While living in Shanghai from 2008 to 2011, I wrote a book about Chinese contemporary art, which was published by Earnshaw Books (Hong Kong) in October 2014. Here’s a synopsis:
The journey of Chinese art—from mass-produced propaganda in the Mao era to modern-day market darling—mirrors China’s own momentous changes like few other disciplines. Today, in both contemporary art and contemporary Chinese society, commerce and politics coexist in a delicate balance, which some call sensible and others, selling out. By traveling to the studios of renowned Chinese artists, hearing their rags-to-riches tales and interviewing the critics, curators, and collectors that have been around since its idealistic beginnings, author Claire van den Heever paints a picture of Chinese art’s bumpy path to commercial and critical success, and uncovers the secrets it tried to keep along the way.
You’ll find selected excerpts from the book, condensed into an article on Compass Cultura.
Claire van den Heever, author of Paint by Numbers: China’s Art Factory from Mao to Now, brings much needed clarity to an entangled subject. Written as reportage in the first person and incorporating numerous interviews, Paint by Numbers is a well-informed and fluent account of the art world in China over the past forty years that will delight—and warn—both the general reader and the art aficionado.
This is a serious, enquiring book, with plenty of enthusiasm for individual artists and the power of art to move and awaken. Yet disillusionment wafts off its pages.
It’s worth quoting her at length: “Contemporary Chinese art [has] become synonymous with large paintings of people’s faces: Yue Mingjun’s smiley men, Fang Lijun’s yawning men, Zhang Xiaogang’s somber families and Wang Guangyi’s revolutionary men. This ‘big face art,’ as it is sometimes called, is easy on several levels. It is easy to copy, so it dominates Chinese fake markets… It is easily recognized, and becomes a reference point for the general public when they visit China’s commercial art zones.
But there’s still fun to be had (one chapter begins: “I walked into Shanghai’s Duolun Museum and was confronted by a large, pink penis”), and it’s fascinating to learn about the work of individual artists.
There are plenty of puff pieces about the Chinese modern art scene out there; read Paint by Numbers for the straight dope.
Paint By Numbers is available on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.
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