Contemporary Chinese Art

Primary Documents

Contemporary Chinese Art

MoMA Primary Documents

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Book Pages: 464 Illustrations: 129 illustrations, incl. 50 in Published: September 2010

Editor(s): Wu Hung, Peggy Wang

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Photography, Asian Studies > East Asia

Despite the liveliness and creativity of avant-garde Chinese art in the post-Mao era and its prominence in the world of international contemporary art, until now there has been no systematic introduction to this important work in any Western language. Moreover, most of the relevant primary documents have existed only in Chinese, scattered in hard-to-find publications. Contemporary Chinese Art remedies this situation by bringing together carefully selected primary texts in English translation. Arranged in chronological order, the texts guide readers through the development of avant-garde Chinese art from 1976 until 2006. Because experimental Chinese art emerged as a domestic phenomenon in the 1970s and 1980s and its subsequent development has been closely related to China’s social and economical transformation, this volume focuses on art from mainland China. At the same time, it encompasses the activities of mainland artists residing overseas, since artists who emigrated in the 1980s and 1990s were often key participants in the early avant-garde movements and have continued to interact with the mainland art world. The primary documents include the manifestos of avant-garde groups, prefaces to important exhibitions, writings by representative artists, important critical and analytical essays, and even some official documents. Each chapter and section begins with a concise preface explaining the significance of the texts and providing the necessary historical background; the volume includes a timeline summarizing important art phenomena and related political events.

Publication of the Museum of Modern Art


“One of the delights, then, of exploring this collection is that of becoming privy to just how divergent were the views, how passionate the motives and how discerning the analyses by Chinese artists processing events in their world as they were happening. Wu Hung thus invites the reader to view the continuing search for new paradigms, for new language, through a window not yet beclouded by retrospection or devolution into simple explanations—we need no longer be hostage to a jumble of critical commentaries strewn across art journals or selectively sheltered in exhibition catalogs, but instead are empowered to construct more complex and holistic understandings.” — Carolyn M. Bloomer, The China Journal

“This book . . . serves a major function in bringing this material together and to the attention of the international art world. Furthermore, additional documents are constantly being added at the project’s Web site . . . This book is refreshing primarily because of its subject matter, but also because it’s organized and written in a lucid and markedly open-minded manner.” — Bradley Winterton, Taipei Times

“Wu Hung . . . along with Peggy Wang . . . has done an incredible service to the field of English language contemporary art history and translation publishing this fact filled book documenting the rise of Chinese art post Cultural Revolution.“ — Ellen Pearlman, Leonardo Reviews

“Destined to become a key sourcebook on mainland Chinese artists. . . . Readers not fluent in Chinese can revel in 35 years’ wroth of texts and information never before available to them.” — William Pym, Art Asia Pacific

“Edited by Wu and Wang, this is the first sourcebook and anthology to systematically collect and translate into English principal documents on contemporary Chinese art that are scattered in hard-to-find Chinese publications. This volume provides students and scholars in the Western world with invaluable access to firsthand textual materials for studying and researching contemporary Chinese art. . . . Essential.” — T. Li, Choice

“Perhaps the most useful guide to China’s multilayered modern art worlds can be found in the careful source book Contemporary Chinese Art: Primary Documents by the University of Chicago professor and curator Wu Hung. In this detailed synopsis and catalog Wu succeeds in creating a broad series of definitions we can use to bring order to our own thoughts and to any recent Chinese works we may encounter.” — Jonathan Spence, New York Review of Books

“Recognized as one of the foremost authorities in both ancient and contemporary Chinese art, Wu Hung has served as a consultant on some of the most highly acclaimed exhibitions of current Chinese art to tour the United States.” — Garrett Holg, Chicago Sun-Times

“Respected on both sides of the Pacific . . . [Wu Hung] has helped introduce Chinese avant-garde art to the West.” — Erik Eckholm, New York Times

“Chinese contemporary art is the darling of the international art market today, but two decades ago who would have imagined this sudden phenomenon? And, what were the participants thinking? This indispensable reader shows us through selected writings from 1979 to 2000 by many of those who made it happen: the artists, the critics and theorists, the curators, the art historians. Even the table of contents imposes a sense of order on this complex art movement, and what follows will enlighten anyone who studies, buys, or simply looks at the Chinese art of our time.” — Jerome Silbergeld, P.Y. & Kinmay W. Tang Professor of Chinese Art History; Director, Tang Center for East Asian Art, Princeton University

