New Networks

Contemporary Chinese Art

8 December 2018 - 28 April 2019

Since the late 1970s the contemporary art movement in mainland China has undergone a rapid transformation, emerging as a highly significant presence within the world of international contemporary art. New Networks explores aspects of this remarkable period in China’s art history, by considering significant works held in publicly accessible art collections in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. The exhibition includes works by sixteen artists, who together present a spectrum of new Chinese art produced over the past four decades.  In doing so, New Networks begins to explore how the narrative surrounding contemporary Chinese art is emerging within significant art collections across New Zealand and Australia.

Art historian Wu Hung has discussed the complexity of defining precisely what ‘contemporary Chinese art’ might mean. New Networks takes its lead from Wu’s general description of this term as one that encompasses all forms of new Chinese art that have emerged since the late 1970s. He notes specifically how the term has been used by artists and critics in China since the early 1990s to mark a historic transition in Chinese art characterised by rapid globalisation.(1) The works in New Networks speak strongly to this most recent period, looking at a selection of artists directly connected to the contemporary art movement in mainland China, who are operating within a global network of exchange. 

As these networks have developed internationally, works by contemporary artists associated with the mainland Chinese art movement have increasingly made their way into art collections in New Zealand and Australia. Major exhibitions, including the Asia Pacific Triennial and the Sydney Biennale, have introduced many viewers to the complexities of this art movement and seen significant works acquired for institutional collections. In Australia, major State and Federal art collections have demonstrated a commitment to acquiring works by contemporary Chinese artists within broader collections of contemporary Asian art. In 2009, the independently owned White Rabbit Collection opened a public gallery space in Sydney, presenting one of the world’s largest private collections of contemporary Chinese art.  

In New Zealand, the scale of institutional collecting is far smaller. While major art collections throughout this country represent works by contemporary artists connected to the Chinese community here in Aotearoa, there are relatively few examples of works by artists associated with the contemporary art movement of mainland China.  Some collections, including Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki and Te Papa Tongarewa, have acquired works through international collecting programmes, while others, such as the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, have acquired works as a result of artist residencies. 

Rather than an historical survey or overview of the contemporary Chinese art movement, New Networks began as an enquiry into how this international story was becoming woven into the collections of major art institutions closer to home.  What became apparent was that these collections offered a dual opportunity: to present significant works relating to the recent history of Chinese art, while casting light across the ever-expanding networks of knowledge and encounter that are created through the collecting and exhibiting of contemporary art.

1. Wu Hung. Contemporary Chinese Art, Thames & Hudson (London: 2014), pp10-11.

New Networks includes work by Ai Weiwei, Song Dong, Yang Fudong, Liu Jianhua, Xu Bing, Yin Xiuzhen, Jin Jiangbo, Wang Qingsong, Xu Zhen, Wang Gongxin, He Xiangyu, Liu Chuang, Lin Tianmiao, Jennifer Wen Ma, Chen Haiyan and Huang Yan.

> Download essay by exhibition curators Lucy Hammonds and Lauren Gutsell

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