Cultural Revolution and chinese contemporary art

The Cultural Revolution came to an end in 1976. However, the Cultural Revolution’s specter has not faded even after more than 30 years. It is still being seen by Chinese musicians, but it is now darker than in the past. Previously, the shadow was thought to be a tragedy and a catastrophe, but now it is a seduction that alluresly occupies the whole air. Starting with the exhibition titled “Mao Goes Pop,” which was held at the Contemporary Art Museum in Sydney, Australia, in 1988, the Cultural Revolution pop has become a popular brand in China. Such was experienced during the transformation of the Chinese state from the poverty of Cold War to higher levels of commercialism that affects the entire population.
Artists who have experienced Cultural Revolution gradually became the leading figures not only in China but also the global art world in the past three decades. They were attempting to use art as their weapons to break through the cage of Cultural Revolution, but many of them were also trapped in the bubble of Cultural Revolution for the rest of their life.
Artists in the Cultural Revolution have engaged in the exploitation of the Chinese political theme. The post-cultural revolution thought negates the evolution logic since it does not have any single idea, which is new from what was experienced during the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution power game is now seeing a new perspective where it is replaced increasingly by the insidious money game. When a person does not engage in the process of self-questioning, art is then considered to be plagiarism; through the adoption of the art movements and language of the European or Americans, the art of the Chinese has a role to play in Western hegemony.
In 1979, artists from China were highly exposed to the art history of the west that resulted into the development of a turnover on the issue of artistic styles. Different historians of art express different opinions about what happened after such an exposure of the Chinese artists to the west.
Considering the history of western art, the current artistic work in China could have been in existence for approximately five years. For thousands of years, China had its unique artistic developments based on its independent logic that cannot be interchanged with a model from the west. Nevertheless, during the late 20th century, the Chinese people focused on using the western framework as a way of institutionalizing and defining the Chinese art.
In 1984, the Sixth Annual All China Art Exhibition and after that, the youth started organizing a lot of art exhibitions throughout China. At first, the exhibitions were small scale, but they later became large scale which led to the New Wave movement in 1985. The background of this art movement is very complicated because it is a reflection of the relative studies of both the western and Chinese cultures that have flourished in China over time. It also resulted because of clashes between the western and Chinese culture. The primary aim of this movement was to bring Chinese art to the modern world and reconsider tradition because people had borrowed traits from the Western Culture because China had opened to the West.
The post-Cultural Revolution led to the trends such as “pseudo-naturalism,” “scar art,” “for art’s sake” and “stream of life.” The exhibition provided an overview of a creative period in the modern history of the Chinese. Therefore, it psychologically prepared the Chinese painters for the new wave. Factors that facilitated the movement include the self-examination of culture because China had opened to the outside world and the dramatic twists and turns that took place in China’s history. For that reason, the 1985 New Wave can be divided into three trends which are renewed concepts and behaviorism, rationality and religiosity, and finally intuitionism and mystery.
Firstly, the trend of rationalism and religiosity was represented by the Jiangsu Youth Art Week Exhibition, Zhejiang 1985 New Space, and the Northern Art Group. Theoretical considerations were the main influence on this trends. The Northern Art Group consisted of writers, scientists, and painters. One of their slogans was “Northern Culture.” The works of this groups brought about religious messages but lacked superstitions. The Zhejiang painters saw that intuition supplemented the act of creation and it is also a primary factor in creativity. Gu Wenda did not like the idea of self-expression because he saw it as being egoistic. Additionally, he also believed that human feeling should rely on spiritual images and not visual experiences.
The trend of intuitionism and mystery appeared in exhibitions where they considered rationality as a major trend; the same way reason had a minor role in a lot of exhibitions. The group emphasized in impacting people’s souls instead of pleasing their eyes. However, there was a divergence among young artists about reason and intuition. There was also a divergence about the main reason for painting.
The last trend was Renewed Concepts and Behaviorism since the 1985 revolution led to change of concepts regarding art. This was seen as a significant step in making the Chinese art become modernized. The renewal took three forms; the first form was emphasizing the value of work that is done during the creation process. This led to several works of art being considered as one which resulted in placing more importance on the layout of the exhibition hall. The second form was behaviorism, where they put importance on the result of creative work rather than the procedures involved. The third and last form was Pop Fever. A foreign exhibition was held in China, and this was the best in many years. The exhibition provided a platform for the Chinese artists to learn new ideas. Although the ideas were old as they had existed since the 1960s, they were new to the Chinese artists.
The 1985 New Wave was because China was opened to the outside world through a policy introduced by the Chinese Communist Party. This represents the growth and development of a new cultural movement in China.
The Peak
As the world entered the 1990s, Chinese art was no longer under confusion resulting from the Western art nor the effects of the New Wave. It, therefore, challenged changes in values and concepts of art that were brought about by making art a commercial venture. The first commercial exhibition known as Masterpiece of Chinese Oil Painting was held in 1990, and it broke the silence on the issue of commercialization of art. Additionally, it attracted attention in the Chinese art.
The exhibition provided a prototype for operations of the market and steps to be followed for the next exhibitions. Additionally, participants were required to follow international standards during the exhibition for example awarding the best three performers by use of gold, silver and bronze medals. The standards adopted became a yardstick for measuring the quality of work given. During this period, the Chinese artworks were sold overseas for a given price. The overseas art dealers bought them to serve people who had a different taste in art sadly; they bought them at low prices because of the difference in living conditions of inside and outside China.
