CHINA POWER; ART NOW AFTER MAO, a documentary by PIA GETTY (DV1/Southbound DVD)

 |   |  2 min read

CHINA POWER; ART NOW AFTER MAO, a documentary by PIA GETTY (DV1/Southbound DVD)

In a recent documentary Drilling for Art, the spotlight was put on Dubai as a place with no art history (other than some minor folkloric things) and a city where 95 percent of people come from somewhere else.

A few years ago Dubai decided it needed Art -- and so in tentative steps started encouraging contemporary galleries to open, and invited in orchestra leaders and educated expats to give the country a cultural kick. When the economic downturn hit of course the whole thing just folded -- but it was emblematic of how many emerging nations, countries and cities want Art as another thing to either brag about or exploit in the service of their national profile for the West.

China's contemporary art scene is more layered and therefore more problematic: for the populace and political leaders it means accepting a shift from the collective to the individual, from propoganda to the personal -- and to some small extent China's masters want it to happen now, be uninhibited (but carefully controlled) and create then feed a market.

The ruling elite have seen that contemporaary art demonstrates "openness" and that plays well in the West.

As this fascinating and usefully sceptical doco illustrates, the tensions between the booming art market and social controls, the avant-garde and the old world, and within the artistic communities themselves, are often flinty and remain precariously unresolved.

Since the death of Mao and the courageous (if scrupulously polite) manifesto of the Star Group -- and the No Name Group -- in '79, contemporary art in China has rapidly moved through a number of phases: the schism between political pop and cyncial realism is neatly outllined -- and of course there has long been the West's infatuation with Mao-chic which is frequently artless and shallow.

That of course hardly troubles the gleefully hand-rubbing curators, marketers and gallery owners who now see work (some of it crass and emotionally empty) commanding six and seven figures in the auction houses.zhao

Some serious artists and observers here are understandably cynical, others like the panda-obsessed Zhao Bandhi could either be the new Warhol or a whimsical dilletante whose work charms locals and European catwalks but is utterly irrelevant to any serious discussion.

And there is serious discussion in China Power: about the problems inherent in the government creating museums and galleries, artists in exile, the commodification of art, the return to sentimentality for the days before Mao and the Cultural Revolution . . .

China Power is an insightful, intelligent and useful overview of how China has emerged from the Cultural Revolution to have its artists exhibiting in a forum like the Venice Biennale (even if some of it isn't much cop) and a few artists (Cao Fei, Ai Weiwei) being rightly recognised internationally.

Not sure about the panda guy though. 

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Film articles index

U23D CONCERT MOVIE: Even Better Than the Real Thing?

U23D CONCERT MOVIE: Even Better Than the Real Thing?

From where I hear it, the last couple of U2 albums have been a musical retreat from their innovative albums of the early 90s such as Achtung Baby and Zooropa, the only albums by them I have ever... > Read more

THE JACQUES TATI RESTORED COLLECTION (Madman DVD box set)

THE JACQUES TATI RESTORED COLLECTION (Madman DVD box set)

In the Sixties and Seventies it was easy and fun to ridicule French culture: they made lousy pop'n'rock, their art films were so earnest they were readily parodied . . . and they hailed Jerry... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Delta Blues, Reborn and Remastered (Rough Guide/Southbound)

Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Delta Blues, Reborn and Remastered (Rough Guide/Southbound)

Tommy Johnson is one of the more interesting figures in the shadowland of the Delta blues of the Twenties: he recorded fewer songs than the acclaimed Robert Johnson who was no relation (just 16... > Read more

VIETNAM IN 1969: A true story

VIETNAM IN 1969: A true story

In 1969, as an 18-year old, I went to Vietnam. Not to fight of course, but as a short-term "tourist". It was a brief event in a long life but confirmed for me even at that early age... > Read more