the most famous examples of Chinese art.

This month, the museum is juxtaposing it with a contemporary Chinese painting by Qu Leilei showing a 20th century soldier in the clothes of a terracotta warrior, highlighting the museum's focus on both innovation and continuity in its extensive Chinese collection.

Elsewhere, leading Western museums, including the New York Metropolitan and London's Victoria and Albert, boosted their collections of contemporary Chinese art.

Colin Mackenzie of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City said contemporary Chinese artists had not been uniformly embraced in the commercial art world and that certain artists had found favor in different regional art markets. Also, the taste of collectors in the West and in Asia can be strikingly different.

In the 20th century, many Chinese artists trained in Paris, London, Tokyo and New York, bringing Western impressionist influences to traditional Chinese ink paintings. They included Zhang Daqian, Wu Guanzhong, Lin Fengmian and Pang Xunqin, all top-selling artists today.

More recently, artists including Xu Bing, Zhang Xiaogang, Liu Dan, Qu Leilei, and Zeng Fanzhi, whose careers coincide with China's three decades of rapid economic growth and internationalization, have gone even further in their adaptations of Western esthetics.

Henry Howard Sneyd, chairman of Asian Art Europe and Americas at Sotheby's, said Chinese 20th century and contemporary art was in great demand from Western collectors because "they bring something entirely fresh".

Shane McCausland, a professor at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, said academic research into Chinese art will increasingly focus on contacts and interactions with other cultures.

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