Feb/Mar 2009

New China New Art

Philip Tinari


For all the glossy books that have appeared on contemporary Chinese art in the past few years, a basic overview—rather than an artist-by-artist glossary or a survey exhibition catalogue—has been slow to arrive. Art in America senior editor Richard Vine’s New China New Art goes a long way toward filling that void, offering a medium-based walk through the range of recent artistic production on the mainland. Five chapters devoted to painting, sculpture and installation, performance, photography, and video are accompanied by copious illustrations that get beyond the standard auction-catalogue fare. While Vine’s selections are largely informed by Western exhibition history (particularly Christopher Phillips and Wu Hung’s 2004 “New Photography from China”), he manages to sketch the generational and institutional landscape on which the thirty-year story of contemporary art in China has unfolded. If, in the end, the drama of Vine’s opening conceit—that this work produces in its Western viewer a sensation akin to seeing the Chinese characters for the word art in an English sentence (which he calls “The Shock of ”)—is a bit facile, and if Prestel has done the book a great injustice by running a painting by Yue Minjun (perhaps the best known and most skeptically regarded of all Chinese painters) on the cover, the expository, chronological account Vine offers should at least allow readers to put some not-always-laughing faces to those notoriously hard-to-remember Chinese names.

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