World Chambers

A Forum for the Arts of Contemporary Chinese Women

Female artists featured in Prestel’s 2009 text, Young Chinese Artists: The Next Generation — Part I

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Prestel recently published a book by Christoph Noe, Xenia Piech, and Cordelia Steiner, entitled Young Chinese Artists: The Next Generation. The illustrated hard-cover text includes valuable insight into the political, economic, and cultural circumstances that shaped the visions of up-and-coming artists from the “post-1975 generation.” For each artist featured, the reader gets a sample of work, a descriptive bio, and a short question-answer with the book’s editors–many of these interviews were conducted online, indicating the comfort with online social networks of this younger generation. The questions are the same from artist to artist, which allows the reader to paint similarities between the like-aged artists.

Of the 30 artists featured, 7 are women. Though still a minority, women are not marginalized to the point of near exclusion as they were in the 1980s. This is indicative of the future of China’s art scene, and may have been made in part because the market value of the art featured was not taken into consideration when deciding upon which artists to include (p. 8). As women continue to emerge onto the art scene, their work will fetch higher and higher prices, but the present and the past of the Chinese art market holds male money-makers.

One of the female artists included, Chen Ke (b. 1978 in Tongjiang), just had her first institutional solo-show in Europe. Another Me in the World ran at Kunstverein Viernheim e.V. (in Kunshtaus Viernheim), Rathausstr, 36, 68519 Viernheim, Germany from June 19th to July 18th. The show’s title is taken from her 2007 work of the same name made from modeling paste and oil on silk:

Image used in Art Agenda announcement.

Image used in Art Agenda announcement.

The feature of “melancholy girl-women” has been a defining mark of Chen’s work since 2004 (p. 57), along with a cartoon noir quality that reminds me a bit of American painter Mark Ryden. Chen uses her work as a mental mirror on which to safely express her dream worlds, and often experiments with new media. In 2006, it was fiberglass (Albertini, C., 2008, 24), and in 2008 she started to incorporated embroidery and beads to make patterns over clear-coated canvas sections. The editors of The Next Generation give us a glimpse into the sense of solidified inner-wonder and exploration that radiates from these pieces, quoting the artist on the progression of her 2008 works: “For me, these new works are like a diary. It’s no longer just about readable picture stories, and it’s no longer about looking inward. For me, art is like an expedition, and I don’t know where it’s taking me” (p. 57).

In 2008, this expedition began to take her to a point of critique with the Chinese art market, and increasingly global concerns, with the titles written in both English and Chinese–many experts will often point to the close ties between the west and east when the market is concerned. The editors describe her dark and upsetting 2008 piece, Game Over, as “articulating a wish for the Chinese art world–with its very young history of success–that is often expressed among the artists of her generation: a return to self-determination” (Ibid). In her online interview, Chen describes her generation in two words that the editors point to as common among this set of artists: loneliness and uncertainty. She diagnoses the situation as the possible result of the speed of socety in China, saying “Maybe the speed of society is too fast. Many values were broken, yet they were just being built yesterday” (p. 65). This is an incredibly telling statement of the social climate of China’s young, only children. Their parents lived through the Cultural Revolution, and built, or were built by, the new social order that came about only after decades of national struggle and succeeded hundreds of years of a very different political order (and in some ways, a not so very different cultural order) from those that modern China has seen. This sense of upheaval might way heavy in the mind of a child alone among children in their nuclear family. Chen has said that the cartoons of her youth certainly influence her work (Albertini, 2008). The rapid succession of “Chinas” in her lifetime and the resulting dearth of confidence in society’s form and function color those cartoons with unnerving melancholy.

Game Over, 2008, Oil and beads on canvas, 220 x 220 cm

Game Over, 2008, Oil and beads on canvas, 220 x 220 cm

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Written by Andrea Descoteaux Hugg

July 24, 2009 at 9:19 AM

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