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Respect Grows for Chinese Art
An art exhibition at the world-famous Pompidou Center in Paris is offering the French an insight into contemporary China.

The exhibition entitled "Alors, la Chine? (Well Then, China?)" features works by about 50 contemporary Chinese artists active both in China and in the world.

The show is sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Culture and organized by the China International Exhibition Center and the Pompidou Center, a leading venue for modern and contemporary art.

"The Pompidou Center is hosting an exhibition of Chinese art for the first time in its history. It is the largest exhibition of Chinese contemporary art ever held in France," said Fan Di'an, curator of the exhibition, who is also vice-president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.

"The Pompidou Center has been the 'center' of Western art to a certain extent in the eyes of Chinese artists for quite a long time," Fan told China Daily. "The center is especially noticeable for its work in discovering and introducing new Western art and also in promoting the development of multiculturalism."

The exhibition opened on June 24 and is scheduled to run until October 13.

"We hope that, via the artists we selected and their works, we will be able to demonstrate the changes and major features of Chinese art at the turn of the century, so that French - or Western - audiences will better understand what's in the minds of Chinese artists in this rapidly transforming society due to the increasingly fast pace of globalization in the 21st century," he noted.

New Chinese art

Although traditional artistic concepts and styles are still dominant in today's China, a lot of new concepts and experiments have been emerging since the 1980s, as the country has experienced an unprecedented tide of reform and opening up.

The new trends are not only significant artistically, but also culturally. They not only reflect social changes, but also change in Chinese art.

The exhibition focuses on "New Chinese art" and presents the works of a group of young artists, all from the Chinese mainland.

Among the works are oil paintings by Fang Lijun, Liu Xiaodong, and Zhou Tiehai; photography by Weng Fen, Xing Danwen, and Bai Yiluo; sculptures by Shi Hui and Song Dong; installations by Hong Lei and Yang Maoyuan; and videos by Yang Fudong, Li Yongbin and Wang Jianwei.

The exhibition also includes music by rock star Cui Jian, films by director Jia Zhangke and Zhang Yimou, and architectural designs by Wang Shu, Chang Yung Ho and Liu Jiakun.

Noticeably, the exhibition also features three treasures of Chinese history, a jade ritual instrument of the Liangzhu Culture dating back more than 5,000 years and found in the lower Yangtze River valley, a bronze mirror of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), and a calligraphic work by Zhu Yunming from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Objects typical of China's "cultural revolution" (1966-76), from a French collector, are also on display.

The historic exhibits provide background information for visitors to better understand Chinese history and culture.

Personal perspectives

Urbanization, which is probably the most important trend in contemporary China, is a subject of concern for Chinese artists and has been the theme of some major exhibitions of contemporary art, including the 2002 Shanghai Biennale.

Some of the works in the Paris show also touch on this subject.

Among the most impressive is Weng Fen's photographs "Sitting on the Wall."

In the pictures, a Chinese girl sits on a wall from where she can see skyscrapers in the city. The girl's gestures signal that she wants a new life in the city, but also has some underlying worries and fears. The wall separates the world before her and the life and environment behind, which viewers cannot see in the picture.

"The photographer caught the very interesting moments. But he connects the series of images with a certain concept, that is, to separate the real world with a wall. What is behind the wall? He does not give a concrete indication. Maybe some space opposite to the city?" Gu Zheng, a Shanghai photography critic, commented.

Facing the challenge of globalization, some Chinese artists use local historic and cultural elements in their art works to create a dialogue between the local and the global.

The oil paintings of Wang Guangyi are in a way reminiscent of Western pop art, but he uses the images of workers, farmers and soldiers typical of the "cultural revolution" in his works blasting commercialization and globalization as foreign products are pouring into the country.

Sculptor Liu Jianhua, however, tries to seek inspiration from the traditional Chinese art form of porcelain in his sculptural works, which portray the life and feeling of contemporary Chinese people.

While many artists enthusiastically follow the styles of Western modern art in the 1980s and 1990s, Jia Zhangke, Liu Xiaodong and Fang Lijun document their personal experiences and daily lives in their films and paintings.

Chinese contemporary art at the turn of the century is especially remarkable as a result of its experiments in media and techniques.

A number of the exhibits are new media art works that blend technology with art. Although the grasp of technology may not be as mature as that of their Western counterparts, their perspective, feeling and images are typical of contemporary Chinese society and personal style.

Growing respect

The current exhibition is located in the main hall of the Pompidou Center, occupying a total space of 2,000 square meters.

Alfred Pacquement, director of the Museum of Modern Art of the Pompidou Center, said: "We have chosen the title of this exhibition from an article by French author Roland Barthes in 1974. The article influenced many French people's understanding of China.

"We hope to let the French people today know more about a more real China, which is no longer a country always prejudiced by symbols such as the 'cultural revolution'."

The current show in Paris reminds many of a similar exhibition, "Living in Time," in Berlin two years ago, the first time the Chinese Government sponsored an exhibition of Chinese contemporary art in a foreign country.

"Before the opening of that exhibition, the German art museum decided only to rent some side halls to us since they were not quite sure about the quality of Chinese art and our ability to organize the show. But after the opening, the German side began to regret this when they found the exhibition was so influential and popular," said Zhang Yu, president of the China International Exhibition Agency. "It might be the Germans' regret that made the French so determined this time."

Of course this not only means that the efforts of Chinese artists and curators are effective, but also signals that the Chinese artists are winning more respect from the global community.

"Nowadays, an international exhibition like the Venice Biennale can hardly be regarded as important enough without the participation of Chinese artists. If an international curator missed China from his or her field of vision, that would be seen as a cultural blind spot," Fan said.

It is fair to say that contemporary Chinese art is expanding its foothold in the global community and becoming a new resource and inspiration for world art and culture.

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