Commissioned by Qatar Museums, contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang has devoted three years to the curatorial research and development of the large-scale exhibition What About the Art? Contemporary Art from China. The exhibition will open at Qatar Museums’ 3,500-square-metre Gallery Al Riwaq on 14 March, 2016 featuring works by 15 living artists and artist collectives born in Mainland China: Jenova Chen, Hu Xiangqian, Hu Zhijun, Huang Yong Ping, Li Liao, Liang Shaoji, Liu Wei, Liu Xiaodong, Jennifer Wen MA, Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Wang Jianwei, Xu Bing, Xu Zhen, Yang Fudong, and ZHOU Chunya.

Recent critical reception of contemporary Chinese art has focused largely on sociopolitical issues and record market prices. In response to the lack of detailed consideration given to contemporary Chinese artists’ artistic value and originality, the exhibition confronts the contemporary art world with the questions: What about the art itself? How do these Chinese artists contribute to the creativity of contemporary art?

What About the Art? Contemporary Art from China examines the issue of creativity—a topic rarely touched upon in the multitude of exhibitions on Chinese contemporary art. The exhibition aims to illuminate a set of current practices by Chinese artists that attempt to challenge the Chinese traditional aesthetics and the Western art historical canon. By presenting each artist’s works in an independent gallery space, the exhibition highlights their individual pursuit of artistic expressions, concepts, methodologies and attitudes. Their diverse bodies of work cross the media of painting, sculpture, installation, video, performance and interactive video game design. This exhibition offers a unique perspective to the contemporary art world, shifting an emphasis from its idiomatic language of criticism, biography and context, to a focus on the artworks themselves.

Cai Guo-Qiang has also invited scholar Wang Mingxian to curate Timeline, a gallery display featuring archival documents, images and data of contemporary Chinese art covering the period from 1949 to present. This gallery will provide visitors with a rare glimpse into the historical and cultural development of contemporary Chinese art by revealing its parallel and conflicting relationship with mainstream Chinese culture.

The exhibition catalogue, to be published in Chinese, English, and Arabic, is conceived and edited by CAI Guo-Qiang. It crystalises the three years of field research, over the course of which 250 pivotal exhibitions on Chinese Art were surveyed and over 20 art historians, critics, and curators were interviewed. The catalogue includes essays by internationally renowned scholars Terry Smith, Jerome Silbergeld and WANG Hui in addition to contributions by featured artists, along with a timeline reviewing major events in the history of contemporary Chinese art.

What About the Art? will feature a 60-minute documentary film under the same title, directed by Shanshan Xia and produced by 33 Studio NY. The documentary examines the pursuit of creativity in our contemporary society – both in and outside of China. By recording the curator’s dialogues with artists, critics, and scholars, the film reveals the exhibition’s curatorial concept. By combining the artwork and exhibition production process with China’s encompassing cityscapes the film offers a window into contemporary Chinese culture and society.

As a key programme in the 2016 Qatar-China Year of Culture, the exhibition has received generous support from China National Arts Fund, Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture and Shanghai International Culture Association