Tate Liverpool Fourth floor galleries
30 March – 10 June 2007
Twinned with Shanghai, and home to the oldest Chinese community in the UK, Liverpool has always maintained an active dialogue with China. This historical legacy is reflected in the forthcoming exhibition The Real Thing: Contemporary Art from China, which brings to Liverpool art from one of the world’s most dynamic and culturally sophisticated countries. The exhibition will feature some of the most spectacular works made in recent years, many for the first time outside of China, and present an in-depth survey of work by an emergent generation of young artists.
Working in close collaboration with the Beijing-based writer and curator Karen Smith, and the Shanghai-based artist and curator Xu Zhen, Simon Groom (Head of Exhibitions at Tate Liverpool) has been researching artists and works for the exhibition for the past few years. Covering more than 1000 square metres, the exhibition will feature the work of about 20 artists in a wide range of media, and will include several large-scale installations, as well as many new commissions.
The exhibition at Tate Liverpool will be the most comprehensive show in the UK to reflect the varied and complex nature of contemporary art in China, and will present some of the most interesting and important art to be made since 2000. Contemporary Chinese art is still largely synonymous in the West with the work of a previous generation of artists – those who launched the new art scene in the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s. Their emphasis on political figurative painting, presented to the West as an example of political and cultural engagement, simply updated the tradition of social realism for a Western audience. This ‘political pop’ is still considered by many as the defining style of contemporary Chinese art, and synonymous with the avant-garde.
The title, ‘The Real Thing’, can be taken straight, as an indication that the exhibition is a true reflection of contemporary art in China. Many artists show a sincerity in their work that is noticeably lacking in the ‘cynical realism’ style of previous generations. ‘The Real Thing’ can also be taken ironically - humour and irony characterise much of the art currently made in China. The title also alludes to the West’s insatiable fascination with China, and its attempts to discover the ‘real’ China.
With the advent of collective arenas like the 798 Art District in Beijing and the Morganshan Warehouse complex in Shanghai, and with increased media coverage within Chinese and foreign language publications, contemporary art has started to make inroads into Chinese society. Accompanied by a broadening awareness of international practice, the work has changed, often radically, in only a few years. These predominantly young artists have chosen to remain in China unlike many of the generation before them. They are moving towards a self-confidence that stems from an understanding of the contemporary world, China’s place within it, as well as the contemplation of their own positions within a society at a time of rapid cultural change.
A catalogue will accompany the exhibition, produced by one of China’s leading graphic designers, and will update the story of cultural exchange and development within China, as well as identify some of the themes to emerge from a new generation of artists used to global exchange.