The Chinese felt extorted by the western countries. Therefore they held the 1991 Annual Exhibition of Chinese Oil Painting. The exhibition some classical and realist artworks that helped to shape future of Chinese oil painting exhibitions. From September 1991 to March 1993, Christie’s and Sotheby’s (two auction houses) held several successful auctions for Chinese paintings. For instance, Christie’s sold a painting for HK$1,980,000 which led to a new record of auction for Chinese oil paintings.
In 1991, a journal that is solely based on the art market was published. However, the debate about commercializing of art failed to attract attention from the international market. Instead, it had a strong effect on critics and artists living in China. During this period, some artists were also arrested especially in the 1990s because they had conflicting ideas with the government. In some places, the exhibitions were shut down by the police in a controversial manner. However, as time went by the government became less stiff on the rules that they had set. Additionally, visual art also developed during this era. Visual art included things like films, calligraphy and painting, the news media (as mentioned above, production of magazines commenced) and finally folk art which involved the use of things like paper kites and other stone carvings.
It can, therefore, be concluded that this is the period that the Chinese art was at its prime. It is the period where improvements were made to the traditional works of art and artists started selling their products. Additionally, it is during this time that the flexed its rules about the Chinese art. Artists were also able to sell their works to the outside market. Finally, it is when both the contemporary and visual arts developed. Indeed the Chinese art was at its peak.
This period started at the beginning of the 21st century. This is the time the Chinese art started declining. One of the key indicators to prove this is the art market. New reports show that after reaching its peak in 2011, the market for Chinese products –both inside and outside China is struggling a lot. This is shown by the fact that auction sales are down. For instance, in 2016, the auction sales for Chinese antiquate had dropped by 5 percent. Therefore, that is the third consecutive year that China is experiencing a decline in total sales. Additionally, the market for Chinese art products in North America has declined. Another problem that has led to the deterioration of the Chinese art market is nonpayment of the antiques, for example in 2016 only 51 percent of the buyers paid for the work that they purchased. This is a drop from 58 percent during the previous year. Additionally, the number of auction houses that sell Chinese art abroad is on the decline hence leading to reduced number of antiques that are available to buyers abroad. The above reasons have therefore led to a reduction of the market share of the Chinese art products..
Another reason for the decline of Chinese art is lack of creativity. Most recent artists in China are not creative enough; this leads to the creation of something that has been produced over and over again. When a person is given the same thing continuously, he or she will get tired of it after a while no matter how good the item is. Consequently, the same thing applies to art. If people are shown the same type of art for years, they become bored. Therefore, Chinese artists need to become more creative and come up with new forms of art which will make people more interested.
Corruption is also one of the factors that contribute to the decline of Chinese art. When artists perform, they need to be appreciated. In some cases, people come to watch the artists perform and they pay a lot of money for that. However, due to the greedy and corrupt nature of the promoters, the artists are not well paid. This will make them give up their talents and venture into other activities that will help them get money because they have bills to pay and they want to satisfy other personal needs.
Another reason for the decline in Chinese art is the opening of China to other parts of the world. This has been greatly helped by the introduction of new technology. The opening up has led to the interaction of various people which leads to an exchange of culture and traditions. This will make some Chinese artistes forget about their form of art and learn a new one hence leading to the decline of the Chinese art. Artists like Ai Weiwei have been criticized for their form of art. This is because Ai Weiwei has incorporated western aspects of culture into his work. It has also been observed that of all Chinese artists Ai’s work is the most familiar with the western culture. Additionally, he is labeled as a lazy artist because of his creative methods since he mostly uses ready-made products in his art. Another artist who is influenced by the Western world is Zeng Fanzhi. It is reported that while at school, Zeng was inspired by modern western artists like Picasso and other pop artists. This made him different from his classmates who were inspired by the Chinese landscape, and it was evidently seen when his classmates chose the then-trendy topics like landscapes and portraits, but he followed a different path – the western world.
The Chinese “old” artists are stagnant in their art. They are not moving anywhere, what we see today is what we may see tomorrow. They are focusing on the past form of art, forgetting quickly that what was good yesterday will not be good tomorrow. Therefore, they need to address major issues affecting the society right now for example technology, terrorism, and many other issues. In addition to that they should be more creative, they can even borrow some aspects of other cultures, but they should be careful and not overdo it because the society will not be happy about it. These artists should also guide the ones that are upcoming. Where should contemporary Chinese art go? This form of art should be embraced since it involves some aspects of our culture. However, we should ensure that it has more aspects of the Chinese culture as compared to foreign culture.


GBTimes. “Global Auction Sales of Chinese Art Sees Decline for Third Year.” GBTIMES. Last modified Aug 18, 2017. (Accessed November 10, 2017).

Lin, Wang, and Yongqing Ye. “Chinese Art and the Market in the 1990s (1996).” MoMA. Last Modified 1996. (Accessed November 10, 2017).
Ratnam, Niru. “Ai Weiwei: the Perfect Asian Artist for Lazy Western Curators.” The Spectator. Last modified August 22, 2015. (Accessed November 10, 2017)

Vivian, Chen. “Artist Zeng Fanzhi Portrays Life Amid a Drastically Changing China.” South China Morning Post. Last modified June 4, 2015. (Accessed November 10, 2017)

Zhang, Songren. China’s New Art, Post -1989: [with a Retrospective from 1979-1989: Hou-Ba-Jiu-Zhongguo-Xin-Yishu. Hong Kong: Hanart T Z Gallery, 1993.

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