The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum announces Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, a major exhibition of contemporary art from China spanning 1989 to 2008, arguably the most transformative period of modern Chinese and recent world history. A fresh interpretative survey of Chinese experimental art framed by the geopolitical dynamics resulting from the end of the Cold War, the spread of globalization, and the rise of China, Art and China after 1989 is on view from October 6, 2017, to January 7, 2018. The exhibition, the largest of its kind ever in North America, looks at a bold contemporary art movement that anticipated, chronicled, and agitated for the sweeping social transformation that has brought China to the center of the global conversation. With a concentration on the conceptualist art practice of two generations of artists, this exhibition examines how Chinese artists have been both agents and skeptics of China’s emergence as a global presence and places their experiments firmly in a global art-historical context.
“Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World revolves around key artists, groups, and movements active across China and internationally, whose provocations aim to forge reality free from ideology, to establish the individual apart from the collective polity, and to define contemporary Chinese experience in universal terms,” remarks lead curator Alexandra Munroe. “This focused examination invites us to consider our own contemporary history through the lens of some of the most thoughtful contemporary artists from China.” Occupying the Guggenheim’s full Frank Lloyd Wright–designed rotunda and two Tower Galleries, Art and China after 1989 highlights the conceptual and artistic achievements of 71 artists and collectives and features nearly 150 iconic and lesser-known works on loan from private and public collections across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. Divided into six chronological and thematic sections, the exhibition showcases works in experimental mediums including film and video, ink, installation, and Land art, as well as painting, sculpture, photography, performance, and socially engaged participatory art and activism. Archival materials documenting and contextualizing key moments and movements in this contested history are also interwoven throughout the exhibition.
The exhibition title derives from an installation by artist Huang Yong Ping that will occupy the High Gallery in the introductory section of the Guggenheim show. Theater of the World (1993) is a large, octagonal structure that houses hundreds of live reptiles and insects. Teeming with life, the work foreshadows an underlying sense of visceral realism and realpolitik that is present in much of the most interesting work of this period. A select roster includes Ai Weiwei, Big Tail Elephant Group, Cai Guo-Qiang, Cao Fei, Chen Zhen, Chen Chieh-jen, Datong Dazhang, Ding Yi, Geng Jianyi, Huang Yong Ping, Wenda Gu, Kan Xuan, Rem Koolhaas/OMA, Libreria Borges, Liu Dan, Liu Wei, Liu Xiaodong, New Measurement Group, Ou Ning, Ellen Pau, Qiu Zhijie, Shen Yuan, Song Dong, Wang Guangyi, Wang Jianwei, Yan Lei, Yang Jiechang, Yin Xiuzhen, Yu Hong, Xijing Men, Xu Bing, Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Peili, Zhang Hongtu, Zhang Xiaogang, Zhao Bandi, Zhao Gang, and Zhou Tiehai.
Running parallel to the exhibition, the Guggenheim will present a 10-week documentary film series cocurated by Ai Weiwei and Wang Fen. Turn It On: China on Film features 20 documentary films by more than a dozen filmmakers, including Ai Weiwei, Huang Wenhai, Tang Danhong, and others, whose work investigates the political, social, economic, and cultural conditions of contemporary China. Produced between 2001 and 2016, many of the films will be screened in the United States for the first time.
Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World is organized by Alexandra Munroe, Samsung Senior Curator, Asian Art, and Senior Advisor, Global Arts, at the Guggenheim. She is working with guest cocurators Philip Tinari, Director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, and Hou Hanru, Artistic Director, MAXXI National Museum of 21st Century Arts, Rome. Xiaorui Zhu-Nowell, Research Associate and Curatorial Assistant, Asian Art, and Kyung An, Assistant Curator, Asian Art, Guggenheim Museum, have provided organizational support. Archival research has been developed in collaboration with Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong. The curators are working with an international advisory committee that has met under the auspices of the China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, and the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing. Art and China after 1989 is the 11th show developed by the museum’s Asian Art Initiative, which was founded in 2006 under Dr. Munroe’s leadership to expand the Guggenheim’s curatorial purview to encompass artistic achievements and critical discourses active beyond, but also intersecting with, the West.