“This volume is an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to understand contemporary Chinese art, one of the most fascinating art scenes of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The documents are judiciously chosen, translated, and categorized, while an extensive historical chronicle and introductions provide accessible contextual information.” — David Joselit, Carnegie Professor, History of Art, Yale University

“Wu Hung’s ingeniously selected montage of texts and images gives the reader an invaluable overview of Chinese art between 1976 and 2006. It can be savored on its own, or taken as a primer to read alongside the more widely available analyses of recent Chinese history and politics.” — Jonathan Spence, author of The Search for Modern China


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Price: $40.00

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Wu Hung is the Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor in Art History and East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Director of the Center for the Art of East Asia and Consulting Curator at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago. His many books include Remaking Beijing: Tiananmen Square and the Creation of a Political Space, Transience: Chinese Experimental Art at the End of the Twentieth Century, and (with Christopher Phillips) Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China. He has curated many international exhibitions of Chinese art.

Peggy Wang is Assistant Professor of Art History at Denison University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Part One: Contemporary Art as Domestic Movement, 1976–89
I. The Beginning of Contemporary Art: 1979–84
Unofficial Art Groups and Exhibitions
Preface to the First Nature, Society, and Man Exhibition (Ziran, shehui, ren) (1979) / Wang Zhiping
Preface to the First Stars Art Exhibition (Xingxing meizhan) (1979) / Huang Rui
A Letter to the People (1979) / Xu Wenli, Liu Qing, et al
About the Stars Art Exhibition (1980) / Li Xianting
A Debate on "Formal Beauty" and Other Issues
Formalist Aesthetics in Painting (1979) / Wu Guanzhong
Emotion Individuality, Formal Aesthetics (1979) / Liu Shaohui
New Directions in Realist Painting
Scar Art
Some Thoughts on Creating the Picture-Story Book Maple (Feng) (1980) / Chen Yiming, Liu Yulian, and Li Bin
Man's Rational Meditation: A Brief Discussion of Cheng Conglin's Thematic Oil Paintings (1970s/1994) / Deng Pingxiang
Native Soil Art
A Letter from the Artist of Father (Fuqin) (1981) / Lui Zhongli
My Seven Paintings (1981) / Chen Danqing
Melancholy Youth and "Contemplative Painting"
Expecting Her to Walk on the Main Road (1981) / Wang Chuan
"Contemplative Painting" in China and Andrew Wyeth (1985) / Ruan Xudong
II. The Arrival of an Avant-Garde Movement: 1985–86
Political and Intellectual Contexts
Enlightenment of a New Era: On In the New Era (Zai xinshidai) (1985) / Zhang Qun and Meng Luding
Pioneers of Contemporary Chinese Art—A Critique of the Progressive Young Chinese Artists Exhibition (1985) / Zhao Jinghaun
Beijing Theorists' Reaction to the Art of Robert Rauschenberg (1985) / Zhu Ye
Foreword to Fine Arts in China (1985)
Appendix. A Nationwide Forum and Model: Art Magazines and Symposia (2003) / Martina Koppel-Yang
'85 Art New Wave
General Discussions
The '85 Art Movement (1986) / Gao Minglu
The Significance is Not the Art (1986) / Li Jiatun
A Summary of Evaluations of the '85 Arts Movement (1986) / Gao Minglu
Appendix. The Landscape of China's Modern Art Movment (1991) / Tong Dian
Writings by Members of Selected Art Groups
We—Participants of the "'85 Art Movement" (1986) / Wang Guangyi
An Explanation of the Northern Art Group (1987) / Shu Qun
On New Space and the Pond Society (1987) / Shi Jiu
New Figurative: Manifestation and Transcendence in Figurative Patterns of Life (1987) / Mao Xuhui
Red Brigade Precept (1987) / Ding Fang
