There can be no doubt that what makes Chinese contemporary art so universally powerful and internationally prominent is its uncanny ability to visually voice the modernist angst within a world that is constantly changing. Perhaps more than any other country (along with India, I would say) China’s artists have managed to consistently understand that modern day uncertainty transcends borders. As such, this angst does not belong to any particular individual or country but is, instead, embedded within the collective sensibility. It is a universal human theme.
Much has been made of the drastic economic change and consequent modernization within China and the ensuing problems which accompany such rapid socio-economic transformation. While there is no doubt that this reality has played a significant role in Chinese contemporary art, it only half-answers why Chinese contemporary art has developed such international appeal.
The real answer lies in the “immediacy of the modernist angst” that is so apparent in Chinese contemporary art, an immediacy that is a direct reflection of the “sudden and present” nature of China’s growth.
Unlike the Western World’s Industrial Revolution which occurred over a one hundred year span, China’s “industrial revolution” is taking place in the now. Moreover, it is happening in a much more condensed time span. This is also amplified by modern communications which allows one to both personally witness and experience first hand the different aspects of these changes. The Western world hasn’t lived through the drastic changes of radical modernization the way China’s people have. The Western world has not gone from black to white within the span of a few years. China has and it is this immediacy that China’s contemporary artists have been able to translate onto their canvasses.
In turn, this immediacy resonates with our Western world’s present preoccupation with political and economic uncertainty. The words terror and recession no longer belong in the sphere of “the other”. 9/11 shattered the Western world’s comfort zone and left, in its onslaught, an angst not unconnected to that experienced by China in the wake of its radical socio-economic change.
Like so many of their contemporaries, the art of Zhao Kailin, Luo Qing, Zhang Dali, and Jiang Huan explores the pervading sense of alienation that often accompanies the individual’s navigation through an uncertain world. These artists, along with a number of others, are being exhibited at Eli Klein Fine Art until March 1.
If you are in New York, the Eli Klein gallery is well worth a visit. If you walk away with anything, it will be this: the Contemporary Chinese art scene did not explode onto the Western art market because of its sensationalist subject matter or its sensationalist marketing strategy. What puts contemporary Chinese art at the forefront is its ability to speak directly to the global citizen of today.