One of the most interesting exhibitions of the year is being held at the Ethan Cohen Gallery in New York. Since the death of Chairman Mao, the gallery owner has been a standard bearer of irreverence and irony of the Chinese artistic movements committed to ridicule the Maoist regime and the rigid traditional culture of the country.
When we talk about China, 1989 is the year that can be summed up in a still image: a student who challenges a tank by shaking plastic bags in what was the centre of power, Tienanmen Square. Twenty-nine years later, the new generation of artists from the Far East has internalized this rebellious spirit, bringing it together with a taste for satire (which sometimes creates problems with the authorities), however without denying its initial roots.
Provocative and traditional, to the point that some of their works appear to revisit the old-fashioned propaganda of the Communist Party, albeit with a touch of parody. This is the group that was put together for a flash-show, open in May and which will end on June 30th at the Ethan Cohen Gallery in New York, founded in 1987 by the gallery owner who is an expert in contemporary Chinese and Japanese art.
The title is also quite over the top: “The Fuck Off Generation: Chinese Art in the Post-Mao Era”. Moreover, the approach is not afraid to openly challenge other similar initiatives carried out by institutions of greater weight, such as the Guggenheim, criticized as “encyclopaedic and conventional”. The risk is that the viewer escapes the originality of a series of works that constitute a “break”, not only with Maoism, but also with centuries of Chinese tradition.
Among the most famous names there is, without a doubt, Ai Weiwei. Persecuted by Beijing politicians, and a lover of conceptual art, Duchamp and Warhol, this artist has made New York his home since 1981. His resume offers everything from the portrait of 176 politically persecuted people, created with Lego bricks, to the colossal stadium «bird’s nest» built for the 2008 Olympics.
In 2011, his critical positions towards the Chinese government cost him a period of imprisonment (officially for “tax evasion”). At the Ethan Cohen Gallery, Weiwei will be present with his perspective studies: middle fingers that appear in the middle of the well-known urban landscapes of world capitals.
Visitors will also find works of the “cynical realist” (as he’s been called) Yue Minjun, with his caricatured human figures: large deformed heads that are always laughing. In one painting, the setting is as Chinese as possible – in a rice field. Strong references to the Maoist imagery is also offered by Tang Hui, a fifty year-old who plays a lot on the heroic poses of the “proletariat”. Only that, instead of farmers, workers and soldiers, on the pedestal end supermodels complete with designer clothes, while rappers with bonnets and chains pose next to Mao.
In a nutshell, this is a version of China – pop, which does not neglect, next to painting, installations and photographs. Behind the lens, we find Zhao Bandi, who reinvents advertising progress, combining these ads with national-popular icons, such as pandas. The exhibit also shows the existential research of Zhang Huan, who prefers faces. For the spectators and visitors, a warning might be in order: be wary of first impressions. This is all the more true in this case, among artists who know exactly how to juggle clichés.