A show that fizzes with the excitement of Chinese contemporary art at the start of the twenty-first century, recalling Judith Neilson’s astonishment and delight in her first forays into artists’ studios in Beijing and Shanghai, White Rabbit Gallery celebrates its tenth birthday with THEN.
“Chinese artists in the first decade of the century applied their technical virtuosity with humour and a sharply critical eye to comment on a dramatically changing society,” says Curator David Williams. “THEN provides an opportunity for visitors to see works from the earliest years of Neilson’s White Rabbit Collection in a new light.”
Re-examining and reinventing Chinese art traditions, the artists responded by embracing new influences from overseas and from within China, playfully fusing them with the best of international contemporaneity, they created an eclectic mash-up of past and present, and east and west.
Among the more than 60 works in THEN you will rediscover old favourites – and a few new surprises. Artists include Chang Xugong, He Yunchang, Xu Bing, Li Shan, Song Yongping, He Jia, Tamen, Gao Xiaowu, Zhang Hai’er, Huang Yan, Zhu Jinshi, Chen Wei, Chen Yanyin and Xu Zhen.
Their provocative work celebrated – and satirised – a society in flux, highlights include Chen Wenling’s satirical observation of a newly wealthy China in the form of a porcine red car with a grotesque 11-metre gold tongue.
Wang Zhiyuan’s Object of Desire is an enormous pair of pink fibreglass underpants complete with flashing lights and a soundtrack of Shanghai songs of the 1930s, suggesting that love is just another commodity in a society where ‘to get rich is glorious’.
Dai Hua’s I Love Beijing Tiananmen is a more than 6-metre long digital printed scroll that introduces DVD and ice cream sellers, assorted animals, graffiti artists, Batman, Superman, and an emperor with no clothes into the pomp and ceremony of imperial processions and military might.
Bu Hua’s feisty, cigarette-smoking school-girl makes a reappearance, as do Jiao Xingtao’s monumental sculptures of the detritus of a throwaway society and Chen Fei’s terrifying flesh-coloured, blob-like creatures sliced open to reveal glistening viscera of jewellery and cosmetics.
Bingyi’s Six Accounts of a Floating Lifecombines references to Chinese classical literature with the artist’s reflections on love and loss, Jin Nv’s ethereal installation of starched children’s frocks poignantly evokes lost childhoods, and Zhang Dali’s naked, anonymous figures in Chinese Offspring reflect his empathy with the migrant workers whose labour built China’s new wealth.
The sheer inventiveness of artists revelling in new-found freedoms challenged clichéd perceptions of China. From embroidered portraits of grinning world leaders to American and Chinese flags made up of corporate logos, the artists in THEN examine the paradoxes of a nation on fast forward.
The gallery theatrette will also feature a program of works from some of the most significant pioneers of Chinese video art, including Zhang Peili, Zhou Xiaohu, Zhu Jia and Yang Zhenzhong.
THEN. The First Ten Years of the White Rabbit
White Rabbit Gallery, 30 Balfour Street, Chippendale (Sydney)
Exhibition continues to 26 January 2020
For more information, visit: www.jnprojects.net for details.
Image: Chen Yanyin, 1949 – Young Pioneers of Communist China, 2010, bronze, paint – courtesy of White Rabbit Gallery