Statement on Burning (1986) / Huang Yong Ping
Introduction to The Events Exhibition that Took Place at the Exhibition Hall of the Fujian Art Museum (1986) / Huang Yong Ping
Toward a Physical State of Contemporary Art Itself (1986) / Wang Du
III. From Collectivity to Individual Creativity: 1987—89
Rethinking the Movement
Returning to Art Itself (1988) / Jia Fangzhou
Rethinking Art
Purifying Artistic Language
A Few Thoughts (1988) / Zhu Zude and Liu Zhenggang
Absurdity and Irrationality
Non-Expressive Paintings (1986) / Huang Yong Ping
Art as Process
Looking for Something Different in a Quiet Place (1989) / Xu Bing
Regarding "Analysis" (1989) / Chen Shaoping
Challenging Modernism—An Interview with Wenda Gu (1986) / Fei Dawei
Against the Public
The Point of Departure for Art Project No. 2 (Yishu jihua di er hao) (1988/2007) / Zhang Peili
The China/Avant-Garde Exhibition
The Exhibition
Background Material on the China/Avant-Garde Exhibition (1989) / Zhou Yan
Confessions of a China/Avant-Garde Curator (1989) / Li Xianting
A Brief Account of China/Avant-Garde (1989) / Hang Jian and Cao Xiao'ou
The "End" of the New Wave
Facing the End of the New Wave: An Interview with Fine Arts in China (1989) / Peng De
The Modernist Dilemma and Our Options (1989) / Yi Ying
Part Two: Globalization and a Domestic Turn, 1990–2000
I. Intrinsic Perspectives
Artistic Trends in the Early 1990s (1990–93)
New Generation and Close Up Artists (1992) / Yin Jinan
Apathy and Deconstruction in Post-'89 Art: Analyzing the Trends of "Cynical Realism" and "Political Pop" (1992) / Li Xianting
Appendix. The Misread Great Criticism (Da pipan) (2008) / Huang Zhuan
Tendencies in Chinese Pop (1996) / Gu Chengfeng
A Survey of Contemporary Chinese Performance Art (1999) / Gao Ling
Major Trends in Contemporary Chinese Art of the Mid- to Late 1990s
Identity and Experience
A Personal Account of 65 Kg (1994/2000) / Zhang Huan
Four Notes (1994) / Ma Liuming
The Boundary of Freedom: A Personal Statement on Assignment No. 1 (Zuoye yihao) (1994/2000) / Qiu Zhijie
Report from the Artist's Studio (1996) / Interview with Zhang Xiaogang by Huang Zhuan
Preface to It's Me! (Shi wo!) (1998/2000) / Leng Lin
Feminism and Women's Art
Walking Out of the Abyss: My Feminist Critique (1994) / Xu Hong
Toward a Female Initiative (1996/2003) / Tao Yongbai
Wrapping and Severing (1997) / Lin Tianmiao
Clothes Chest (Yixiang) (1995) / Yin Xiuzhen
Engagement with Social Transformation
Gaudy Art
Living in Kitsch—The Critical "Irony" of Gaudy Art (1999) / Liao Wen
Urban Destruction and Construction
"Changchun, China": A Report on a Performance of Making Rubbings from Buildings Slated for Demolition (1994) / Huang Yan
"94 Action Plan for Debris Salvage Schemes for Implementation and Results (1994) / Zhan Wang
New Map of Beijing: Today and Tomorrow's Capital—Rockery Remolding Plan (1995) / Zhan Wang
One Hour Game (Youxi yi Xiaoshi) (1996/1997) / Liang Juhui
Report on Zhang Dali's Dialogue (Duihua) (1998) / Jiang Tao
A Dialogue on Dialogue (200) / Gou Hongbing with Zhang Dali
Sociality in Contemporary Art
State of Existence (1994) / Zhu Fadong
12 Square Meters (12 pingfang mi) (1994) / Zhang Huan
Ice '96 Central Plains (Bing: 96 Zhongyuan) (1996/2000) / Wang Jin
On Painted Sculptures (1995/1997) / Liu Jianhua
Standard Family (Biaozhun jiating) (1996/1997) / Wang Jinsong
Why do I want to photograph the streets of Guangzhou? (2002) / Chen Shaoxiong
Experimental Photography and Video Art
Trends and States of Photography's Development in Mainland China since 1976 (1994) / Li Mei and Yang Xiaoyan
Appendix. Zero to Infinity:
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Honorable Mention in the Art History and Criticism category, 2010 PROSE Awards (The American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence)

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4943-3
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