Organized by Alexandra Munroe with guest cocurators Philip Tinari and Hou Hanru
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, October 6, 2017–January 7, 2018
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, May 11–September 23, 2018
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, November 10, 2018–February 24, 2019
Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World surveys conceptual art practices and the culture of artistic experimentation during an era bracketed by the end of the Cold War and the Beijing Olympics of 2008, two decades characterized by the onset of globalization and the rise of a newly powerful China on the world stage. Writing in the New York Times about his pick for 2017’s top ten shows, critic Jason Farago reflects: “Building a better future, together, is going to be arduous work that will require the intelligence, the ambition, and above all, the seriousness shown by exhibitions like these.” The exhibition is organized by Alexandra Munroe, Samsung Senior Curator, Asian Art, and Senior Advisor, Global Arts, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, with guest cocurators Philip Tinari, Director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, and Hou Hanru, Artistic Director of MAXXI, National Museum of the 21st Century Arts, Rome. At the Guggenheim, Xiaorui Zhu-Nowell, Research Associate and Curatorial Assistant, Asian Art, and Kyung An, Assistant Curator, Asian Art, provided research and organizational support. Archival research was developed in collaboration with Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong. The curators worked with an international advisory committee that met under the auspices of the China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, and the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing. The exhibition is accompanied by a 324-page scholarly catalogue and a range of integrated digital resources.
“One could almost say that the 20th century was summed up a little early, in 1989, even as history since has proceeded apace.”
—Wang Hui, Historian
Art and China after 1989 presents work by 71 key artists and groups active across China and worldwide whose critical provocations aim to forge reality free from ideology, to establish the individual apart from the collective, and to define contemporary Chinese experience in universal terms. Bracketed by the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the Beijing Olympics in 2008, it surveys the culture of artistic experimentation during a time characterized by the onset of globalization and the rise of a newly powerful China on the world stage. The exhibition’s subtitle, Theater of the World, comes from an installation by the Xiamen-born, Paris-based artist Huang Yong Ping: a cage-like structure housing live reptiles and insects that coexist in a natural cycle of life, an apt spectacle of globalization’s symbiosis and raw contest.
For art and China, the year 1989 was both an end and a beginning. The June Fourth Tiananmen Incident signaled the end of a decade of relatively open political, intellectual, and artistic exploration. It also marked the start of reforms that would launch a new era of accelerated development, international connectedness, and individual possibility, albeit under authoritarian conditions. Artists were at once catalysts and skeptics of the massive changes unfolding around them. Using the critical stance and open-ended forms of international Conceptual art, they created performances, paintings, photography, installations, and video art, and initiated activist projects to engage directly with society. Their emergence during the 1990s and early 2000s coincided with the moment the Western art world began to look beyond its traditional centers, as the phenomenon of global contemporary art started to take shape. Chinese artists were crucial agents in this evolution.
Art and China after 1989 is organized in six chronological, thematic sections throughout the rotunda and on Tower Levels 5 and 7. For all the diversity the exhibition encompasses, the artists here have all sought to think beyond China’s political fray and simple East–West dogmas. This freedom of a “third space” has allowed for a vital distance, and a particular insight, as they contend with the legacies of Chinese history, international modernism, and global neoliberalism of the 1990s. Their rambunctious creativity can expand our ever-widening view of contemporary art and inspire new thinking at a moment when the questions they have faced—of identity, equality, ideology, and control—have pressing relevance.
This exhibition is organized by Alexandra Munroe, Samsung Senior Curator, Asian Art, and Senior Advisor, Global Arts, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; with guest cocurators Philip Tinari, Director, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing; and Hou Hanru, Artistic Director, MAXXI, National Museum of 21st Century Arts, Rome.
Curatorial assistance is provided by Kyung An, Assistant Curator, Asian Art, and Xiaorui Zhu-Nowell, Research Associate and Curatorial Assistant, Asian Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
The archive section was developed in collaboration with Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong.
The Leadership Committee for this exhibition is gratefully acknowledged for its generous support, with special thanks to Cochairs Thomas and Lynn Ou and Liam Wee Tay and Cindy Chua-Tay, Trustee, as well as Karen Lo, Sophia Ma, Jane Yong, Rachel and Jean-Pierre Lehmann, Jun Jun Liu, Yasko Tashiro Porté and Thierry Porté, Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang, Qinglan Ying, Jane Q. Zhao, and those who wish to remain anonymous. Additional support is provided by Gagosian and Stephen and Yana Peel.
Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Major support is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation.