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Zhu' Yi!

Artium, Vitoria-Gasteiz

Chinese Contemporary Photography

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Zhu yi! Chinese Contemporary Photography

Curator Susana Iturrioz

During this transition, … by imitating the image, it (photography) was able visually to explain in-depth this systematic reform of the country. It is above all important to note that contemporary photography has been able to produce the ‘self-portrait’, the individual during ongoing reforms, and his personal conscientious objection to this inevitable evolution.
Zhu Qui (from the catalogue of the exhibition)

Contemporary Photography” (North Gallery, from March 15 to September 23), an extensive exhibition of the works of the new generations of Chinese artists who bear witness to the rapid social and economic transformation of this so-called “Asian giant”. The exhibition brings together 120 works of 30 photographers, all of them born after 1960, concerned about questions such as the recovery of their cultural memory, their individual and collective identity in a changing society, the degradation of nature and urban landscapes under the pressure of economic development, as well as other effects caused by this phenomenon, the interest in fashion and the unstoppable consumerism. Since the arts began to develop following the opening-up of the Chinese regime, photography has become one of the preferred working media of the new Chinese artists. And since ten Chinese artists made their "debut" at the 1993 Venice biennial, the West has become aware of a rapid penetration in the art system with a growing demand in the market and in exhibition spaces. “Zhù Yi! Chinese Contemporary Photography” is a joint production of ARTIUM and the Palau de la Virreina (Barcelona), with the curator Susana Iturrioz.

“Zhù Yi! Chinese Contemporary Photography" is possibly the largest exhibition of contemporary Chinese art ever held in Spain. The most literal translation of the expression “zhù yi!”, taken from Mandarin Chinese, is “Watch out!”. Following two of the possible interpretations of this expression, the exhibition attempts both to draw our attention to the growing interest of new Chinese artists in the western art system and to reveal the issues in which they were focusing their attention at this time of a difficult transition between strict communism to a more open society, especially in the realm of economics and, in a different way, in social aspects.

The controlled opening-up of the Communist regime after the death of Mao in 1976 provided an opportunity for Chinese artists to evolve from the dictates of socialist realism to new forms of expression. The new Chinese art underwent several transformations, with different levels of liberty, in the late seventies ("Star Group"), in the mid eighties ("New wave") and in the early nineties (with the precedent of the extremely brief exhibition in 1989 “China/Avant-Garde”, closed by the police) until the events of Tiananmen Square, which represented a step backwards. It was from that moment when a new generation of artists discovered the possibilities offered by photography as a means of expression, narration and experimentation.

The exhibition produced by ARTIUM and the Palau de la Virreina presents the work of 33 of these artists, who were born after 1960 and who live and work in China. Many of these artists have adopted photography as a parallel medium or following their work as “performers”, as is the case of Zhang Huan and Wang Jin, while others, the majority, are trained painters, such as Wang Quingsong and Miao Xiaochun.

Major transformation

“Zhù Yi!” contains one hundred and fifty photographs of these artists taken since 1994 to the present day. During this time, China, the most highly populated and one of the most extensive countries in the world, a military and economic power, has undergone a major transformation in its social and production structures. It is these changes, precisely, that are reflected in the works of these artists, tackling common subjects through the use of very personal aesthetic formulas: age-old history, identity, the individual in the new urban context, the degradation of nature in the interests of development and the novelty of the consumer society in a country which until only a few years ago was closed in on itself.

In this way, the memory of a distant past is present in the works of Miao Xiaochun, who uses the Chinese scholar with his traditional costumes and headdresses and the Great Wall of China as symbols, or those of Hong Lei, who alludes to the tyranny of the emperor over his concubines in the Forbidden City. Allusions to the more recent history of the country appear in the photographs of the duo Shao Yinong & Muchen, who return to the places where assemblies were held during the cultural Revolution, today converted into inhospitable or simply abandoned warehouses and stables.

In search of identity, these photographers (Hong Lei, Lin Tianmiao) take self-portraits characterised as alien figures and with diffused, ambiguous faces. The exhibition acquires a more critical tone when art portrays individuals in a context they do not accept: the isolation and contempt of intellectuals compared to the search for success and quick money (Yang Fudong, Wan Quingsong) and the brutal urban development (Zhang Dali, Yang Zhengzhong)

The effects on the country's natural environment and social structure are some of the first consequences of the rapid economic growth of China. Many of these photographers turn their gaze towards nature, alerting their fellow citizens to the fact that there is something beyond the iron, concrete and glass structures (Can Xing) or by painting (and photographing afterwards) traditional Chinese motifs, representing the four seasons, on the faces of several people. Lastly, the exhibition testifies to the way the country has been possessed by consumer fever, converting products which until a few years ago were completely unknown, such as cars, cosmetics and designer clothes, among others, into icons of a new way of life which, nevertheless, apparently does not guarantee happiness: the rapid change from the traditional Chinese lifestyle to western modes may produce a vacuum.

The artists selected for this exhibition often coincide in their subject matter and in the ideas they have developed, although each one of these are dealt with in accordance with their individual aesthetic sensibilities and preferences.

Taking part:

BAI Yiluo
CUI Xiuwen
CHEN Lingyang
CHEN Qiulin
HE Yunchang
LI Wei
LIANG Yuanwei
LIN Tianmiao
MA Liuming
MIAO Xiaochun
SHI Guorui
WANG Qingsong
WENG Peijun
WU Gao Zhong
XU Heng
XU Zhen
YANG Fudong
YANG Zhenzhong
ZENG Yicheng
ZHAO Bandi
ZHU Ming

All of them are committed to Chinese society and expressed a range of different concerns in each one of their photographs. With a wide range of styles, they reflect what is really happening in a country about which we have such distorted and incomplete information.

Catalogue of the exhibition, with texts by Susana Iturrioz and Zhu Qi

Activities around the exhibition: group performance by Cang Xin (march 16, 19.00); lecture by Julia Colman (march 15, 20.00); cinema series “Target: China Today” (from april 14)

Production: ARTIUM, Basque Museum-Centre of Contemporary Art (Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain) and Palau de la Virreina (Barcelona, Spain)


Afonso Gortázar. In albis
Lower East Gallery, until june 10 2007

ARTIUM, Basque Centre-Museum of Contemporary Art presents the exhibition “Afonso Gortázar. In albis”, the first major exhibition in a museum of one of the main figures in Basque painting and at the same time one of the most indisputable representatives of figurative painting. The title of the exhibition refers to the continuous presence of blank canvases in the oeuvre of Alfonso Gortázar (Bilbao, 1955), especially from the mid nineties. On many occasions the painter has been portrayed (or self-portrayed) in front in a reflexive pose, apparently “in albis”. The exhibition contains about thirty works, most belonging to the last decade, with several works done especially for the ARTIUM exhibition. A blank canvas and a selection of collages complete the exhibition. “Alfonso Gortázar. In albis” is a production of ARTIUM.

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Basque Museum-Centre of Contemporary Art
Francia 24, 01002, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain


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